Country: Sri Lanka
Member: Galle Heritage Foundation
VOC History in Galle
In 1638 Dutch administrators and King Rajasinghe II of Sri Lanka signed a treaty to get military support from the Dutch to rescue the coastal regions and trade from the Portuguese. In 1640 the VOC attacked the Portuguese in Galle and established the VOC administration there.
The city became the Capital of the VOC in Sri Lanka until 1658 and remained its main port in Sri Lanka. Galle had a close link with Batavia, the main trade hub of the VOC. It was also used as a supply harbor, especially to supply the ships with fresh water.
During the 17th and 18th century about 275 families were living within the fortress city among which several ethnic groups and local families with whom the Dutch built relationships and married. Presently they are known as the Burgher people. The VOC ruled Galle until 1796 when it was ceded to the British and shortly before the entire company went bankrupt.
Trade in Galle
Cinnamon was the main trade commodity of the VOC in Sri Lanka. In the 15th and 16th centuries, the Portuguese collected wild cinnamon but the Dutch systemized the cinnamon trade in the country. They established a cinnamon department and planted it in the villages around Galle. The VOC erected many warehouses to store cinnamon and other spices. Sri Lanka was also very famous for elephants. Mathara fort which was located 40 km to the south, was erected by the Dutch to keep elephants for trading. Elephants were mainly exported to Batavia from Galle.
Small fortresses such as Hakmana (60km from Galle) and Akuressa (40 km from Galle) were established as gathering points for spices. VOC sent their small vessels from Galle to Batavia. Galle had a strong link with Kerala, Malabar in India from where they brought workers as well as Malacca from which many Malay people were brought over as soldiers.
Galle Fort is a rich heritage site with a strong VOC connection. Outside the Fort, some remains of the old port have survived. The fortified city itself was constructed by the Dutch who constructed the rampart around the peninsula of Galle totaling 2.5 km in length. It was inscribed as a national archaeological monument in 1971 and as a World Heritage Site in 1988.
Inside the forts walls many residences, warehouses, and religious places were established in a well-designed town plan with a grid pattern. The architecture introduced by the Dutch was a combination of design and local techniques to suit the climatic conditions.
The VOC presence is best highlighted by the old warehouses where spices were stored. The warehouses have been renovated and now house two different museums. The renovated Dutch Reformed Church is the most valuable religious building in the fort and is still functioning. The artillery regiment building houses the Galle National Museum, and old barracks and the guards residence are in use by the government. In total there are more than 400 heritage buildings in the Fort’s 80 acres, most of which are from the VOC period.