The old Citadel town of Galle is well worth investigating and this was our first visits as we got off the train. Having explored the ramparts (see separate review) we climbed down the steps next to the lighthouse and headed off up the narrow streets of the town. A suitable landmark was the large Muslim centre – a grand white building with pan tiled roof looking directly towards the sea. We turned off the main road which runs around the outside of the town parallel to the ramparts and felt confident that we’d manage to get around the town fairly easily. You see the streets are worked on a grid basis so three lefts should always get us back to the start! Well that’s the theory.
There are loads of colonial houses in the town in varying state of repair. One unusual looking place was a first floor wooden shack built on the side of a very grand quarter circular corner house. Both were operating as small shops but the juxtaposition perhaps said it all. Galle is a town of contrasts.
At one point we took a left and ended up next to a huge factory-like building that had been turned into a school. Indeed the whole street was main up of numerous schools from kindergarten to secondary.
Parked on the roadside was an original Morris Minor car. Fantastic with its split windscreen, indicators cut in to the bodywork and leather upholstery. It was in great condition for its age and had a number plate that my friend would have loved to have owned. It bore his initials!
We passed the local library that had been established back in 1832 and a Dutch warehouse that carried the date stamp of 1670. The latter was now a marine museum and we had a quick look around. It was opened in 2010, with help from the Dutch government, after the original museum was destroyed in the tsunami. The warehouse is interesting in its own right being in the classic Dutch design and inside there are numerous marine artefacts, maps and most interesting, as far as I was concerned, a scale model of the fort and the waters around the town of Galle. This confirmed who well the fort reinforced the town’s protection from invading forces.
Somehow are careful plan to investigate the town had run into problems because we ended up right back at the entrance to the fort and despite our best thoughts we couldn’t suss out how we’d got there. So a new strategy was employed. We’d just walk down streets that looked interesting. Well it was a plan of sorts!!
We strolled back down the main peripheral road until we reached the temple that we’d seen from the ramparts. The children and their teachers were still engaged with keep fit, drums and megaphones and we went to check out the temple on the green. This temple was "surrounded" by carved elephants and the centre piece inside the temple was a "shrine table" that had been given in memory of Guenter Karl Steinberg, a local dignitary. Just across from this temple were a stupa and a Buddhist Monastery. We poked our head into the attached church which was surprising plain and uncluttered.
Walking into the town we pass a small mobile market stall ladened with colourful fresh vegetables and as we continue down the narrow street we’re surprised that all the houses have significant patio areas at the front. Indeed we’re even more surprised when we look into one of the houses and see a large internal courtyard, garden and a house that seems to go on forever. It seems that these houses are deceptively large and must have been grand residences in their heyday.
There’s a magnificent residence that must have been recently restored with magnificent external plasterwork, fine pillars and wrought iron window frames. Indeed we were impressed to see that the majority of the towns’ street lights were original oil lamps converted to electricity. There’s a great "historical mansion museum" that’s well worth spending time at. It’s free admission and will give a good idea as to how the wealthy families lived here in Galle. I particularly liked its rear courtyard and delightful garden. But make sure you pay good attention to the internal architecture of the place – it doesn’t look like they skimped on detail anywhere in this grand mansion.
Galle has a great mixture of design with the gentle curves of art nouveau house, the impressiveness of the colonial mansions, properties with impressively carved outside staircases, fine pillars, brightly painted walls and then..
Despite all the grandeur (and some shabby chic) there are pockets of clear deprivation with tatty accommodation and signs of multiple-occupancy.
We stumbled across a magnificent square somewhere close to the centre of town and it turned out to be Galle’s judicial area with solicitors’ offices all over the place. The court buildings were fairly unassuming and within this area were the family law, magistrates and crown courts for the region. "Nosing" as subtly as we could (because there was a high police presence in this area) we spotted a group of shackled prisoners being led across a courtyard. It’s strange because we’d actually assumed that crime was quite light on the island, but this area seemed to give a different message. We hastened away making sure that our cameras were kept well to our side. We assumed that people would take offence if we started "snapping" in this area of town
Galle’s wall city has been around since the early sixteenth century and it truly reflects the architecture of Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial times. It’s now an Archaeological Reserve and has been identified as a World Heritage site. What a great visit.