ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “Temple

AMMAN CITADEL & CHAMPIONS LEAGUE, Amman, Jordan

2006.05.17.

For thousands of years since Neolithic times, the “L” shaped hill known as the Citadel of Amman has been inhabited.  Ruined temples, churches and palaces dated from the Roman, Byzantine and Umayyad period stand on the citadel hill today.  Most of the site remains unexcavated, despite archaeologists have been working here since 1920.  The most impressive remain on the hill is the ruins of Temple of Hercules, a Islamic palace and a modest archaeological museum, in which parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls are on display.  After dropping off our dirty clothes at a laundry shop, getting ourselves some stamps at the post office, and having a peek at the 2nd century Roman Theatre through the metal gate, we turned to the Citadel hill.  On the hill, we chatted with a group of cheerful girls who were playing on the street.  They spotted us from afar and seemed pretty curious about the three of us.  One of them spoke to us in simple English, and we ended up taking pictures with them in the midst of innocent laughter.

In the evening, we had dinner at a restaurant with a large balcony overlooking a busy street.  After dinner, I had a short break at the hostel before returning to the restaurant that we had supper to watch the 2006 UEFA Champions League final on their live TV.  There were 15 local men in the tiny restaurant watching the game.  I sat down at an empty chair behind a man and ordered a bottle of coke.  The large balcony window was opened and I could hear the noise and cheer from restaurants and tea shops down below.  It felt like everyone in the city was watching the game.  Almost all the other men in the restaurant were smoking cigarette or shisha (water pipe), and the place got pretty smoky.  When Campbell scored the first goal for Arsenal, the restaurant owner came out and teased all of us.  He yelled at me saying “Barca finishes, Arsenal good!”  Throughout the game, the men around me kept on sneaking out to the balcony and yelled down to people on the street.  I wasn’t sure whether they knew each other or they were just too excited about the game.  Assisted by Henrik Larsson, at around 76th minutes Samuel Eto finally scored the first goal for Barca, and then the second came 5 minutes later through Juliano Belletti.  It was the perfect night for the Barca supporters in Amman.  As I walked back to the hotel, I passed by groups after groups of joyful locals coming out from tea shops and restaurants after watching the game.  Some were walking home in laughter, while the others hopping on cars that packed both sides of the street.

06ME34-07The first impression of Jordan was clean and pleasant.

vernacular architectureAmman is a popular Arab city for international visitors.  It also receives the most medical tourists in the region.

06ME34-14Locals that we met in Jordan were all very welcoming and friendly.

citadel 1At the Citadel, the uncompleted 2nd century Temple of Hercules was the most prominent Roman structure.  Probably destroyed by earthquakes, it once housed a 12m stone statue of Hercules.

06ME34-19Lying mostly in ruins at the Citadel, the Umayyad Palace was built in the 8th century.

Umayyad PalaceA new dome was restored at the entrance hall of Umayyad Palace in 1998, though not all experts have agreed on whether there was truly a dome in the old times.

06ME34-16Looking down from the Citadel we could get a good view of the Roman Theatre.

roman theatreSituated at the foot of Jabal Al-Joufah opposite to the Citadel, The 2nd century Roman theatre could seat 6000 people.

06ME34-21The Raghadan Flagpole was once the tallest in the world. It is visible from allover the capital city.

big flagAs of 2015, the 126.8m Raghadan Flagpole is the 7th tallest in the world.  It flies a 60 x 30m flag.

ammanMainly cladded with limestone or sandstone, residential buildings in Amman are limited to 4 storeys above ground.

children on the hill 1At the Citadel hill, we stumbled upon a group of cheerful children.

children on the hill 2The young girls were quite curious about us.

children on the hill 3Amman is considered to be one of the most liberal cities in the Arab world.  Many children have been exposed to the global commercialism since very young age.

children on the hill 4One of the girls tried speaking to us in simple English.

06ME34-24I passed by Al-Husseini Mosque on our way to supper.  Erected in around 640 AD, Al-Husseini Mosque was one of the oldest mosques in Amman.  The structure was rebuilt in 1932 by King Abdullah I.


THE BRIDE OF DESERT, Palmyra, Syria

2006.05.14.

