April 29, 2012

0188 SRI LANKA - Old Town of Galle and its Fortifications (UNESCO WHS)

On 15 November 1505, few ships under the command of Don Lourenço de Almeida, deviated on their way to the Maldive Islands, sought sanctuary in a little bay on the west coast of an island located to the south-east of India and separated from it only by a chain of reefs and sand-banks. The Portuguese's arrival will change the course of the island’s history as few events have done before, or since.

The population of the island at that time consisted of the Sinhalese, a minority of Tamils in the north, and a largely number of Arabs who were there chiefly for trade. In fact, the Greeks, Romans, Persians, Indians, Malays, Chinese and Arabs had all been there at one time or another, and had traded with the locals or just enjoyed their hospitality. Each of those who "discovered" the island gave it a name: ancient Greeks - Taprobane, the Indians - Lanka (the island) or Sinhala, the Roman – Serandives, and the Arabs - Serendib (from which comes "serendipity"), to name just a few examples. The Portuguese called it Ceilão, which was later transliterated into English as Ceylon.

Unfortunately the Portuguese had other ideas than previous visitors. They quickly perceived that the kingdom of Kotte, located further north, near to Colombo, was weak as a result of dynastic conflicts, and built a fortress there in 1519, but in 1588 they were attacked by the King Raja Singha I, which they forced to go back to Gimhathiththa, on which they named it Galle. There, they initially built a small fort out of palm trees and mud, located on a cliff, jutting out into the sea. Official called Santa Cruz (Swart Bastion or Black Fort, in usual language), it was later extended it with a watch tower and three bastions and a "fortalice" to guard the harbour.

In 1640 the fortress was captured by the Dutch, who expelled the Portuguese from the island in 1658, with the help of the Sinhalese king Rajasinhe II. For the locals wasn’t a happy choice, because the Dutch replaced the Portuguese as controllers of the trade and the rulers of these areas of the island. The importance that the Dutch gave to the capture of Galle is demonstrated by the fact that initially they made it the administrative capital of the island, and this event was annually celebrated during the one and a half centuries of Dutch rule in Sri Lanka.

The fortification was considerably expanded and improved by the Dutch, according to their own distinct architectural style. The following are the special architectural features of Fortified City of Galle after it was remodeled by the Dutch :
• The fortification containing 14 bastions, built with coral and granite stones
• Buildings constructed for military, administrative and commercial purposes including the large warehouse building
• The unique underground drain complex
• The interconnected road network
• The interconnected surface drain network
• Special defence constructions
• A Protestant church (planned by Abraham Anthonisz) built in baroque style in 1775
• Official quarters and private houses

The British took over the fort on 23 February 1796, without any fighting, one week after Colombo was captured. They preserved the Fort unchanged, and used it as the administrative centre of Galle. Later they made some modifications, such as closing of the moat, building of houses, a lighthouse on the Utrecht Bastion, a gate between the Moon Bastion and the Sun Bastion, and a tower (erected in 1883 to commemorate the jubilee of Queen Victoria).

The exceptional image from the postcard comprises the entire Galle Fort, distinguishing at the same time several landmarks. On the right, in foreground, can be seen the lighthouse, built in 1939 on Point Utrecht Bastion site, and to his left, the white building, highest, is a mosque. Folowing on the left, also in foreground, is the Flagrock Bastion (where had been hoisted at first the Dutch flag, and later the British flag).

Also here was constructed in 1848 the first lighthouse in the island, which had been destroyed by fire in 1930. On the left side can be see the foundations of the bastions Triton, Neptune and Clippenburg. Following is the bastion of Aeolus, then the three landward bastions (firsts built by the Dutch), Star, Moon and Sun, and on the right bastions Fishmark, Commandment, Aswrtakersloot and Aurora. In the fort area, many buildings are of Dutch vintage with street names also in Dutch.

About the stamps
The first upper stamp is part of Vesak 2010 series, issued on May 24, 2010, which contains four stamps:
• Arrival of Lord Buddha to Mahiyanganaya (4.00 LKR)
• Mahiyangana Stupa (5.00 LKR)
• Mirisawetiya Stupa (10.00 LKR) - It's on the postcard 0188
• Jetawana Stupa (30.00 LKR)

The second belongs to Horton Plains National Park set, issued on September 7, 2010 and also containing four stamps:
• Whisling thrush (5.00 LKR)
• Sambur (15.00 LKR) - It's on the postcard 0188
• Rhinohorn lizard (25.00 LKR) - It’s on the postcard 0275
• Purple-faced leaf Monkey (40.00 LKR)

Galle Fort - Wikipedia
Old Town of Galle and its Fortifications - UNESCO official website

Sender: Ravindra Ratnapala (direct swap)
Sent from Colombo (Sri Lanka), on 18.04.2012
Photo: Juergen Schreiber

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