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Galle Fort


As the train from Colombo reaches Gale in three hours & one leaves the precincts of the station, the look of the town does not appear to justify any of the historical importance attached to it,To discover that one has to enter the little town within Galle fort.The ancient town has seen many changes & upheavesl during the last few centuries, but perhaps none like quiet one that is

presently experiencing.


The Portuguese captured Galle from the Sinhala kings in 1587,only to succumb to the Dutch in 1640.The Dutch considerably enhanced the Portuguese fortifications, says Nora Roberts, a long time resident of Galle who spent ten years researching its history, Ken Bastains on the ramparts enclosed the quaint town. The concepts of 45 towns in Ceylon had been introduced earlier by the Portuguese, but without success in their case. All Dutch possessions in Ceylon passed to the British by treaty in 1796,including the legacy of Dutch style tropical houses & grander administrative buildings within Galle fort, The British continued to use Galle as Ceylon's chief port, until Colombo superseded it, around 1880(Robert's 1993).When the British moved from Galle fort to Colombo, the Muslim community began to establish a presence there, Though there had remained until as

relatively recently, as the end of WW2,a sizable Dutch burger community,


Today, reports indicate that the Muslim community accounts for 80 % of Galle fort's population, while the majority sinahlese community account for the remaining 20 % Nora Roberts notes that "Inside the fort surrounded by Dutch ramparts, life still moves leisurely at dusk when the offices & schools are closed  & kindly ghosts moves up& down in Galle fort town..." in her appropriately titled book,Galle as quit as sleep (1993).And so it appeared to me during my recent visit there though I must confess I did not come across any ghosts while waiting through the little town & atop the wide grass covered ramparts surrounding it the latter been also the recreation area for residents,


A combination of historical & architectural significance had led Galle fort to be declared a world heritage site. This attracted World bank funding for renovations completed to the court complex. The existence of justice & other Govt. Depts. located within the Fort is the main reason why people outside the Fort disturb its otherwise tranquil atmosphere. Consequently the authorities are constructing a multi storey building in the town outside the Fort & are apparently aiming to move all government Departments within the fort out within one to five years, There are reportedly also plans in the future to make the Fort town a pedestrian only zone, apart from access to residents vehicles. However this is not  the quiet upheaval I mentioned at the start, since 1998 in formation received indicates that local owners of  Dutch colonial period houses numbering over 300, has sold at least to 30 to foreigners, Sabri Khalid who is one of the two main brokers reasoned that a combination of the high purchasing power of the buyers, the lack of funds by the residence to renovate their houses to the approved historical standards & the changing economy circumstances that see key members of family working outside Galle had let to these changes. Sabri who offers his foreign buyers a package which includes re-construction & management of the property said that he had sold 8 houses to foreigners since October of last year charging commissions from the seller & the buyer, Sellers & buyers are referred to him by word-of-mouth.


The highest value sale in Galle fort was reported to be 20 million Rupees, most are which are between 10 to 15 perches in land area.I sold a 7 perches property with a sea view in November 2002, for 7.5 million Rupees.said Sabri. Also showing me the business card of his buyers who are mostly British expatriate top executives based in Singapore or Hong Kong, though a couple were from the UK,A young British expatriate couple Jack & Jo Eden, who were the first foreigners to buy a property in Galle Fort now run a property management company in Sri Lanka,for foreign buyers & recently had three properties within Gale Fort available to let included in their web site 


A visitor to the website can view images depicting to the high standards to which the foreign owners have reconstructed their properties, prices start at USD.150-250 per night for a house, this website was also mentioned with regard to the availability of houses to buy & rent in Galle Fort, in an article on the tourism potential of Sri Lanka which appeared on Nov, 27 th,2002 in the UK's Daily Mail news paper.


Meanwhile the overwhelming Muslim community within Galle Fort town is according to Sabri Khalid divided on the issue of foreign purchase of their houses, considering whether it will lead to the end of their community that included Muslim Schools.Sabri though is keen to keep selling houses,but not hi parents house,& confidently predicts if there is sufficient supply, there will be demand to see 50% of these historical Dutch colonial period houses fall to foreign buyers within 5 years & possibly 90% within 15 years.


This scenario will probably also see a local private school for the children of the foreign buyers, if in the future they choose to  reside there, rather than as at present spend a few weeks on vacation amidst safety & historical tranquility of Galle Fort town. In effect a new foreign colony, albeit armed with the power of rather than arms of old. If so will it prove to be the final chapter in the long history of Galle Fort?


Another development to be undertaken within the Fort is the reported conversion of the New Oriental Hotel into one of the most  luxurious hotels in Sri Lanka & the region. Whether in the future, tourists who stay there or visit, will appreciative of these winds of change within Galle Fort, that may result in a largely British community living in seclusion, in place of the present indigenous population, remains to be seen, Moreover, would tourists be allowed to view the admittedly fine restoration work on the houses purchased by foreigners, or will access be granted only to those who rent these properties, when available to let? These colonial- era houses irrespective of new foreign buyers, are part of Sri Lanka's history!