Khaled al-Asaad, the most renowned archaeological expert on Palmyra, has devoted his whole life studying, promoting and protecting the ancient city.  Spent 40 years (1963 – retirement in 2003) as the head of antiquities and main custodian of Palmyra, the 82-year-old archaeological consultant played a major role in evacuating the content of the city museum as Palmyra was fallen into the hands of ISIS.  He was captured by the terrorist group, interrogated for a month on the whereabouts of hidden golden artefacts, refusing to give in despite brutal tortures, and beheaded publicly by the ISIS at the museum square.  His mutilated body was then brought to the ruins and hung from one of the Roman columns.  Asaad was loyal to his passion and destiny until his very last breath.  In his decades long career, Asaad organized archaeological expeditions in Palmyra, worked with different archaeological missions from around the world, curated exhibitions of Palmyrene artefacts, and promoted Palmyra to become a UNESCO’s World Heritage site.

Literally means “city of palms”, Palmyra was often referred to as the Bride of the Desert.  For ancient caravans, Palmyra was a vital stop along the Silk Road.  Palmyra lies on an ancient trade route between Homs and Dura-Europos.  From Homs merchants could go further west to Tyre, a large Lebanese port city connected to the Mediterranean; and from Dura-Europos, trade routes would extend eastwards along the Euphrates to the Persian Gulf, where access to the Indian Ocean and China could be made.  Palmyra gained significance after the Nabatean Empire collapsed in AD 106, where earlier trade routes between Arabia and the Mediterranean would converge in Petra.  In the first century AD, Palmyra became part of the Roman Empire and one of the wealthiest cities in Near East.  Palmyra was named by the Roman Empire a “free city” with tax exemptions for trading.  Merchants of Palmyra flourished along the Silk Road and in the  Roman Empire, bringing a large amount of wealth back for construction projects.  The desert oasis became a melting pot of cultures from east and west due to international trading.  Art and architecture of Palmyra blended influences from Greece and the Roman Enpire in the west and Persia and further beyond in the east into its unique culture.  In the 3rd century AD, Queen Zenobia conquered parts of the Eastern Roman Empire and established the short-lived Palmyrene Empire.  The legacy of ancient Palmyra is such an important world heritage that its cruel destruction by the ISIS was particularly painful to see.

Given the severe damages to the site, unstable security conditions in the region and the constant risk of landmines, it could take many years before the World Heritage Site can regain its former popularity as Syria’s top tourist attraction.  In 2006, we spent a fine morning at the archaeological site of Palmyra.  To avoid the desert heat, we get up 05:30 in the morning, and left Citadel Hotel to spend three hours in the ruins, checking out its temples, colonnade, theatre, road intersection, etc.  We left the ruins at 08:45, and headed to the post office to send postcards.  We dropped by the Palmyra Museum to see the mummies, and stood outside Pancake House to wait for our prearranged transportation for the closest bus station.  To our surprise a pickup truck came instead of a mini-van.  We all sat down at the back of the truck for a 5-minute journey in the desert.  The truck dropped us off at a local tea-house, where we hopped on a regional bus bounded for Damascus.  After 3.5 hours we finally arrived at the renowned Syrian capital, Damascus.

templeBuilt in 3rd century AD, the Funerary Temple no. 86 was the only tomb erected inside the ancient city.

temple and citadelBeyond Funerary Temple no. 86, the majestic Palmyra Citadel or Tadmur Castle stood proudly above the horizon.  Despite severely damaged, the castle is considered repairable by the Syrian government.

theatre 2In 1950s, the Roman Theatre of Palmyra was cleared of sand and extensively restored.  Before the civil war, the theatre would host folk music concerts during the annual Palmyra Festival.

06ME29-29Labelled as a “war crime” by the UNESCO, the magnificent central proscenium was purposely damaged during the ISIS occupation.

06ME29-32In 27th of May 2015, the ISIS used the theatre stage to execute 25 captives.

06ME29-28Adjacent to the Roman Theatre stood the Senate Building.

intersection and citadelOutside of the Senate Building stood the Tetrapylon.  Further down the Great Colonnade, the 13th century citadel overlooked the entire ancient city from a distance.

architectural detail 2Palmyra contains all kinds of components of ancient Roman architecture.

architectural detail 1Exquisitely carved portico could still be visible at a number of buildings.

