Galle Fort, a 300-year-old Dutch and British fort, is one of the key places to visit in Sri Lanka. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it enjoys a fascinating history whose traces can be seen at every corner. Within its gates (the old Dutch on one side, the new British on the other) are six hundred houses of which most have retained their original Dutch character; evening strolls are taken by locals and visitors alike over its high and wide ramparts with its old cannon placements overlooking the sea. There are lots of antique shops, jewellers selling local precious stones, boutiques offering lace work and handicrafts, cafés and restaurants, as well as interesting small museums with antiques and artefacts illustrating the rich history of the fort. Mosques, temples and churches live in harmony, and you can explore the cinnamon warehouses and discover the pigeon posts that used to run from the top of the lighthouse to Colombo and the sinister Dutch prisons.
Galle Fort has been a hub of trade and culture during the Portuguese, Dutch and British settlements, right up to the present day. According to some sources, it was the site of the Biblical city of Tarshish from where King Solomon obtained gems, spices and peacocks. The great explorers Ibn Batuta and Cheng Ho visited here, as well as Mahatma Gandhi, Pablo Neruda, and more recently famous writers such as Gore Vidal and Vikram Seth who have attended the Galle Literary Festival, held every January.