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  • Cecilia Clark

Galle, Sri Lanka: April 3 - 5, 2024

Our last two nights in Sri Lanka were spent in Galle Fort (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). The fort has narrow streets, lots of history, and charm. At this point it remains a living city with residents continuing to live in their homes and children coming in from outside the fort to attend school. Like many historic cities, it is changing. The land in the fort is quite limited and quite valuable.


Galle Fort is a fortified old city that occupies a headland surrounded on three sides by the sea. It is the southermost tip of the island of Sri Lanka. Galle was a busy port as far back as at least the 1st century BC trading with the Egyptians, Persians, Greece, and China. Galle was first settled by Portuguese navigators in 1505. In 1588, the Portuguese constructed a rampart of dirt and three bastions to defend the fort on the landside. The seaward sides were considered invulnerable and were not fortified.​​​​​​​​​​


The Dutch with the help of the Sinhalese captured the fort in 1640 and encircled the whole of the headland with 13 bastions and a coral and granite stone wall as a shield against fleets of invaders (the English, French, Danish, Spanish and Portuguese) vying with Holland for the supremacy of the sea. The ramparts around the peninsula of Galle total 1.5 mi/2.5 km in length.


The Dutch East India Company, VOC (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie), ceded Galle to the British in 1796 shortly before the entire company went bankrupt. Sri Lanka was a British colony from 1815 to 1948. Additional fortifications were added during WWII and some of the pillboxes remain. The British also added another entrance gate. In 1948, Sri Lanka became an independent country.



Explanation of the building photos:

1 & 2. View looking east from the Sun Bastion to the Star Bastion.

3. View toward Flag Rock Bastion the southernmost point of the fort.

4. The Galle Lighthouse built in 1939 is the oldest light station in Sri Lanka. It was erected by the British after their prior light station, built in 1848, was destroyed by fire. The Galle lighthouse is within the walls of Galle Forte at Utrecht Bastion on the southern end of the promontory.

5. The old entrance of the Galle Fort with the Dutch East India Company emblem VOC (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie), with a rooster on a rock above the VOC shield, flanked by two lions. On the bottom an inscription reads 'ANNO MDCLXIX' (The Year 1669). The British coat of arms is on the exterior side of the wall . The entrance was widened several years ago for modern, motorized traffic.

6. The 1669 Dutch Warehouse was built into the ramparts facing the old port of Galle. With its thick walls and solid pillars, the warehouse was built to withstand cannon fire. Cinnamon was the main commodity of the VOC in Sri Lanka who planted cinnamon in villages around Galle. Other exports were cardamon, pepper, pearls, gems, and elephants. After being captured and stored in the warehouse, the elephants were shipped to India.



Galle Fort has a multi-ethnic and multi-religious population. More than half of the inhabitants inside the fort are Moor. In addition there are Sinhalese, Dutch, English, Portuguese and German settlers. The Dutch built the still operating baroque style Protestant (Dutch Reformed) church in 1775 to cater to the colonists and locals converted to Christianity. The Meeran Jumma Mosque was built in 1904 on a site may have had a mosque that was replaced with a Catholic Church during the Portuguese occupation. The Buddhist temple was built at the site of the Portuguese Roman Catholic church. Portions of the All Saints Anglican Church built in 1871 were once a criminal court, and the gallows were where the present-day altar stands.



We left Galle midday after exploring for the last time. Our plane was scheduled to depart after 8:00 pm that night and it was just a two-hour drive from Galle to the airport. Indika our wonderful guide and Thushara our fabulous driver came up with a plan to fill the hours prior to our departure.


Our first stop was at the Bamian Buddha Statue (created in the image of the Bamiyan Buddhas destroyed in Afghanistan) erected by the Japanese government as a memorial to those lost in the December 26, 2004, tsunami. The tsunami was caused by a 9.0 earthquake off the west coast of northern Sumatra, Indonesia (southeast of Sri Lanka). In Sri Lanka, the south and east coasts were the worst hit. It took four hours for the waves to hit Sri Lanka. The tsunami hit Sri Lanka's east coast almost an hour before it slamed into the southwest coast but no warning given. There were no tsunami warning systems anywhere in the Indian Ocean.



It was a full moon and a holiday in Buddhist Sri Lanka. It was the second wave, the killerwave, that hit "The Queen of the Sea" holiday train west of Galle and within 10 minutes killed nearly 1700 passengers on board. Nearby Peraliya Village on the Sri Lankan southwest coast was totally destroyed and more than 2500 people lost their lives. The Bamian Buddha Statue stands in memoriam to those who died on the train and in the village. Just a few meters away and on the beach side of the road is another marker memorializing the tragedy of the tsunami hitting the Queen of the Sea train.


Much of the agricultural lands and crops were destroyed. Underground water sources were salinated. The main highway between Galle and Colombo was badly damaged causing a delay in supplies and aid. In some places on the northeast coast, the tsunami pushed inland 1.25 mi/2 km killing people and livestock as it moved forward. After everything was tallied, there were 31,229 confirmed dead, 4,093 missing, 21,411 injured. Sri Lanka now has a tsunami early warning system around the island.


Galle Fort with its fortified walls capable of withstanding cannon fire withstood the tsunami. The tsunami waves hit the fort and diverged flowing instead around the fort into the new town of Galle where it took out the International Cricket Stadium, the bus station, and killed many residents.


After that sobering stop, we drove some distance to a home where cinnamon trees are grown and processed. Ceylon Cinnamon, the true cinnamon, has been a Sri Lankan export since the 13th century. While we watched, a small trunk of a cinnamon tree was cut. The tree has multiple trunks and regenerates every six months or so. The outer bark is peeled from the cutting. Then using a sharp knife, a vertical cut is made along the length of the tree trunk in order to peel the cinnamon layer by layer. Larger pieces of bark stuffed with the small pieces of bark (called cinnamon quillings) are bound and dried; these will have less value. Ceylon cinnamon quills are graded based on their width; the thinner the quills, the higher they are in value. The price of cinnamon fluctuates like any other commodity. In the export market, the thinner, high grade layers sell for twice as much as the larger layers, but they also take twice as long to process.



After enjoying a cup of cinnamon tea, we continued to the airport in Colombo arriving around 6pm with just enough time to check in and walk toward our plane.


Particulars:

Mandy Pullin, DPP Travel (www.dpptravel.com) hooked us up with Big 5 Tours & Expeditions (www.bigfive.com). Big 5 put together our itinerary and made our Sri Lankan arrangements except for our time in Polonnaruwa. The itinerary which allowed us to visit many areas of Sri Lanka was made even better by our guide Indika and our driver Thushara. Both were very flexible and easy to travel with.


Next stop Texas to see the total eclipse and visit family.

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