Galle (pronounced gaar-le in Singhala) is a lovely little town in the south of Sri Lanka, just 1.5 hours by car from Colombo. It is famous for a wonderful collection of Dutch colonial buildings in the Fort area, which emerges like a European city in the middle of the tropics. Walking around in the old town amid salty air from the Indian Ocean, you will be surprised by the architectural heritage at every corner you turn.
Built in 1588 by the Portuguese first and later extensively fortified by the Dutch during the 17th century, Galle was the main port for Sri Lanka for more than 200 years. It was an important stop for boats and ships en route between Europe and Asia, before commercial interests were shifted to Colombo in the British era. You can still see the evidence of its glorious maritime past at many corners in the old town.
The Fort area is home to about 400 houses, churches, mosques and temples as well as many old commercial and government buildings. In 1988, it is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage for its unique exposition of “an urban ensemble which illustrates the interaction of European architecture and South Asian traditions from the 16th to the 19th centuries”.
Apart from its colorful history and enchanting architectural heritage, Galle also has a multi-ethnic and multi-religious population: Buddhists, Muslims and Christians. Within an area of just 0.36 square meter, you can find several religious sites located far from each other within walking distance.
One of the most pleasant strolls you can take in the old town is the circuit along the top of the Fort Wall at sunset. The walk can be completed within an hour or two. You will be greeted by local people, who love to come for a walk after the day heat subsided.
With its old colonial building dotted along wide cobblestone streets and its location close to other beach towns in Southern Sri Lanka, it is no wonder that Galle has become a popular tourist destination. The Fort area is full of beautiful boutique hotels, restaurants, cafes, shops and art galleries. Yet, you can feel the local charm through the local community, which has been living and working there for several centuries. The Fort area is therefore a living cultural heritage.
It is one of a few places that you can get lost in time without feeling lost. A place where you can put down the map, stroll aimlessly and make your own discoveries as you go.