Threat to Galle’s World Heritage Site

Galle residents led by Buddhist clergy and Muslim religious dignitaries vehemently protested, at the Galle Fort Holy Sudharmalaya Vihara on November 2, against the destruction of the moral fabric of its society and the threat to Galle’s World Heritage Site ranking.

The protest was held under the distinguished patronage of Rev Viharadipathi Pannagala Hemaloka Nayake Thero, Rev. Viharadipathi Baddegama Devarakkitha Nayake Thero, Rev Viharadhipathi Millawa Samidi Nayake Thero and Al-Haj Moulavi M. Hisbulla A. Cader, resident Sharia Council and Director Albahjathul Ibrahimiya, Fort Arabic College

The protestors resolved to oppose:

The conversion of dwelling houses and buildings purchased either by locals or foreigners into casinos, vice dens, night clubs and liquor bars.

Construction and renovations of houses and building contravening the archeological designs, concepts and laws.

Granting of liquor license for restaurants and liquor bars which operate shady activities and paedophile’s affairs and cancellation of such licences already granted.

Withdrawal of 100% tax for purchases by foreigners particularly in world heritage site areas.

To carryout strict and regular police supervision on both local and foreign residences that are being converted into liquor bars and vice dens.

To appoint a committee to inquire and investigate into purchases by foreigners and how monies are being brought into Sri Lanka, as it appears that there is large scale of money laundering in operation based on false declaration of sources to the department of inland revenue and the banks.

The Galle dutch fortress was built by the Dutch during their reign of rule between 1656 to 1796. It is the largest and the most secured fortress in Sri Lanka.

It was declared an archeological reserve by the U. N. since 1969.

In December 1988, UNESCO declared Galle Fortress as a World Heritage Site and their 38th Monument. A Parliament Act titled Galle Heritage Foundation Act was passed in 1994 in Sri Lanka.

In addition to all these declarations, Galle Fort is unique, very special and charming as there are no other sites, areas, fortress or location when compared with Galle Fort walled city of 38 hectares (90 acres) in the whole country.

According to Sir James Emerson Tennant Galle was the "Tarshish" referred to in the Bible as the port where ships trading with King Soloman obtained their Elephants, Peacocks and Gemstones. Most certainly the place where the Galle Fort now stands as well as other areas in Galle like Unawatuna, Magalle, Kaluwella and even the China Gardens (which held a colony of Chinese traders several years ago) were all areas with historic connections which go back long before the Portuguese Era. International traders, Persians, Moor traders from the Persian Gulf, South Indian traders, Malays and a host of other nationalities lived and traded in Galle. The Cripps Road inscription reveals the polyglot and poly-ethnic character of Galle. Even in early British times the earliest Embassies were situated in Galle. For example the first Consul from USA was resident in Galle.

Symbol of history

The Fort of Galle is the living symbol of all this history unless the Sri Lanka Government becomes conscious of its responsibility to protect and preserve the tangible remains of our history, not only in Galle, but all over Sri Lanka all will be lost. Let the world heritage site of Galle remain symbolic of its heritage and not become a centre of palatial dwellings of foreigners, night clubs and all that go with them.

It is the only place in Sri Lanka that still retains a unique old world atmosphere and its unique place in the history of VOC. It houses eight religious institutions that include Temples, Y.M.B.A, Y.W.C.A churches, Mosques, Zaviyas and Thakkiyas etc, that have pioneered and propagated religion and upheld all cultural values, morals, traditions, customs and other activities for several centuries.

Galle is also home to educational institutions such as Southlands Maha Balika Vidyalaya established, in 1885 for girls, All Saints Maha Vidyalaya established in 1876 for boys, Al Bahjathul Ibrahimiya Arabic College established in 1892 for boys from all over Sri Lanka and three other montessori schools in operation.

Eighty per cent of Galle Fort has remained valued residential location. It has around 375 dwelling houses of Sinhalese, Muslims, Tamils, Burghers and other denominations living for years in total harmony without any communal differences.

Galle Fort remains an esteemed and respected residential location for centuries, with its rich religious, educational and cultural values.

It has also produced and is producing eminent scholars, educationists, doctors, engineers, lawyers, professionals and reputed businessmen. In addition, there are some 25 small business premises and about 16 government offices.

During the communal riots and curfews, this Fortress was the rescue location. The Police and the Government authorities located 100 of families inside the Fortress and gave them the necessary protection which saved many lives. They were kept in several institutions in Galle Fort for weeks and months providing adequate protection.

The Fort apart from having one of the oldest libraries established in 1832, also houses lawyers complexes and courts and three commercial banks and two small museums.

The natural harbour though undeveloped and not maintained for several years, still remains unique. Historically this harbour has the distinction of being the gateway to several Sri Lankan exports such as cinnamon, coir, copra, rubber etc.

The sea beaches and the beautiful ramparts surrounding the Fortress have become natures inspiration which has been frequently featured in numerous magazines both here and abroad. The tranquil and serenity of this environment is gradually deteriorating due to houses being converted into liquor bars and vice dens.

The history of Galle Fort reveals that it has maintained an impeccable reputation, devoid of criminal records at all time resulting in all communities within the Fort living in peace and amity upholding all human values.

The combination of historical, archaelogical, architectural institutional and residential, buildings and the fortress has inspired and influenced UNESCO to declare Galle Fortress as a world heritage which should last for many centuries to come than being modified and converted into varied types of liquor bars and vice dens.

Galle is one of 213 places of great historical value in the world that should be conserved and protected for posterity.

Under the cover of World Heritage for the last 15 years, local authorities and the Government without protecting and safeguarding the core values of the Galle Fort, are promoting and encouraging the sale of these valuable properties in exchange for narcotic money.

The withdrawal of 100% tax on purchase of properties by foreigners in order to fill part of Government coffers, has deceived residents into selling their properties in the expectation of Galle Fort becoming a tourist destination, creation of employment opportunities, ignoring all cultural, religious and moral values.

Foreigners and locals, who purchase properties for the purpose of converting them into liquor bars, cusions, gambling dens, night clubs, paedophile and pornography centres and other types of vice should be taken to task.

Alas! this is how world heritage site No. 38 is being safeguarded by our own government. It is indeed a great shame and utter disgrace that the purchase of over 46 dwelling buildings and houses are suspected to have been financed by money obtained from shady underworld operations.

Extremely harmful

This has become extremely harmful and detrimental for the religious, cultural, customs and traditions practiced by all the communities living in Galle Fort.

The price at which these properties are being bought is estimated to be a little over rupees one million per perch and such exorbitant pricing implies that there seems an ulterior motive behind all these purchases.

Some of these houses are renovated and redesigned to comfort the foreigners and the new structures that have come up are in contravention of the archeological and structural designs of the Dutch heritage.

There are already six restaurants with liquor bars in operation inside Galle Fort which is a clear evidence that Galle Fort will soon loose its religious and cultural values.

If the local authorities and government continue to turn a blind eye to these happenings and allow vice activities to proliferate, there may perhaps not be a World Heritage site but a negative world heritage.

Sri Lanka being a Buddhist country where Buddhism prevails and practised successfully along with other religions, the government should not take short sighted decisions which would result in disastrous, and devastating consequences to all religions, culture, education, moral and human values.