The Whinging Pome: Galle’s Rich Past and Vibrant Future

Jun 28 2024.

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My favourite seaside place in Sri Lanka is Galle, on the south-east coast. It’s also my most visited location on the island. Despite all these trips, I recently took a local government employee to walk me about the walled town. Well worth the fee, knowledge sharing and seeing the enthusiasm for his hometown. The history lesson filled in lots of gaps in my knowledge and understanding of Galle despite my hundred prior visits.  

The signage and upgrade of the town, especially the ramparts, go well. I hope the stupid suggestion of charging people to walk the ramparts has been buried. The sign board as you enter the fort is welcoming and very informative. It can be a very hot and humid town, so I always recommend a 90-minute circumnavigation of the ramparts at sunset time. Whilst I’m visiting the churches, cemetery, and renovated properties, Jezzabel the wife wonders about the many shops and cafés and meets her friends for coffee at majestic hotels.  

To get a feel for the town’s history, read a number of publications including, “Galle as Quiet as Asleep, The Tea Planter’s Wife, Elephant Complex” and many more. The Galle name is believed to be derived from the Sinhalese word “Gaala” which refers to a place where cattle are herded. I prefer the more romantic theory of the name deriving from the Latin word “Gallus” meaning rooster. Galle adopted the rooster as the town emblem.

Galle was also linked to international trading, due to its strategic location, port and fresh water supply. From the fifteen eighties the Portuguese fortified the town, then the Dutch developed the town further. The British brought cricket to Galle in 1832. Walking the narrow streets, which can get hectic, you see and feel the amazing array of historic properties. Some are still waiting their turn for gentrification and refurbishment. There is always something new to see.  The resident Europeans and local authorities in the last thirty years started gentrification and upgrade of much of the interior of the walled fort. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

As a taphophile, I enjoy the cemeteries and churches with all their history. I looked for a hidden cemetery near the old market but could not find any access. It sits surrounded by buildings. I went to get help from the local fire brigade close by. They asked the office block security if we could go through their ground floor. We found the graveyard dating back centuries. I never miss the Galle Lit Fest, which has helped boost the town’s local and global positioning. My next trip to Galle is already planned with eight visiting Americans. I’m sure they are going to be fascinated with the history, architecture and buzz of this amazing place. The town needs to continue to develop, e.g. tourism in the port area that needs to become commercially focused and develop the Marine Walk beach waterfront.



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