Galle is a major city in Sri Lanka, situated on the southwestern tip of Sri Lanka, 119 km fromColombo. Galle is the administrative capital of Southern Province, Sri Lanka and is the district capital of Galle District. Galle is the fourth largest city in Sri Lanka after the capital Colombo, Kandy and Jaffna.
Galle was known as Gimhathiththa (although Ibn Batuta in the 14th century refers to it as Qali) before the arrival of thePortuguese in the 16th century, when it was the main port on the island. Galle reached the height of its development in the 18th century, during the Dutch colonial period. Galle is the best example of a fortified city built by the Portuguese in South and Southeast Asia, showing the interaction between Portuguese architectural styles and native traditions. The city was extensively fortified by the Dutch during the 17th century from 1649 onwards. The Galle fort is a world heritage site and is the largest remaining fortress in Asia built by European occupiers.
Other prominent landmarks in Galle include the city's natural harbor, the National Maritime Museum, St. Mary's Cathedral founded by Jesuit priests, one of the main Shiva temples on the island. Galle is home to a cricket ground, the Galle International Stadium which is considered to be one of the most picturesque cricket grounds in the world.
Important natural geographical features in Galle include Rumassala in Unawatuna, a large mound-like hill, which forms the eastern protective barrier to the Galle harbour. Local tradition associates this hill with some events of Ramayana, one of the great Hindu epics. The major river in the area is the Gin River (Gin Ganga), which begins from Gongala Kanda and passes villages such as Neluwa, Nagoda, Baddegama, Thelikada and Wakwella, reaches the sea at Ginthota. The river is bridged at Wakwella by theWakwella Bridge.
Galle was known as Gimhathitha, in ancient times and the term is believed to be derived from the classical Sinhalese term meaning "port near the river Gin". It is believed that the town got its name as Gaalla in the native tongue as a result of the large number of bullock carts that took shelter in the area, following the long slow journeys from remote areas of the island. "Gaala" in Sinhala means the place where cattle are herded together and hence the Sinhalese name for Galle, is a development from ‘Gaala’. Another theory is that the word Galle is derived from the Dutch word ‘Gallus’ which means rooster. The Dutch have also used the rooster as a symbol of Galle.
According to James Emerson Tennent, Galle was the ancient seaport ofTarshish, 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. In 1411, the Galle Trilingual Inscription, a stonetablet inscription in three languages, Chinese, Tamil and Persian, was erected in Galle to commemorate the second visit to Sri Lanka by the Chinese admiral Zheng He.
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.
The Galle Municipal Council governs the City of Galle, established under the Municipalities Ordinance of 1865. It was at the time, only the 3rd municipal council in the country. The first mayor of the city was appointed in 1939 in the person of Wijeyananda Dahanayake, who later went on to become the fifth Prime Minister of Ceylon.
Galle features a tropical rainforest climate. The city has no true dry season, though it is noticeably drier in the months of January and February. As is commonplace with many cities with this type of climate, temperatures show little variation throughout the course of the year, with average temperatures hovering at around 26 degrees Celsius throughout.
Galle is a sizeable city, by Sri Lankan standards, and has a population of 91 000, the majority of whom are of Sinhalese ethnicity. There is also a large Sri Lankan Moor minority, particularly in the fort area, who descend from Arab merchants that settled in the ancient port of Galle. Galle is also notable for its foreign population, both residents and owners of holiday homes.