06ME29-22Tetrapylon is a type of Roman monument built on a crossroads.  The Palmyra Tetrapylon was once the icon of the ancient city.

06ME29-20Unfortunately, during the second ISIS occupation in 2017, out of the four groups of pillars two were completely destroyed and the other two severely damaged.

columnsThe 1.1km Great Colonnade is also another iconic feature of Palmyra.

06ME29-13Named by UNESCO as one of the Palmyra’s most complete structure in 1980, the Temple of Baalshamin was blown up by detonating a large quantity of explosives inside the temple by the ISIS in August 2015.

06ME28-35The Roman Arch of Septimius Severus or the Monumental Arch was also destroyed by ISIS with dynamite in October 2015.

06ME28-37After the Syrian government recaptured the city, plans were made to restore the Monumental Arch.

archway 2Based on a 3D model from Oxford University, a 6.1m replica of the arch was carved in Italy and temporarily installed in London’s Trafalgar Square, then New York, Geneva, Washington DC, Dubai, and finally back to Syria to commemorate its existence before its brutal destruction.

06ME30-05Built in the 3rd century, the ruined Monumental Arch was restored in the 1930s and soon became one of the main highlights for the visit of Palmyra.


TOMB TOWERS & TEMPLE OF BEL, Palmyra, Syria

2006.05.13.

Deep in the Syria Desert stood one of the most splendid cities in the ancient world.  Due to its strategic location on the Silk Road with Persia, India and China on one side, and the Roman and Greek world on the other, Palmyra was a significant cultural and economic hub in the Hellenistic and Roman periods.  In 273 AD, Palmyra was razed to the ground by the Romans, and had never fully recovered since then.  The archaeological wealth from the ancient city was Syria’s most prominent tourist attraction and UNESCO’s World Heritage site.  Palmyra faced its biggest nightmare in May 2015, when the ISIS launched a huge offensive attack to capture the desert oasis.  Between mid 2015 to March 2016, Palmyra was controlled under the notorious terrorists when precious treasures and artefacts were looted or destroyed.  The Temple of Bel, Temple of Baalshamin, seven Tomb Towers including the Tower of Elahbel, and the Monumental Arch were blown up to pieces.  Uncounted artefacts were looted and smuggled into the black market.  Archaeologists were beheaded.  Before they were forced out by the government army, ISIS planted thousands of landmines and bombs in the ruined city.  On 15th April, 2020, two children were killed by a landmine in Palmyra, four years after the ISIS was driven out.  Despite the de-mining effort since 2016, Palmyra remains a dangerous place to visit and an endangered World Heritage site seven years in a row.  Memories of our 2006 visit seems so far far away:

At around 14:30 we finally arrived at Palmyra, the ancient desert metropolis since the times of Alexander the Great.  We checked in at Citadel Hotel.  The hotel staff arranged a car for our visit to the funeral towers.  The staff asked if we wanted to hire a car to visit the tomb towers.  At the village museum we bought the admission tickets for the tomb towers, and sardined ourselves (6 of us) in the little red car for the journey.

Our hired guide from the museum waited for us at the entrance of the Tower of Elahbel.  He told us some history of the towers, unlocked the door of Tower of Elahbel and led us in.  Many tomb towers in the valley were badly damaged by earthquakes throughout the centuries. The Tower of Elahbel was an exception.  Inside we could see the slots on the walls where coffins were once placed.  We walked up to the third level, saw a number of sculpted busts of the deceased, and the beautiful fresco of stars and constellations on the ceiling.  After, we visited an underground tomb with well preserved frescoes.  I was able to recognize scenes of the Trojan War with Achilles and Odysseus from one of the wall paintings.

After the necropolis, we moved on to visit the Temple of Bel.  It was the largest building in Palmyra, and one of the largest temples in the Classical world.  Bel was the main god of Babylon.  The temple was erected in the first century, with influences from Classical Greece and Rome, Ptolemaic Egypt, and ancient Syria.  We walked through the main gate into a huge courtyard that was once surrounded by Corinthian colonnades. At the centre stands the ruined Sanctuary of Bel, where we could admire the exquisite relief carving of the ruined building.

funeral towersTomb towers at Palmyra are unique examples of Classical necropolis.  Some tower tombs dated back to the Hellenistic period.  Most were found in the Valley of the Tombs below Umm al-Bilqis Hill.

