Case study: Galle Fort in Sri Lanka
Galle Fort, which is also called as Dutch Fort is situated in the south-western coastal city of Sri Lanka. It is a Fortification initially built by Portuguese in the late 16th century. Later in the 17th century it was rebuilt with extensive modifications by Dutch. As a result the Fort became one of the most important historic site in the Southeast Asian region with architectural wonders. This site is now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its unique combination with contemporary urbanization within the restored heritage structure with European architecture and south Asian traditions and culture from the 1th to 19th centuries.
History of Galle Fort
Galle Fort, which is also called as Dutch Fort is situated in the South-western coastal city of Sri Lanka. It had been the principal port of Ceylon when the explorer Iban Batuta landed in 1344. This is a fortification initially built by Portuguese in 1588, in the late 16th century. They constructed a rampart with three bastions facing the landside only, as no threat was expected from the sea side. They also constructed a Franciscan chapel in 1541, of which ruins can be observed even today. It is recorded that the fort was used as a prison camp towards the latter half of the Portuguese period.
In the 17th century (1640), it was captured and rebuilt with extensive modifications by Dutch. They built a stone wall with coral and granite, all around the 52 ha peninsula with 14 bastions to defend the wall (finished in 1729). A moat and a draw bridge was constructed in 1669 for the northern gate. The town that was created within the walls was laid out in a well-planned grid pattern. The Dutch also built an elaborate underground sewer system that worked with the tide and a sophisticated drainage system in the fort.
The fortified city became fully developed in during the 18th century with a large number of public administrations buildings, trade establishments, warehouses and housing for about 500 families. The houses were built with distinctive architecture; low-roofed with ornate gables, wide, hospitable doorways, street-facing colonnaded verandahs, and plant-filled courtyards.
A Baroque-style protestant church, the oldest in Sri Lanka was constructed in 1775. The commander’s residence, the arsenal and the gun powder house showed the strength of defense. Some of the essential industries such as carpentry and coir rope industry had workshops within the fort. Naval guard-houses and barracks provided the prosperous trade and living with military security. These were the glory days of the fort.
The English seized the control of the Fort in 1796. During this era the Fort served less as a military establishment and was made the British administrative center of the South of the island. A number of modifications such as filling the mote, addition of block houses, addition of a gate and erection of a lighthouse (in 1848) and a tower (to commemorate the golden jubilee of the Queen Victoria of England) were carried out during their period. The existing Law court house complex was built in the British regime. Several hotels and restaurants, the famous Gymkhana Club House and Tennis courts were also built within the fort premises. During the British rule of Sri Lanka the Galle Fort was a site of much activity. The Office of the Chief administrator of the district was located in the Old Dutch hospital building until the independence in 1948. However, with time the importance and the glory of the fort thus have declined.
The Galle Port became a busy hub for international trade and became a gateway to the orient. Merchants came in search of exquisite merchandise such as carved ebony elephants, coffee-wood sticks, cinnamon paper cutters, Sinhalese lace, and a variety of jewels such as diamonds, pearls, and sapphires. In the late 19th century the activities of the Galle port dramatically decreased due to the opening of the Colombo harbor. This was fortunate for the Galle fort since it would have caused irreparable damage to the fort’s heritage if otherwise, since more expansions and development would have occurred due to expansion of the Galle city.
However, this decline of the Galle city affected the Fort too and the activities of the fort were further quieted down for decades afterwards, up until it gained international recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.
Adopting to changing times
The recognition of the Galle Fort as a UNESCO World Heritage Site led to the commencement of conservation work funded by the government of the Netherlands. The fort and the buildings needed restoration as many changes has taken place over the centuries. The Government of Sri Lanka, through its ‘Galle Heritage Foundation’ under the Ministry of Cultural Affairs and National Heritage took the initiative of restoring some of the heritage buildings to their original glory. The restoration work was carried out according to the guidelines imposed by the Archeological Department of Sri Lanka. The Faculty of Architecture of the University of Moratuwa provided the technical guidance for the restoration work.
Although the fact that the Fort needed restoration was undisputed and agreed to all round, the question ‘to what degree?’ caused much debate as the Fort was a space handed down from the Portuguese period, through that of the Dutch to the British period, with each adding their own touch to its history and architecture. This meant that the Fort had different ‘layers’ to it that were equally important to its story.
Some of the ancient Dutch buildings, mainly houses, were selected for restoration based on the basis of a text titled “Ancient Ceylon, Volume 15”, and a study of old writings relating to the Fort carried out by the Ruhuna University. The project cost was 51 million Rupees and was funded by the Government of Netherlands. Some of the houses had been bought by Sri Lankans and foreigners and most of them conformed to the restoration process preserving Dutch architecture and uniqueness.