Rendezvous at the Ambalama

Ever since I posted a picture of the Goddess of the Machines, I’ve been meaning to take you inside the walls of Galle Fort.  Lets rendezvous at the Ambalama.  It’s in the square just opposite the Old Gate, under a cluster of grand old trees behind the Goddess.

Rendezvous @ Ambalama 1

The entire 36 hectares of the peninsular has been walled – first by the Portuguese in 1589, but principally by the Dutch East India Company, beginning in 1663.  The English added further fortifications, including the ‘new’ Main Gate in 1873.

Somehow, in two decades of walking the walls, I’ve never systematically shot them, or from them – another thing I must remedy before I leave.  I’ll never forget the first time I flew to Galle – the wind was such that we flew South following the coast, the pilot circling low over the fort before we turned East to land on the lake at Koggala.  It is a perfect fortified city, girt by white water curling over reefs and rocky little beaches on three sides – and one of the world’s most picturesque cricket grounds on its land side (once moated and heavily fortified!).

The sea-side walls are of dark craggy stone with wide ‘walkways’ linking each of the bastions.  Remember, this was an age when any sailing ship braving the treacherous currents of the West coast, or coming North from the Spice Islands of the East Indies, will have been as visible as a football in a clear sky the moment they moved over the horizon.

Imagine also the gallant wooden ships of the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, their tall masts and rigging furled with acres of white canvas, riding at anchor in the bay (where the fishing boats are today), waiting to be loaded with the spoils of fabled Seylan – everything from elephants to sapphires and rubies, precious timbers, pearls, musk, and the island’s prized cinnamon.

It was in this section, opposite the Ambalama, that the Company’s bulging store rooms housed their treasures – just look at how thick those walls are!

After walking back to the Ambalama, you’ll have noticed how cool it is in the dense shade here at the square.  On the weekends the boys of the city reclaim the space for combative games of street cricket – during the week it is abuzz with the goings and comings of litigants and lawyers, clerks and coroners at the English-built law courts.

Next time I’m there I must also take shots to show you the extent of the gentrification of the sadly dilapidated old Dutch houses – coffee table books have been written about some of the sumptuously restored interiors.

Ailsa’s “Look Up” travel theme last week started me thinking about those wonderful trees – in the square, principally, but in other parts of the fort too, and then when I saw that she had challenged us to “Walls” this week – I no longer had any excuses, so here, incomplete but sufficient to give you a taste, is a peep inside the walls of this enchanting enclave that was once the principal city of colonial Lanka.

18 thoughts on “Rendezvous at the Ambalama

  1. Your introduction really pulled me in…I could picture the tall masted ships and the trade and commerce that took place in this exotic land. Reminds me of Zanzibar. Love those trees and of course, those thick walls.

  2. Thank you so much for giving us such a wonderful tour enabling to see those old trees, buildings, and gates. Those old trees are so gracious!

  3. What a great place to explore and photograph! They built those walls to withstand anything their enemies could throw at them. They worked really well, too , for centuries — and then came airplanes. Thanks for the tour. I really enjoyed it and your photos.

    • You know, those walls withstood the tsunami. Water did eventually come in through the gates, but only as an inundation – not with the force of the ocean behind it. There were no deaths in the fort, no buildings knocked down – it’s fabulous, isn’t it?

  4. a beautiful old place, hopefully being restored and revived now, the dutch certainly built things solidly, and thanks to your description i can see those awesome ships at anchor and the warehouses bulging with treasure to take back to europe, thanks meredith for a stirring tale!

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