06ME28-10Inside the towers, dead bodies were placed on landings and stacked stone shelves, marked with a sculptural bust.

06ME28-13Before its brutal destruction in August 2015 by the ISIS, the Tower of Elahbel was a great place to learn about funeral architecture of Palmyra.  Inside the tower there was a narrow staircase reaching the upper floors.

06ME28-11Some of the larger towers could hold up to 400 corpses.  Chinese silk yarns dated to 1st century AD were discovered in the tomb towers, revealing the evidence of Silk Road trading two thousand years ago.

Temple of Bel 1The Temple of Bel was the largest ancient temple complex in the Middle East.  Built upon pre Roman temples, the Temple of Bel was founded in 32 AD.  The temple was later converted into a church and then a mosque.

06ME28-31Most of the Temple of Bel has been blown up by the ISIS.  Now it has become a large pile of rubble.

06ME28-18Magnificent carving of the temple are probably gone even if archaeologists can restore the general structure of the building.

06ME28-19Walking around the enormous temple complex was a great pleasure.

Temple of Bel 3Ceiling details were particularly well preserved at the Temple of Bel.

06ME28-20Beautiful relief and rows of Corinthian columns once stood in the temple courtyard.

Temple of Bel 4Some of the relief carving of the central sanctuary were on display in the temple courtyard.

06ME28-22Handsome Classical columns stood proudly in the courtyard before the destruction.

Temple of Bel 5Our guide gave us a little talk on the temple’s history at the courtyard.

06ME28-26Outside the temple walls, we could see the palm trees east of the ruined city.

06ME28-29Along with sone other destroyed buildings, the government is planning to restore the Temple of Bel using original materials from the existing debris.

06ME29-07At last, our little red car drove us up to the citadel behind the ruins of Palmyra, where we could watch the sunset.  The citadel also suffered major destruction by the ISIS.

06ME29-04Up at the citadel we could fully appreciate the scale of the barren landscape in all directions.

06ME29-02Seven Tomb Towers are lost forever.

06ME29-01The Temple of Bel, the enormous walled complex east of the Great Colonnade of Palmyra, was almost completely destroyed by the ISIS.  As satellite images showed, there was hardly anything standing at the Temple of Bel.


RUINS OF EPHESUS, Selcuk, Turkey

2006.05.05

After breakfast, a staff of Homeros Pension drove us to a bank for money exchange before dropping us at the world renowned archaeological ruins of Ephesus (Efes).  Ephesus is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Turkey, thanks to its close proximity to the cruise port and airport in the resort town of Kusadasi.  The magnificent facade of Ephesus’ Library of Celsus is the signature image of Classical ruins in Turkey.  Two thousand years ago, Ephesus was one of the greatest Greek and Roman cities in Asia Minor.  Founded in the 10th century BC by Attic and Ionian Greeks, Ephesus reached its peak after the Roman takeover in 129 BC.  From 52-54 AD, Paul the Apostle stayed in Ephesus and probably wrote his Gospel in the city.  Ephesus was named as one of the seven churches of Asia in the Book Revelation, indicating Christianity was quite popular back then.  In the Byzantine era, major earthquakes, shifting of trade routes, and sacking by the Arabs all contributed to the downfall of Ephesus.  Its glorious past was eventually forgotten, and Ephesus was eventually abandoned in the 15th century.  Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the magnificent Library of Celsus and the 25,000 seat theatre exemplify the former grandeur of the city.  Already in ruins since 401 AD, the Temple of Artemis has little remained except a restored column.  The restored facade of Library of Celsus remains as the biggest draw for visitors.

06ME12-10Seats for up to 24,000 spectators, the splendid great theatre of Ephesus was the first impressive building that we encountered in the site.

ephesus 1It was the time in the year where poppies flourished.

06ME12-21Right by Celsus Library, the Gate of Mazeus and Mithridates was a arch of triumph built in 40 AD during the reign of Augustus, the first Roman emperor and the great nephew of Julius Caesar.

