Be-Galle-ing

Trip Start Nov 16, 2007
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Trip End Dec 15, 2007


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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Saturday, November 24, 2007

After a few hours topping up the tan on the beach, I ventured back westbound to the venerable port of Galle, Sri Lanka's fourth largest city.  At the heart of Galle - but strangely detached from it - lies the old Dutch quarter, known as the Fort.  Apparently, Sri Lanka's best-preserved colonial townscape, the Fort is enclosed within a chain of brutally impressive bastions which now guard the area from modernisation as effectively as they once protected Dutch trading interests from overseas marauders.  They also stood up to the full force of the tsunami, protecting the Fort from the waves which reduced most of the modern city to rubble.
Declared a World Heritage Site in 1988, the Fort has an understated, quiet, sleepy charm, with low-rise streets lined with old churches and weathered Dutch colonial villas.  There's not actually much to see within the Fort, though exceptions include the atmospheric Dutch Reformed Church completed in 1755, a still functioning but dilapidated post office with a very Dickensian-looking interior, the Point Utrecht Bastion which is topped by a slender white lighthouse built in 1938, and the early twentieth-century Meeran Jumma Mosque standing at the heart of Galle's Muslim quarter whose white-robed and skull capped inhabitants for a distinctive part of life in the old town's streets.
The best views are arguably those from the ramparts which connect the bastions.  It's a beautiful stroll and an excellent way to get an overview of the Fort whilst gazing out to sea, though you also have to avoid the persistent hawkers and local snake charmers whilst doing so.  The western facing side came alive around dusk, as the townsfolk turned out en mass to promenade along the walls and take in the extraordinary sunset.
From the three huge land-facing bastions (named Sun, Moon, and Star respectively) you're afforded a spectacular view of Galle's compact International Cricket Ground, one of the country's principle Test match venues until the tsunami put it out of commission.  Builders are working around the clock in order to ready the ground for the England match beginning on 18 December, and a lot of rebuilding and finishing work is still required.  However, all the locals sound confident, and I sincerely hope they are lining the bastions enjoying their free view of the action in a few weeks time.  Unfortunately, I'll have to make do with watching the action from my flat in east London. :-(  
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