It is an interesting milestone when adapting to a new home country, when one starts revisiting favorite locations more often than one discovers new ones.
The beauty of Sri Lanka, of course, is that there is so much to discover on a relatively small island that, with minimum travel effort, can be explored repeatedly before retracing one’s footsteps, or before being satiated.
And so it is with Fort Galle, the gorgeous fortified town that became our architectural inspiration, when we ultimately decided to make Sri Lanka our principal base during the Asian leg of our Green Global Trek.
We live a mere 20 minutes by scooter or tuk tuk, and yet we don’t come to Galle as frequently as I’d like to. Every trip for me (Ben) is a visual treat. I love the majestic white buildings in narrow alleys that all eventually end against the wind-swept ramparts. I welcome the languid pace of life. During low season, that is. When waves of tourists swell the city at the height of the tourist seasons, then the charm is lost in the brouhaha. But now in May we are blessed by the tranquility of the low season.
Thus it is time to enjoy a stroll in Galle. We are anything but blase about Galle. Hopefully, we will never tire of strolling these streets.
On our way to Fort Galle, we stop to enjoy the coastal views.
The streets of this town are almost literally covered with jewels. The precious and semi-precious gem industry is one of the major contributors to the country’s exports. The appropriately pearl-shaped island is so rich in its mineral diversity that it earned great fame for the quality of gems, as far back as written history recalls.
Marco Polo wrote that the island had the best sapphires, topazes, amethysts, and other gems in the world. Ptolemy, the 2nd century astronomer recorded that beryl and sapphire were the mainstay of Sri Lanka’s gem industry. Records from sailors that visited the island states that they brought back “jewels of Serendib”. Serendib was the ancient name given to the island by Middle Eastern and Persian traders that crossed the Indian Ocean to trade gems from Sri Lanka to the East during the 4th and 5th century.
But while we appreciate the beauty and craftsmanship of Galle’s gem sellers, the true jewels, in our eyes, are the well preserved buildings, large and small, from various historical lineages, that constitute Fort Galle’s unique architecture.
If the narrow streets and well preserved buildings of Fort Galle earned the town recognition of the United Nations as a World Heritage Site, it is worth remembering that as a continuously inhabited fortified town since the Portuguese recognized the strategic value of Galle, then through the Dutch colonial period, the town is an absolute treasure trove of antiquities passed on from one generation of Fort Galle residents to the next.
Bringing it all together, one of the oldest mansions of Fort Galle, dating back over 350 years, has become a pseudo-museum, more of a repository of what continuously emerges from Galle’s architectural treasure. It is quaint. It is overflowing with a variety of collections.
Just like this museum of antiquities, the Southern region of Sri Lanka, with Fort Galle as its most majestic architectural highlight, continues to surprise and delight us when we take the time to explore and enjoy our surroundings.