The romantic garrison city
By Sirancee Gunawardena
My father was born in Weligama. He wanted his Colombo-bred fledglings to come under the marvellous spell of the deep south. Of its roaring seas and star-spangled, jet black heavenly sky above; of the little crabs that scuttled across the salt laden rocks braving the foaming wrath of the monsoon waves, and the crunchy golden goodness of weli hakuru that tickled the throat with its honeyed ambrosia.

We were taken each holiday to some place in the south - Weligama, Hambantota, Galle, Bundala, Matara, Situlpahuwa, just to name a few. He hoped that we too would love the south and get to know our roots.

We loved to go to the Galle beach. We stayed in a beautiful, sprawling old world Dutch house with gabled arches and wide verandahs with my grandmother's brother and his wife who were charming hosts. They were old residents of Galle and loved having family members visit.

Story time
In the flickering light of a Gola lamp, we would listen wide-eyed as my father narrated episodes from a bygone age of wars and turbulence during the Portuguese, Dutch and British periods and the cross currents of the mainstream of commerce.

He made our hair stand on end with his graphic descriptions of executions and gallows. He told us how on Gibberts Island in the Galle harbour near Closenburg, men could be seen hanging from the gallows as this was a place of execution during Dutch times. This part of history has been blotted out completely as this island was submerged when the Galle harbour was expanded and a fishing harbour built.

He told us how Baron von Engen Ransonnet, a handsome prince came to Galle in 1864. He was a naturalist and so taken up by the beauty of Galle and the coral banks that he spent several weeks obtaining valuable information about the coral reefs in Galle. He also went down in a naval diving bell and painted beautiful pictures of the coral and the sea creatures that he saw.

Building feats
The Galle harbour was the point of entry to Sri Lanka before the Colombo harbour was developed. The Portuguese, who came here by accident when they were diverted during a monsoon storm, built a small fort near the Galle harbour and used it to house their garrison called Santa Cruz.

The mud plastered walls, three bastions and watch towers were dismantled by the Dutch invaders who constructed a grandiose fort on a 90-acre plot. It extended 700 metres from north to south. This fort was built by Governor Rijcloff van Goens in 1663 when battlements were the main fortification. As there were no long range missiles at that time, forts were built to withstand heavy cannon fire.

The Galle Fort was huge and solidly built. The sea bastion was large and had a moat from the sea to the harbour. Its three sections were called the Star bastion, Moon bastion and Sun bastion. The Star and Moon bastions face the esplanade. The bastions between the Star bastion and Zwart Fort - Black Fort were well fortified.
It is a remarkable fact that the Dutch were able to finance the garrison with the sale of our common garden arecanuts which were highly priced in Europe.

Welcome point
As Closenburg was owned by a relative of ours, my father often took us there. We had sea baths and ate fried cuttlefish (dallo) and ran around their spacious house. It was a fascinating place. Not only was it designed to resemble a big ship, Closenburg was the place where ships called for their supplies of fresh water. The grills over the doors and windows were shaped to look like the badge of the P&O company.

Emerson Tennent writing about Galle, says, "No traveller fresh from Europe will ever part with the impression left by the first gaze upon tropical scenery as is developed in the bay and warded hills that encircle it, for, although Galle is surpassed both in grandeur and beauty by places afterwards seen in the island, still the feat of admiration and wonder called forth by its loveliness remains vivid and unimparted". Walking along the ramparts, gazing at the entrance to the Fort with the Dutch crest and thinking of the ingenuity of the Dutch to devise an underground channel for waste water which is washed by the sea or peering into ancient Dutch houses is always invigorating.

Home ground
Entrances to houses did not have architectural embellishment. Verandahs called stoep enclosed the facade and some had wooden pillars. The houses had lofty windows and inside there was a lobby called Kleine Zaal through which you enter into the house. There were Dutch carved chairs on either side and an assortment of photographs, portraits and etchings on the walls of the living room. They had a dining table, a cellaret made of beautiful calamander wood; high backed chairs and an ebony rustbank settee with Dutch carving and two little footstools to put your feet on. Further away they had a small writing desk called a lessenaar made of grand calamander or ebony wood and invariably the family Bible - the Staten Bybel - with carved wooden corns on leather, with a tiny brass lock.

The family was always proud of the inner folio of the Bible which had the family tree with their genealogy traced cestor who came to Ceylon. There was an all purpose room called the plaatse kamer and smaller rooms for storage and a courtyard with a well. Many Dutch painters have painted pictures of Dutch interiors.

The modern entrance to the fort runs through the 1.3 metre thick wall. The Dutch coat of arms has three bales of cinnamon on the ground with an elephant in the middle with a cinnamon branch in its mouth and palm trees on the side with a crown at the top. Each local unit which was captured by the Dutch had their local coat of arms; the Galle coat of arms has a lock perched on a rock with two lions on either side which was the V.O.C. monogram.

Protective walls
The Galle Fort was built solidly as the Dutch wanted protection from the sea as well as their rivals and the local army. The fort was built of grey coral stone which did not disintegrate with the lashings of the monsoon and with laterite. The fort could withstand heavy cannon fire.

The Galle Fort is basically square in shape with projections in the four corners on the bastions which would enable them to attack the enemy. The Dutch fort was better built than the Portuguese fort which was dismantled. It ranked as one of the top strongholds throughout the East. There were approximately 2000 Dutch army personnel in the garrison. They were not only Dutch but of different European descent who had joined the VOC.

They were housed in single-storey houses which had spacious rooms. They had large windows made of wood and lattice. There were colonnades and gables reminiscent of the Baroque style popular in Holland. Some of these houses have not been maintained and are dilapidated but some are being restored, mostly with Dutch aid.

There is a museum with Dutch artefacts which merits a visit. Efforts are being made to have a Maritime Museum as many ships were wrecked in the vicinity of the Galle harbour. A friend of mine who is a diver in Galle presented me with a small white porcelain pipe found from the sea which would have been used by a Dutch sailor.

De Groote Kerk
The Galle Church De Groote Kerk in the fort is typical of Dutch architecture. The dome shaped church had a central aisle and seating near the pulpit from which the sermon was preached. The church is well preserved. The original stained glass windows are still there. Van Dort has made two lovely paintings of this old church.

There was a windmill on Triton bastion in the fort which was used to fill tanks with sea water to replenish the carts which went round the streets of the fort. The Utrecht bastion had a lighthouse and a man had to climb the flagstaff several times a day to scan the sea for ships. He would hoist a flag if the harbour could be entered. At the arrival or departure of a ship a cannon was fired.

Galle, during the Dutch time, extended from north to east from Hiniduma, (well known for the Catholic Way of the Cross) which the Dutch called Haycock as it rose from the plain like a conical pile of hay in a field, to Unawatuna. Unawatuna today is well known for its lovely beach which tourists are attracted to.

Ambling through Galle you will be enchanted by borichchi lace made by women which was introduced by the Dutch and the sparkling gems which they traded. Rumassala Kanda is another beach worthy of attention. It is linked with folklore. It is also important ecologically for its rare herbs and indigenous plants. The sea around there has about 300 varieties of fish and coral which are indigenous.

Galle has a great fascination for me. I love its old world charm. In the old days, it took four days to travel from Colombo to Galle and people travelled in palanquins carried by 12 sturdy men. The sea fringed coast adds to the pleasure of journeying to Galle and if you are not in too much of a hurry, stop a while and have a drink of thambili on the way or a glass of fresh sweet toddy straight from the tree.

Don't try the tight rope walk on the treetops for a pot of potent toddy, lest you feel dizzy and crash to the ground and never see romantic Galle.

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