Galle located 116km south of Colombo, on the southwest corner of the island, is the largest town in the region. Until the British conquest it was the most important port in the island of Sri Lanka, appearing in European histories from as early as AD545. By the time of the great Arab traveller and writer Ibn Batuta, who landed here in the 13th century, it was firmly established as an entrepot for commerce between Sri Lanka and the Arab world.
Conquered by the Portuguese in 1505, then by the Dutch in 1640, the town was extensively fortified and the lines of its fortifications – added to by the British through to World War 2 - can be clearly seen. The best reserved colonial-era city in South Asia, Galle was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Centre in 1988.
A continuous Rampart, built by the Dutch from the mid – 17th century onward and added to by the British, encircles the city, interrupted by 14 massive bastions. The best way to see the fort is to walk the length of the walls, and the best time to do it is around sunset. Start at the most impressive section, where the star, Moon and Sun bastions glower forbiddingly over the neck of the peninsula. The ramparts south of the harbors are pierced by the Old Gate, above which is a British coat of arms and south of the harbor the Zwart Bastion is believe to be the only surviving part of the original Portuguese fortifications. The circuit of the walls continues via the Akersloot and Aurora bastions to the Point Utrecht bastion, topped by a modern lighthouse, then to Flag Rock, the southernmost point of the walls, before looping back north through the Triton, Neptune, Clippenberg and Aeolus and Star bastions. The final section between the Aeolus and Star bastions is closed, as it is part of military base. While some of the bastions retain their original Dutch names, the Triton, Aeolus, Neptune and Aurora bastions were renamed by the British in honor of the Royal Navy ships of the line which took part in the British seizure of Sri Lanka from the Dutch during the Napoleonic Wars.
For a peep into life in the days of the Dutch East India Company, look into this small museum at 31 Leynbaan Street Housed in a restored Dutch mansion of the time, it contains paintings, prints, documents, furniture and ceramics from the Dutch colonial era.
The private museum and shop is on Ambalangoda’s main street 800m north of the village centre and is run by one of the village’s noted mask-makers. On display are masks symbolizing all the demons, gods, heroes and villains who appear in masked dances and processions.
Unawatuna, less than 5km southward around thecoast from Galle, missed out from the tourism boom of the late 20th century because of troubles. This 4km sweep of palm-fringed sand – said by some to among the twelve best beaches in the world – would no doubt already have gone the way of Beruwala, Bentota and Hikkaduwa.
As it is, Unawatuna, while no longer the well-kept secret of e handful of die-hard backpackers and drivers, is still far from over-developed and has bounced back well after the tsunami. Attractions here include sheltered waters for swimming, and an accessible coral reef for snorkeling. For scuba divers, there are several wreck dives only about 20-30 minutes away from the beach by boat.
Koggala appears in the holiday brochures courtesy of its superb beach, but there is virtually nothing here except for a handful of all inclusive resort hotels. That said, it has plenty to recommend it for an idle, undemanding beach holiday.