Fishmongers are shouting outside the massive city walls of the old town of Galle, showing off their shiny tunas and smaller tropical fish to potential buyers. Not far away the old city gate leads into a long, dark tunnel directly into the past. The town square beyond, surrounded by arcaded buildings and leafy trees. It is more colonial than anything we have seen in Sri Lanka.
A sign on one of the buildings reads “Court of Justice” and at first we suppose that there will be an exhibition inside about the Dutch or British legal system in the colonies. But then we notice the people standing outside, many of them visibly nervous or agitated. All the windows of the old building are wide open, because of the heat, but another notice warns us not to take any photos of the courtroom and not to linger near the windows. The court is still in use and looks unchanged from olden days.
Galle, the old fortified harbour town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its mix of colonial and local traditions, becauce it has retained all the walls and ramparts of its bastion. In an hour or so, you can easily walk around the Old Town on those walls (unless you have a sprained foot, like Natascha had). From there you will have a nice view out onto the sea, and in onto the cute little houses of the Old Town.
A good place for souvenir hunters
The alleys and streets of Galle’s Old Town, though not traffic-free, are quite picturesque and pedestrian. There are tiny guesthouses and cafés tucked away in backyards, and tastefully decorated restaurants catering for the many foreign tourists – and also a considerable number of middle-class Sri Lankan visitors. Shops selling Sri Lankan tea or interior decoration are vying for attention. In Galle the shop-owners seem to be getting something right about European tastes. No, we don’t need any batik table mats and elephant-shaped napkin rings, but they look appealing. Only in the fourth or fifth shop selling a very similar range of goods we realize that we know several chains of interior shops in Germany selling about the same items, at perhaps lower prices. But well, if you buy them in Sri Lanka, they also have a souvenir value.
Near the – quite photogenic – lighthouse, there’s a white building looking for all the world like a church. Only on a second look we recognise the half-moon symbols and the Arabic inscription Jamia Al-Khairat. The Muslim community of Galle had expressly employed an Italian architect for the building.
We would have loved to spend a night in one of the tasteful boutique hotels, but as we found them too expensive (from around 80 Euro per night), we visited Galle only as a day trip from Mirissa and in the end found that seven hours were quite enough to experience the city.