Today’s town has grown greatly and spreads into the surroundings but the Fort is the slowbeating heart of Galle‘s history. The walled city has stood since the early sixteenth century, through the Colonial periods of the Portuguese, Dutch and British and in our present times is proclaimed as an Archaeological Reserve and has been identified as a living World Heritage Site. The etymology of the name Galle is explained as probably an altered form of the Sinhalese word “gala”: a cattle fold or posting-place from which the Portuguese named it Point-de-Galle. The simpler and more popular theory is found in the similarity of the Sinhalese word: gala, for rock, which the Portuguese duplicated by adopting the Latin word: gallus, for rooster. They thus designed the coat-of-arms of the city as that of a rooster standing upon a rocky perch.
The Portuguese captured Galle from the Sinhala kings in 1587 and erected the first fortification, a single wall fronted by a moat which extended from the sea to the harbour.
The Dutch landed in 1640 with 12 ships and 2,000 men under the command of Wilhelm Jacobsz Coster who defeated the Portuguese after severe fighting and a four-day siege.
The Dutch later converted the Portuguese “fortalezza” into a single bastion which they named Zwart Bastion and built a formidable line of defence, ringing the walled town by ten bastions, which endure to this day. Akersloot Bastion is named after the birth-place of Coster, the Dutch commander who captured Galle. The name has been chiselled on a stone at the spot and also bears a date which, however, has no bearing on the date of erection of the Bastion. The grim old walls are a favourite promenade for Galle‘s citizens and its visitors alike.
Through the rolling streams of Time and Change, Galle still retains – as few other towns in Sri Lanka – an atmosphere of the past. The town was graced with considerable civic amenities and military features. Two hundred years ago a storm-water drainage system was introduced which prevented flooding in the Fort. It was so sophisticated as to have great brick-lined, underground drains, which were automatically flushed twice a day by the tide. Despite recent face-lifts and new facades to many of the houses and the introduction of modern civic amenities like electricity, telephone systems, water and drainage services, the streets remain narrow and many are known by their original names such as Leyn-Baan street, Zeeberg street and Moderabaay street. A peep into the old houses reveals them to be spacious and airy, with large, ornamental doors and windows, pillared verandahs and cool inner courtyards and gardens.