06ME12-24Popular with tourist advertisements, the facade of the Library of Celsus is the most famous image of Ephesus.  Named after Celsus, a Roman consul in Rome and later the provincial governor of Asia, the library was built by Celsus’ son Aquila and filled with over 12,000 scrolls of reading materials acquired by the money of Celsus left behind.

ephesus 3From 117 to 262 AD, the Library of Celsus served as an important public space in Ephesus for 145 years, where people came to read the rare scrolls under natural light at the main floor.  In 262 AD, the library was destroyed by fire caused by earthquake or Gothic invasion.

ephesus 2The statues at the library facade symbolize wisdom, knowledge, intelligence and valor.

ephesus 5Episteme, the Greek philosophical term of “knowledge”, was depicted as one of the statues at Library of Celsus.

06ME13-11The imposing Library of Celsus is the most popular photo spot in Ephesus.

06ME13-07After the destruction in 262 AD, the facade survived for another 800 years or so until the tenth or eleventh century.  Lying in ruins for about a thousand years, the facade of Library of Celsus was restored in the 1970s.

06ME13-10As an important Roman city, Latin inscriptions can be found all over Ephesus.

06ME13-04Beyond Mazeus & Mithridates Gate, a Corinthian colonnade marks the Agora, the former commercial heart of the ancient city.

06ME13-20Paved with marble stone and flanked by colonnade, Curetes Street was one of the main treets in Ephesus.

06ME13-30Along the street, there are lots of interesting architectural details for all visitors to discover.

06ME13-25The Odeon was used for political meetings, concerts and theatrical performances.

06ME13-26Roman relief of the Memmius Monument

06ME13-28Nike, the goddess of victory, was depicted on a marble relief.

06ME13-16Arch with relief sculpture at the Temple of Hadrian.

06ME13-18Headless Roman statue at Curetes Street.

06ME13-22The Hercules Gate at Curetes Street marked the separation between uptown and downtown.

06ME13-32Beautiful frieze at Hadrian Temple revealed the high craftsmanship of the Roman  builders.

 

 


RED BASILICA & ASCLEPION, Bergama, Turkey

2006.05.04

Below the acropolis hill of Pergamon stands the town of Bergama and the scattered ruins of ancient Pergamon.  A short taxi ride took us from the acropolis to the Red Basilica in Bergama.  Originally a temple built by Roman Emperor Hadrian dedicated to Egyptian deities, the basilica was later converted into a Christian church in the Byzantine era.  The brick structure itself is massive and red in colour, and hence the name Red Basilica.  Massive red brick structures were common in Roman Italy at that time, but was something rather new and unique in Asia Minor.  We stayed for roughly half an hour to appreciate the structure’s grandeur from the remaining archways and masonry shell.

Outside the Red Basilica, we had a quick bite at an pancake eatery.  The town was pretty laid back, with donkeys wandering on the street and artisans sitting in front of shops weaving carpet.  We ventured further uphill behind Bergama, passed by a military base, to the ruins of Asclepion, a medical complex in the Greek and Roman times.  Most of the remaining buildings we saw dated back to the Hadrian’s time.  There were theatre, pools, libraries, temples, and houses.  Patients who came to Asclepion were offered spiritual treatments at temples, as well as physical exercises and spa services at the adjacent facilities.  After a full day of sightseeing, we headed back to Izmir and then transferred to Selcuk.

At 21:00, we arrived at Selcuk Bus Station.  A guy named Michael approached us to sell us bus tickets.  At last, we bought from him tickets to Pammukale for the day after tomorrow.  The van from Homeros Pension finally arrived and took us to the beautifully decorated guesthouse.

06ME11-28Bergama was quite a laid back town in the Aegean region of Turkey.

bergama streetscape_01Sleepy street scene of Asclepion in midday.

streetscape 2Dated back to the 11th century, Bergama is famous for its carpet weaving.  Most Bergama carpets are made with wool.

streetscape 3_01Donkeys and ponies were quite common in Bergama.

06ME11-19The Red Basilica was one of the largest surviving Roman structures in the Greek world.

06ME11-21The enormous structure formed only a part of an even larger religious complex.

red basilica 1Unlike Ancient Rome, red masonry used in such enormous scale was something new in Asia Minor

06ME11-22One of the rotundas of the Red Basilica is now occupied by a mosque.

