Galle Face Green – Colombo
It may only be a tiny spot of green, but it’s one of the countless iconic locations in Colombo. Galle Face Green, an oblong stretch of grass along the Galle Road in Colombo’s Fort area, is the city’s most popular recreational space. While its beginnings are drawn after the 19th Century, the Galle Face Green — similar to the town it is part of — has gone through many stages in its development. But it has never misplaced its charm or its energetic soul.
The Galle Face Green is a sunny spot. Ask any Colombo citizen what you should do when visiting Colombo, and a walk along the Galle Face Green will be a wonderful experience. It’s one of the most appropriate places in the city, where all ethnicities, backgrounds and social groups mix in a spirit of fun and entertainment. There’s no entrance fee, and it nevermore closes.
Although initially a much larger space, the Green now officially spans a five-hectare strip, joined on one side by the Indian Ocean and by the bustling Galle Road on the opposite.
History of Galle Face Green
Galle Face Green originally encompassed a much larger area than what is visible today. Historical records indicate that it was bounded to the north by Beira Lake, the ramparts of Colombo Fort, and the city's cemetery, established in 1803. To the west, the Indian Ocean defined its boundary, while the Galle Face Hotel and St Peter's Church marked its southern and eastern edges, respectively. The Dutch initially laid out Galle Face Green to provide their cannons with a strategic line of fire against the Portuguese.
The name "Galle Face" has different suggested origins. One explanation is that it comes from the original Dutch word for the fortifications, with "Gal Gate" referring to the gateway that faced southwards to Galle. Another version suggests that it is a corruption of the Sinhalese term "Gal Bokka," meaning rocky shoreline, which describes the area. Regardless of its etymology, Galle Face Green has become synonymous with the site's historical significance.
In 1856, Sir Henry George Ward, the Governor of British Ceylon, authorized the construction of a 1-mile promenade along the ocean's edge, offering a space for ladies and children to stroll and enjoy the fresh air leisurely. The path was completed in 1859, integral to Galle Face Green's layout.
Horse Racing at Galle Face Green
Galle Face Green has a long-standing association with horse racing. The sport began in the early 1820s during the time of British Governor Sir Edward Barnes. The marshy area in front of the fort was transformed into a race course known as the Colpetty Race Course. Horse racing flourished until 1893, when it moved to the Colombo Racecourse. The Turf and Sporting Club, established in the early 1820s, was pivotal in organizing races at Galle Face Green. Over the years, the pavilion for viewing races underwent improvements and expansions, eventually becoming the esteemed Colombo Club building, which still stands today as the Crystal Ballroom of the Taj Samudra Hotel.
Golf at Galle Face Green
In 1879, British expatriates introduced golf to Ceylon on Galle Face Green. They inaugurated the Colombo Golf Club, although initially, the green lacked a proper clubhouse or a well-designed golf course. The club held its first Annual General Meeting at the Colombo Club in March 1880. As Galle Face became more crowded, the golf club eventually moved to its current location in Borella.
Rugby and Cricket at Galle Face Green
Galle Face Green witnessed several historic sporting events, including the first official rugby match in Ceylon on June 30, 1879. The game occurred between the newly formed Colombo Football Club and a rest-of-the-world team. Rugby matches were regularly held in the centre of the Colpetty race track, an area shared with the golf club.
Furthermore, Galle Face Green was the site of the inaugural Royal–Thomian cricket match between Royal College, Colombo (then called Colombo Academy), and S. Thomas' College, Mount Lavinia. This historic encounter occurred on July 15–17, 1879, at the location presently occupied by the Taj Samudra Hotel. It is said that the teams had to row across the Beira Lake in boats to reach the Galle Face Grounds. Colombo Academy emerged victorious in this significant cricket match.
Current Use and Features
Today, Galle Face Green is a 5-hectare ribbon strip of land between Galle Road and the Indian Ocean, making it the most significant open space in Colombo. It has become a popular destination for people of all ages, attracting children, vendors, teenagers, lovers, kite flyers, and merrymakers seeking to indulge in their favourite pastimes beside the sea under the open sky. The land comes alive with day trippers, picnickers, and food vendors on Saturday and Sunday evenings. Visitors can enjoy the delicacies offered by food vendors, such as cooked crabs, prawns, and slices of mango with pepper and salt.
The Galle Face Green is bordered by two prominent hotels: the Ceylon Inter-Continental Hotel and the historic Galle Face Hotel. The latter, with its old-world charm, boasts colonial-era furniture, hand-carved doors, balconies, and high ceilings. The green has also been the site of Sri Lanka's national day celebration, held annually on February 4, which adds to its cultural significance.
Moreover, Galle Face Green holds a place in the history of radio broadcasting. Radio Ceylon, later known as the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, recorded numerous programs on-site during the 1950s and 1960s, capturing the essence of the park's surroundings.
Management of Galle Face Green
The Urban Development Authority of Sri Lanka administered and maintained Galle Face Green for many years. However, in 2014, the management responsibilities were transferred to the Sri Lanka Ports Authority. Since 2016, Sri Lanka Port Management and Consultancy Services, a government-owned entity operating under the Ministry of Ports and Shipping, has been responsible for the park's maintenance.
Galle Face Green is a testament to Colombo's historical and recreational significance. From its origins as a strategic fortification to its evolution as a vibrant recreational space, the green has witnessed and hosted various sporting events and leisure activities throughout history. Today, it attracts locals and tourists, offering a refreshing escape in the city's heart. With its rich history, cultural significance, and breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean, Galle Face Green remains a beloved landmark, inviting visitors to experience its charm.
1. Is Galle Face Green open to the public? Yes, Galle Face Green is open to the public and welcomes visitors of all ages to enjoy its serene surroundings and engage in recreational activities.
2. Can I fly kites at Galle Face Green? Yes, flying kites is a popular activity at Galle Face Green. Many visitors, especially children, enjoy flying colourful kites against the backdrop of the ocean.
3. Are there any facilities available at Galle Face Green? Galle Face Green offers basic amenities such as benches, washrooms, and food stalls where you can indulge in local delicacies.
4. What is the best time to visit Galle Face Green? Galle Face Green is a popular destination throughout the year. However, the evenings, especially on weekends, tend to be livelier, with more vendors and visitors.
5. Are there any hotels near Galle Face Green? Yes, two prominent hotels bordering Galle Face Green are the Ceylon Inter-Continental Hotel and the historic Galle Face Hotel. Both hotels offer comfortable accommodation options with stunning views of the ocean.