Galle is the country’s oldest living city and is sure to capture your interest, with its historic sites and its unique fusion of European and Arabic cultural and architectural influences. Galle rose to prominence as a port of call for Chinese, Persian, Arab and Indian traders, later followed by Portuguese, Dutch and British colonialists, all leaving their indelible mark on this enchanting seaside town. According to James Emerson Tennent, Galle was the ancient seaport of Tarshish, from which King Solomon drew ivory, peacocks and other valuables. Cinnamon was exported from Sri Lanka as early as 1400 BC and the root of the word itself is Hebrew, so Galle may have been a main entrepot for the spice. Galle had been a prominent seaport long before western rule in the country. Persians, Arabs, Greeks, Romans, Malays, Indians, and Chinese were doing business through Galle port. The ‘modern’ history of Galle starts in 1505, when the first Portuguese ship, under Lourenço de Almeida was driven there by a storm. However, the people of the city refused to let the Portuguese enter it, so the Portuguese took it by force. In 1640, the Portuguese had to surrender to the Dutch East India Company. The Dutch built the present Fort in the year 1663. They built a fortified wall, using solid granite, and built three bastions, known as ‘Sun’, ‘Moon’ and ‘Star’. After the British took over the country from the Dutch in the year 1796, they preserved the Fort unchanged, and used it as the administrative centre of Galle.
Rice has been a major crop in Sri Lanka from as early as 1000BC. Today the short, roundish samba rices are popular, including a red variety. Historically, the type that you ate depended on your position in society - labourers and fishermen would eat carbohydrate rich varieties, and monks ate scented rice.
An Insider's Perspective
Herman Guneratne was born in the Southern Province and is a planter by profession. He has had a fascinating career - working for British sterling companies for 35 years and then managing 100,000 acres of Sri Lanka's best tea lands for the Sri Lankan Government. When he's not playing golf in Nuwara Eliya, he can usually be found at Handunugoda, his beautiful 200 acre tea plantation in Ahangama, close to Galle where he produces some of the best white tea in the world. He is also the author of four books: The Plantation Raj, For a Sovereign State, The Tortured Island and The Suicide Club.
What is your favourite part of the area?
The Koggala/Mirissa beaches and the inland areas of Ahangama.
What is your favourite activity?
Reading and Golf.
What is your favourite restaurant?
The Amangalla in Galle Fort.
A visit to the Handunugoda white tea estate in Ahangama and to Mount Cinnamon, a cinnamon plantation and museum inland from Mirissa.
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Miguel Cunat is a Partner of Sri Lanka In Style founded in 2005 to provide visitors with insightful, engaging experiences in his adopted homeland. Recognized by Conde Nast Traveler as Sri Lanka’s Top Travel Specialist, and recently featured on Wendy Perrin’s WOW List.