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Galle Fort and the old harbour area - A World Heritage Site

1 The Galle Fort is one of the best preserved examples of 17th century colonial fortifications in the world, and is on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Monuments. The reason for its remarkable state of preservation is that this once busy trading town, visited by the East-India fleets and many regional traders, fell upon slack times after the Dutch had left. The development that did take place subsequently focused on the new town of Galle, outside the Fort. The Fort is really a walled city, with a rectangular pattern of streets full of the low houses with gables and verandas in the Dutch colonial style.

The port town of Galle in the southwest of Sri Lanka has a splendid natural harbour. The port was in use in pre-Christian times, but gained in importance after the 12th century. By the 14th century it was arguably the most important port in the country, and it retained this pre-eminence until 1873 when an artificial harbour was built in Colombo. The great Chinese admiral Zheng commemorated his visit by leaving a trilingual inscription in 1411; the three languages were Chinese, Tamil, and Arabic, implying a cosmopolitan trading community. The Portuguese arrived in 1505, and later built a small fort; but it was after Galle was captured by the Dutch in 1640 that the city rose to its greatest prosperity. The Dutch rebuilt the town and strengthened the fortifications. The English took over in 1796 but made few changes to the infrastructure, and it is Dutch architecture of the 17th and 18th centuries which gives the town its present character and charm. Among the Asian ports of the United Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oost Indische Compagnie, or VOC), Galle was second only to Batavia (now Jakarta).


The Galle harbour in the 19th Century

The Galle port is protected from the northeast monsoon but exposed to the southwest, and entrance to the harbour is dangerous because of the many submerged rocks and reefs. Even today, the difficulties persist; both wrecks and casualties are expected from year to year. Removal of dangerous rocks may have been discouraged by local legends that such disruption would cause Galle fort to subside into the sea
The archaeological sites found at Galle habour  


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