06ME11-32Asclepion, the ruined medical centre in the Roman times, was a well known treatment centre in the classical times.

Asclepion 1There were hardly anyone else when we visited Asclepion.

06ME11-36The theatre of Asclepion revealed that the ancient medical centre was once also served as a social venue.

06ME11-37Fine details at the theatre stair.

06ME12-01Ionic columns and remaining frieze and cornice could still be found at the ruins.

06ME12-02In times of Antiquity, Asclepion was the 2nd most popular medical treatment centres just after Epidauros in Greece.


ACROPOLIS OF PERGAMON, Bergama, Turkey

2006.05.04

At 19:00 we bid farewell to the hostel staff and left Sultan Hostel of Istanbul.  We took the T4 bus from Hagia Sophia to the Taksim Square.  We headed over to the office of Kamil Koc and waited for the departure of our first night bus in Turkey.  At 09:00 the next day we arrived at Izmir, where we transferred to another bus for Bergama, the town where the famous Classical Greek city of Pergamon once stood in the 3rd century BC.  We hired a taxi from Bergama’s otogar (bus station) to the acropolis archaeological park.  I was quite excited for arriving at the ruined acropolis of Pergamon, largely due to my 2003 visit of Berlin’s Pergamon Museum, where the Great Altar of Pergamon was restored and displayed for the past 90 years.  Seeing the Great Altar of Pergamon in Berlin’ three years prior to the trip was probably the main reason why I chose to stop by Bergama on our way to Selcuk from Istanbul.  In the archaeological park, the acropolis where the high altar once stood was pretty much in ruins.  A few notable structures, including the Trajaneum (where a headless marble statue in Roman armor stood in a courtyard) and the Greek Theatre, claimed to be the steepest theatre in the ancient world, represented the highlights.  Near the base of the theatre lower, we stopped by the ruined Temple of Dionysus to pay a little respect to the God of pleasure and wine.

As the capital of Kingdom of Pergamon during the Attalid dynasty (281-133 BC), Pergamon was one of the major cultural centres in the Greek world.  After 133 BC, Pergamon became part of the Roman Empire, and assigned as the capital city of province Asia.  As trading routes shifted to Constantinople during the Byzantine era, the once Greek and Roman metropolis was transformed into a medium size city, but maintained its religious importance as it was mentioned in the Book of Revelations as one of Seven Churches of Asia.  Then came the Ottomans who transformed Pergamon into a Turkish city with mosques and bath houses that we know today.  From the first visit of German engineer Carl Humann in 1864 to WWI, the Germans had made numerous expeditions and archaeological excavations at Pergamon.  Most of their findings are now on display at Berlin’s Pergamon Museum.  After WWI, artefacts found on site were being restored and exhibited at Istanbul or the Bergama Museum.

03EU37-22Probably the most famous Classical artefact in Berlin, the Great Altar of Pergamon has been moved to and reconstructed in the German capital about a century ago.

03EU37-24The statue of Athena Parthenos was found in the ruins of Library of Pergamon in 1880.

06ME10-17Today, the most prominent remaining structure at the Acropolis of Pergamon is the Greek Theatre.  With a seating capacity of 10,000, the theatre was the steepest in the world.

06ME10-18Below the theatre lies the town of Bergama.

06ME11-02Off to the side at the base of the theatre once stood the Temple of Dionysus.

06ME11-07Looking up the theatre from the Temple of Dionysus allowed us to fully appreciate the scale and steepness of the theatre.

acropolis 1A series of stepped walkways allowed the ancient audience to disperse efficiently.

06ME11-09Fragments of classical cornice and frieze could be found all over the archaeological park.

06ME10-24One of the most remarkable structures in the acropolis is Trajaneum, the only Roman building on site.

06ME10-25Completed by Emperor Hadrian, the Trajaneum was used to worship Zeus as well as  Emperor Trajan, Hadrian’s predecessor.

06ME10-29Occupying the summit of the acropolis, Trajaneum sent a clear message to the citizens of Pergamon that the Romans were fully in charge of the once Hellenistic city.

