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Dutch capital in the tropics: Galle

The coat of arms of the Dutch East-India Company adorns the entrance gate to the Galle Fort, a World Heritage monument. In the middle of the 17th century, the Dutch conquered the island known as Ceylon from the Portuguese; they took over the lucrative trade in cinnamon, betel nuts, pearls and elephants. Centuries later, Sri Lanka is still littered with remnants from Dutch rule.

From 1640 to 1796, Ceylon, today’s Sri Lanka, was a Dutch colony. Both Portuguese and British settlers were constantly on the prowl, so the former capital and major sea port needed a strong defence. A star-shaped fort was built, a tropical version of the Dutch Naarden-Vesting fort. The fort still stands and even survived the 2004 tsunami with hardly a scratch, while the damage in the new city, outside the Dutch-built city walls, was devastating.

The solid fort walls at sunset
The solid fort walls at sunset


Dutch colonial memories

Galle is filled with memories of Dutch rule. Along the former Kerkstraat (Church Street) stands the baroque church Groote Kerk, dating back to 1755 with graves of Dutch settlers. The former governor’s palace next door has been transformed into the high-end luxury hotel Amangalla, where rooms start from a hefty 400 euros a night. Hotel Weltevreden, located in a historic Dutch house, offers rooms for only 20 euros. The old Lijnbaanstraat still preserves its original name, although the words have been corrupted to Leyn Baan Street. The tips of the fort have names like Zwart Bastion and Akersloot Bastion. Olanda sells colonial furniture and official portraits of Dutch governors. The Royal Dutch Café features coffee and Dutch pancakes on its menu. Just outside the city in Unawatuna lies Nooit Gedacht, another former governor’s mansion that now serves as a heritage hotel. The hotel is significantly less upscale than Amangalla, but receives better reviews than Hotel Weltevreden and is within walking distance from the beach.

“Spend the night in the Dutch governor’s palace for 400 euros a night or in Hotel Weltevreden for 20 euros.”

The Dutch Reformed Church in Galle

The tropical beach of Galle

Galle itself boasts just one tiny inaccessible sandy beach, tucked away at the bottom of the city wall. But outside the city, in a crescent shaped bay between 2 prominent rock formations, lies the most popular beach destination on the southern coast: Unawatuna. The picture-perfect tropical beach with the softest white fluffy sand is wedged between swaying palm trees on one side and the deep blue Indian Ocean on the other. Here you won’t find big hotels but simple small places to stay, with bamboo beach bars where you can enjoy a cold beer or a plate of curry, a handful of sun chairs and a few hammocks strung up between 2 palm trees. Popular with locals and visitors.

Photo credits

  • The Dutch Reformed Church in Galle: Sander Groen