From the monstrous battlements I looked south towards Antarctica, the Indian Ocean a quivering blue mass.
This was the edge of Galle Fort, a European relic from Sri Lanka’s colonial past. Galle has been a trading port since classical times, with King Solomon supposedly coming for ivory and peacocks. The Portuguese arrived in the 1500s, and built the original Galle Fort after being attacked by the Sinhalese King Raja Singha I.
My mind was immediately taken back to Malacca, the Portuguese town I visited in Malaysia. There were parallels, from the European churches and houses, to the unforgiving 35 degree heat. But unlike Malacca, Galle Fort is far better preserved. Within its walls is a living town with a courthouse. Jason and I tried to enter, explaining that we were admitted lawyers in New Zealand. The AK-47 wielding guard was having none of it, but our disgusting singlets and jandals didn’t help.
Like Malacca, Galle was eventually conquered by the Dutch. They deemed the fort inadequate, probably because they’d just captured it, and so built the massive ramparts that exist today. Using local materials, the walls are a strange mixture of stone and coral. Some streets still bear Dutch names, and the houses have gables and verandas in the Dutch style.
In 1796 it was Britain’s turn, and they built the picturesque lighthouse that still serves as a beacon to foundering mariners. The United Kingdom retained control until Sri Lanka’s independence in 1948. Thankfully, this era’s over, but there remains an alarming whiff of neo-colonialism. The old town is crammed with hotels and restaurants, pale-faced tourists sipping wine.
I envied them as I endured the debilitating heat, the sunblock stinging my eyes as it melted away. Below the walls the locals played in the shallows, swimming over the coral reef. There wasn’t a bigger contrast to the freezing continent 10,000 kilometres across the ocean.