The Sunday Leader

Galle Fort: World Heritage Site To Be Leased

By Indika Sri Aravinda

The scenic Galle Fort and Galle Fort main gate (Picture courtesy Wikipedia)

Parts of the historic Galle Fort, a world heritage site, are to be sold via an open tender, to private companies to set up malls and other commercial outlets.
As an initial step the Galle Kachcheri will be leased out to four establishments including a clothes shop, food outlet and a restaurant.
The Galle Heritage Foundation said it will lease out the Kachcheri and use the money it gets to maintain the Galle Fort.
Chairman of the Foundation Parakrama Dahanayaka told The Sunday Leader that they spend approximately Rs. 2 million a year to maintain the Fort.
He said they receive the money from the government and the Netherlands for the maintenance of the premises but that money was insufficient.
Dahanayaka said that with an increase in tourism to the world heritage site opening commercial outlets at the location will help the Foundation meet its expenses.
However, he noted that the agreements signed with the commercial outlets will have strict conditions to ensure the heritage site is not damaged.
The Galle Kachcheri is located on a 90 acre land in the UNESCO site and the entire Fort area also consists of the office of the Galle police DIG, his official residence, the governor’s office and a Court complex.
An underground weapons storage facility within the Fort premises will also be leased out, Dahanayaka said.
When The Sunday Leader contacted the Minister of National Heritage, Dr. Jagath Balasuriya he confirmed moves to lease some the buildings in the Fort for commercial proposes.
He said he had also presented a cabinet paper on this but it was rejected and an amended cabinet paper will be submitted soon.
When the fortified town fell into the hands of the Dutch in 1640, they decided to replace the precarious Portuguese defences constituted partially of palisades and earth banks. They encircled the whole of the peninsula with a bastioned stone wall so as to render it impregnable against the English, French, Danish, Spanish and Portuguese fleets vying with Holland for the supremacy of the sea.
This fortified city, built by the Dutch, exists still, but with few changes. It has an area of 52 ha inside the walls defended by 14 bastions. The majority of the curtain walls were built in 1663. The northern fortified gate, protected by a drawbridge and a ditch, bears the date 1669. Much of the city, laid out on a regular grid pattern adapted to the configuration of the terrain (north-south peripheral streets are parallel to the ramparts and not to the central traffic axes), dates from this period.
During the 18th century, protected by a sea wall finished in 1729, the city reached full development. It housed 500 families, and a large number of public administrations, trade establishments and warehouses were located there.
A Protestant, Baroque-style church, the oldest in Sri Lanka, was constructed in 1775 for the European colonists and a few Christian converts from plans drawn up by Abraham Anthonisz. However, Galle remained essentially a stronghold. In the layout of the city the Commandant’s residence, the arsenal and the powder house were prominent features. The forge, carpentry and rope-making workshops, the naval guardhouse, and barracks rounded out a system that closely linked prosperous trade to military security.
The fort of Galle was handed over to the English only on February 1796, one week after the surrender of Colombo. As a British protectorate, Galle remained the administrative centre of the south of Ceylon. A number of unfortunate modifications were then made: ditches filled in, new blockhouses added, a gate put in between the Moon bastion and the Sun bastion, a lighthouse installed on the Utrecht bastion, and a tower erected for the jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1883. Other work was undertaken during the Second World War in order to restore the defensive function of the fortifications.
Taken together these alterations, few in number, as can be seen from the above, have not seriously modified the original city plan. Galle remains the best example of a fortified city built by Europeans in South and South-East Asia, UNESCO said on its website.
The Fort was declared a World Heritage Site in 1988. Following the disaster caused by the Tsunami of 2004 when many buildings were damaged, the Ministry of Cultural Affai0rs launched a project for renovation and reconstruction, but paying attention to the former architecture to retain a historical feel.
The Galle Fort has both Portuguese and Dutch era buildings, reflecting the bygone era of the colonial domination of the city. These buildings needed attention as many changes had taken place over the centuries.  The Government of Sri Lanka, through its Galle Heritage Foundation under the Ministry of Cultural Affairs and National Heritage has taken the initiative of restoring some of the heritage buildings to their old glory.
The restoration work has been financially supported by the Government of the Netherlands. The renovation work conforms to guidelines set by the Archeological Department of Sri Lanka. Technical guidance was provided by the Architectural Wing of the University of Moratuwa.[10] Very many of the old town houses have been bought up by expatriates and rich Sri Lankans and Indians and renovated as holiday homes.
The National Maritime Museum in Galle Fort area, near the Old gate, was established in 1997 as an exclusive Maritime Archaeology Centre with active involvement of the Government of the Netherlands in the project in view of the findings that the Galle Harbour consisted of over 21 historical shipwreck sites and associated artifacts.

1 Comment for “Galle Fort: World Heritage Site To Be Leased”

  1. Nasser Hussain

    Alas, upto now,, they were harassing and even drove out residents in the name of conservation and heritage site. Now they even want to lease what’s on the ramparts, monuments.

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