Once a stronghold of not only the Dutch, but the Portuguese and the British as well, the Southern region of the country is a good choice if you want to experience up close the legacy that they have left behind. The Galle Fort, considered to be one of the best preserved heritage sites from the colonial era and the Dondra Head Lighthouse, one of the tallest lighthouses not only in Sri Lanka, but in South East Asia are definitely must see attractions. Further exquisite architecture, still preserved, and modern day shops occupying some of these spaces lends a whimsical air that is worth experiencing while you indulge in some shopping as well.
This 90 hectare (222 acre) attraction is an excellent blend of architecture, with ramparts that resemble those in the coastal areas of Portugal. It also has the distinction of being one of the best-preserved sea forts in South Asia. When you are there do not forget to admire the Dutch houses, the Dutch Reformed Church, the Meeran Jumma Mosque, the Great Warehouse and the restored Dutch gate. You can end the journey by dropping into one of the pleasant street side cafés to quench your thirst. To feel and appreciate the full glory of Galle, visiting this Dutch legacy is a must.
Standing at the Southern most point of Sri Lanka, the Dondra Head Lighthouse built by British in 1889 is currently operated and maintained by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority. Octagonal in shape and painted in white, the Dondra Lighthouse stands 54m high in a carefully tended garden. It is one of the four international lighthouses in Sri Lanka and also one of the tallest in South East Asia as well. The Lighthouse is still active and helps to guide ships and boats and is positioned at a crucial point in the Maritime route. The Dondra Head Lighthouse also transmits radio wave signals to surrounding lighthouses in Sri Lanka. Consisting of seven floors and 14 two panel windows, one has to climb 196 steps to reach the top of the lighthouse where the view overlooking the ocean is quite breathtaking. However, to climb you have to get prior permission from the Ports Authority.
The Matara Dutch Fort, built by the Dutch in 1645 and then handed over to the British in 1796 still stands strong and proud at the centre of the Matara town. the ramparts and the gateway have been constructed using limestone, granite and coral. Small modifications have been done so that the Fort seamlessly integrates with the towns. Inside the Fort there is much to see, the main structure being the Dutch Reformatory Church, the oldest building within the fortification with a history spanning over 300 years. Inside the church are gravestones with dates running as far back as the 1600s. You can explore the Fort on foot or by vehicle, and view the many buildings that have gone through various renovations as well as those that are in dilapidated states—though all still strives to preserve the original architecture put in place by the Dutch.
Considered as one of the most spectacular architectural works, Richmond Castle has the outward appearance of a 19th Century British noble residence. The mansion, which stands majestically at the top of a hill on a 42 acre estate beside the Kalutara-Palatota road, was once the property of a wealthy landowner turned philanthropist, Padikara Mudali Nanayakkara Rajawasala Appuhamilage Don Arthur de Silva Wijesinghe Siriwardena. The castle comprises of a two-storeyed structure with 99 doors and 34 windows, decorated with glass panes of exquisite design along with intricate carvings. Previously a circuit bungalow for high-ranking officers of the British administrative service, currently it is a popular tourist attraction serving as an educational centre for less privileged children of Kalutara.
The only fort in Sri Lanka, built in the form of a star has its own historical significance and stands in the town of Matara, close to the Matara Dutch Fort. The fort was built after the Matara Rebellion in 1762 as a means of addressing the lack of protection for the Matara Fort. Considered to have been built by Governor Redoute Van Eck, the fort currently houses the Archeology Museum of the Matara District. It has become a much-visited place of many travellers and history students. The construction date (1765) is imprinted over the main gate, along with the VOC company insignia and the coat of arms of the governor of the day. The two carved lions guard the entrance gates of the fort. You can also spot the slots that once secured the drawbridge beams.