A historic mansion inside the Dutch Fort | Sunday Observer

A historic mansion inside the Dutch Fort

1 December, 2019

The massive Dutch Fort in Galle is seeing a resurgence of young visitors from Colombo. It is because of the rich heritage that one can discover here, still preserved in its pristine glory. The colossal fortified super structure covers almost 130 acres of land area making it the largest Fort in Sri Lanka. The Dutch built other Forts in Jaffna, Trincomalee, Matara, Karainagar, Batticaloa, Negombo, Mannar, Tangalle and of course Colombo. Yet the spectacular Fort in Galle is the best preserved venue, full of life where the past beautifully meets the present.

The best way to begin the adventure is to take the train to the Galle Station. The train ride offers an unending view of the turquoise ocean. From the railway station you can see the large tower of the Fort dominating the town. The best way to explore the vast ancient ramparts of the Fort is to walk - it does require some energy. This is the cool way to explore this historic area and get the best photographs for your facebook and instagram updates. The Fort initially built by the Portuguese in 1558 was renovated extensively by the Dutch from 1649. They added 14 bastions (defensive vantage points with fixed canons).

The long but rewarding walk will take you to an old Anglican Church, Dutch Church and a Light House. The Meera Mosque built later in 1904 and a Buddhist temple enriches the multi - religious appeal of this venue.

Walking down Leyn Baan Street an opulent mansion comes into sight, the façade reveals carved wooden columns and a small wooden gate. The high roof shows how the Old Dutch architects had thought of cooling the stately home built in the 1700s. Part of the original wall has been exposed without plastering to show how corals and granite stones were mixed and held together.

The curator of the mansion Jazeel said “This is a very old mansion built inside the Dutch Fort. It is a testament to their building skills. In 1970 a gentleman named M.H.A. Gaffar had purchased this house and restored it to its former glory by 1992. All of the ancient artifacts you see inside belonged to him. He was a passionate collector of historical objects. Later the mansion exchanged hands and is presently owned by Ameen Hussain. It is the only mansion inside the entire Fort that has been restored to reflect a bygone era. It is a venue that young history enthusiasts must visit to witness the marvels of the Dutch era”. This majestic residence has been carefully restored and reveals to the keen visitor the lifestyle that existed here 400 years ago.

In the middle of the vast verandah is the cast iron display of the Dutch East India Company known by its abbreviation of VoC. To the left is a room where crystal glass bottles probably used by a Dutch apothecary are on display. Along with this are wine decanters. This is supplemented by a rare and priceless collection of ancient hand painted porcelain ware. A large plate still bore the crest of the Dutch VoC. The next room has an interesting display of Dutch era bladed weapons - a brilliant collection of small daggers and long swords. The handles made of wood and ivory are truly beautiful artifacts. A large glass showcase has an assortment of Dutch period coins. Inside a small glass cupboard is another fascinating collection of ink pens- the oldest pens used made with wood. On another wall are mounted old clocks.

Coming to the middle of the house there is a serene little garden with a fresh water well, with the area being lit up by sunlight. The well with its small granite wall resembles something from a fairytale book. Jazeel drew some water with a bucket, the water is clear. How this small well still has clean water after 400 years is really an amazing feat of nature. On one side of the well a woman is seated and weaving lace - the old art of beeralu lace making we inherited from the Dutch.

On the floor lays a heavy iron pulley, from an old Dutch ship. The Galle Fort was once a busy harbour of trade where ships came in. It was a vibrant maritime hub - and you can witness this by visiting the Maritime Museum. The kitchen of this large mansion shows how the family that lived here would have cooked. Some of the large pans give us a clue, to assume that at least a dozen folk lived in this mansion assisted by many servants. The old hearth with a chimney is still intact. In another room you can see the old sewing machines. There is a very old telephone probably acquired later from the British occupation of the Fort. The historic mansion is open daily from 9am to 6pm. A visit to the Dutch Fort is a fun way to enjoy the day with your friends. It offers an unique experience.