06ME10-26The Corinthian column capitals still look spectacular after 2000 years.

column base at acropolisIt was a pleasure to wander around the ruined acropolis and looked for the remaining architectural details.

hadrian at acropolisThe statue of Hadrian could still be found in the acropolis.

 


LEGACY OF A 400-YEAR COLONIAL FORT, Galle, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.16

Day 12 (1 of 3).

Known as Asia’s largest remaining colonial fortress and an UNESCO World Heritage site, Galle is a popular tourist destination in southwest Sri Lanka.  Galle has long been an important trading port of the island since ancient times.  Cinnamon was exported from Sri Lanka as early as 1400 BC, and Galle was likely the main port of export.  Throughout history, Galle traded with the Greeks, Romans, Persians, Chinese, Arabs, Malays, and Indians.  Sri Lanka’s colonial history began when the Portuguese arrived in the 16th century and built a fortified city in Galle.  Galle continued to serve as the main port for spices export.  In 1640, the Portuguese surrendered to the Dutch East India Company.  After the takeover, the Dutch built the fort that we saw today with bastions and a solid granite wall.  In 1796, Galle and Sri Lanka changed hands again when the island became a British Crown colony named Ceylon.  The 400-year colonial rule came to an end in 1948 when independence was granted to establish Dominion of Ceylon in the Commonwealth.  Then 28 years later in 1972, Sri Lanka finally became a republic.  From four centuries as a colonial port of export for spices and coffee (then replaced by tea) to a tourist town based on commercialization of its colonial past, Galle’s fortune has always been tied with the outside world.

01We dropped off our backpacks at the baggage storage in Galle Railway Station, then found our way into the old fortified city.

02The first thing we saw inside the fortress was Galle Services Club (est. 1947) and the 1883 clock tower.

03Located on the highest point in the fortress, the Dutch Reformed Church (Groote Kerk) was built by the Dutch in 1755. It was the third Dutch Reformed church in Galle and signified the rise of the Dutch after the Portuguese.

04Further down the road from the Dutch Reformed Church stands All Saints’ Church, Galle’s first Anglican Church (consecrated in 1871) and a powerful statement by the British.

06The former Dutch warehouse from the 17th century has become the National Maritime Archaeology Museum.

05In 1796, the British relocated the emblem of the Dutch East India Company from the outer gate to the inner, and put up the British Royal Emblem at the outer gate.

07The interior of the old gate is used for motorcycle parking.

08First built by the Portuguese, then renamed to Zwart Fort (Black Fort) by the Dutch.  We accessed the Black Fort via a police compound.  At Zwart Fort, a staff came out to show us around and told us about the history of the place.

09The Old Dutch Hospital was established by the Dutch to look after the staff of the Dutch East India Company. Then the British extended the building and converted it into a barracks. After independence, the building was used as the town hall. In 2014, the building was once again converted into a shopping and dining complex.

10Meeran Jumma Masjid looks more like a church than a mosque, but this Islamic prayer hall has been around for 300 years already.  More than half of the population inside the fort are Moor.  They are believed to be descendants of the Arab traders who settled in Sri Lanka at around the 9th century.

11Galle Fort is built on a rock peninsula and there are a few small beaches near the lighthouse.

12The Galle Lighthouse is the oldest light station in the nation. The original was built by the British in 1848 but was destroyed by fire in 1936. The current 26.5m tall lighthouse was constructed in 1939.

19Strolling or cycling aimlessly within Galle Fort is a nice way to explore the town.

13In Galle Fort, Dairy King icecream has been recommended by a number of guidebooks and blogs.

14Dairy King is a great place to take a short break during a visit to Galle Fort.

15Many houses in Galle Fort have been converted into guesthouses, restaurants, or shops catered for tourists.

17The ambience of the colonial times is the top selling point for the tourist industry in Galle.

18Some old mansions are transformed into high end retail shops for fabrics, furniture, housewares, and other design items with a twist of Sri Lankan style.

16Established in 1892, Al Bahajathul Ibraheemiyyah Arabic College is one of the oldest Islamic Arabic institutions in Sri Lanka.

20On our way out of the fort, we passed by Sri Sudharmalaya Buddhist Temple, a Buddhist temple with a unique appearance.  The temple dated back to 1889.  The belfry of the building suggests that temple might be converted from an earlier church.