13 Aug Explore the Old with a New Galle Fort Map
We love maps. We like to think of maps not just as navigational tools but as pieces of art. Streets and buildings forming a pattern that reads like an artistic ode to the spirit of place. That’s why iDiscover maps are always created by locals. Only a local can truly understand and appreciate the soul of their city. The Galle Fort Map is a creation of Shehan Dissanayake and his friends Hirantha, Wajirinda and Gayan, all students in landscape architecture at Moratuwa University. Born and raised in Galle, Shehan knows Fort like the back of his hand. He loves the place so much that it brings a big smile to his face every time we start talking about the ramparts, the trees, or the lighthouse. On a lovely summer morning, we meet him for a stroll around Fort, with a map in hand.
A walk around Fort with Shehan to find his favourite places
Shehan shares one of the many childhood memories growing up in Galle: “We were playing football at the ramparts; my friend kicked the ball, and it accidentally smashed the window screen of a tuk-tuk that was parked by the temple.” I’ll never forget that incident, we had to pay the driver for a new glass.” Fort has always been a special place for Shehan: “I still love coming here. My favourite part is the area around Court Square. We take a drink around Dutch Hospital and hang out at the beach near the Lighthouse. We always enter Fort through the old entrance under the Maritime Museum, the big trees there make the entrance more dramatic, and more interesting.”
Old Seafarers Maps
Knowing Fort, like the back of his hand, made Shehan the ideal person to draw the map. Still, he insists that the design idea was a group effort. “We wanted to create something that reflects how proud we are of our heritage. Something so old, still so valuable. We want to pass on that feeling to the users.” That’s why they took their inspiration from the old seafarer’s maps. These beautifully drawn bird’s-eye view maps, created with such artistic skill and precision.
The Moratuwa students spent a weekend going around Fort together with a survey team from the archaeology department in the local Ruhuna University and historical experts from the Galle Heritage Foundation. Before putting pen to paper, the group jointly tried to define “the soul of Galle.” Taking photographs, flipping through history books, sourcing old pictures, and talking to lots of locals about their favourite places. So, what is it that makes Fort so special? Its long maritime history, colonial architecture, beautiful setting, the melting pot of cultures, but most importantly, the people: the creative, free-spirited nature of Fort people is what makes the place so unique.
“WE WANTED TO CREATE SOMETHING THAT REFLECTS HOW PROUD WE ARE OF OUR HERITAGE. SOMETHING SO OLD, STILL SO VALUABLE. WE WANT TO PASS ON THAT FEELING TO THE USERS”
Shehan and his friend Shiranga at the Galle Heritage Foundation with the old map of Vlissingen that sparked their imagination
A close-up of the 1649 map of the Dutch port city Vlissingen by Bleau. Image by Koninklijke Bibliotheek Leiden
Labour of Love
Once Shehan and Shiranga agreed on the main buildings to get illustrated along with the design idea, sketching the outlines of the Galle Fort Map was easy. However, what was more challenging was to find the right bird’s eye angle for each individual building. “I took pictures of the buildings and imagined what they would look from the other side in my head.” It took Shehan three weeks to draw all the buildings. He drew each one by hand, first in pencil, then with ink. The first ones came effortlessly like the Fort Mosque and the giant old spice warehouse that is now the Maritime Museum he had drawn many times before. What’s harder were the buildings like the Anglican Church and Fort Printers: “Unless you have a drone, you can’t view these buildings from a bird’s-eye view angle.” Once the team was happy with the setting and the architecture, Shehan coloured in the map in tones reminiscent of the old days, capturing the atmosphere of Sri Lanka’s foremost heritage town.
The four met at the university where they shared the love for travel, adventure, and creative expression. The drawings of Chinese landscape architect Dr. Kongjian Yu opened his eyes to the beauty of simplicity, the wonder of lines, and the power of colour. For Shehan, studying landscape architecture was not by choice; his grades didn’t make the cut for the architecture course; but with hindsight, it was a blessing in disguise Landscape architecture gave him ample opportunity and freedom to do what he enjoys most: drawing. Shehan preferred tools are his pencil and ink pen; he’s never touched canvas or brushes.
All Shehan’s favourite places have made it onto the map: the big banyan tree at Court Square, the Lighthouse, the crazy diver at Flag Rock Bastion, the swimmers at Lady’s Beach. Oh, and yes, the football pitch at the ramparts is there… not a tuk-tuk in sight.
“IT TOOK THREE WEEKS TO DRAW ALL THE BUILDINGS. EACH ONE HAS BEEN DRAWN BY HAND. FIRST IN PENCIL, THEN INKED AND COLOURED IN TONES REMINISCENT OF THE OLD DAYS”
From early sketches to the ink drawings; the making of the Galle Fort Map
Shehan with the final result: a new map for Galle Fort inspired by seafarer’s maps from the colonial days
Want to Have a Map?
Pick up a Galle Fort Map at your hotel or at the Galle Heritage Centre. It is on Baladhaksha Mawatha, opposite of the first jetty outside the old Dutch entrance to Fort. The illustrated map comes with a free navigational app featuring three handcrafted walking itineraries that help you see Galle through the lens of locals. The Map&App was curated by the passionate folks from the Galle Heritage Foundation with support from the Netherlands Embassy in Colombo.
Explore Fort through the lens of locals with the iDiscover App&Map, created and designed by locals
Words by Daisy Perry
Daisy is a writer who finds inspiration in everyday Sri Lankan life. She loves listening to and recording people’s stories. In the Fort, she is most likely to be found having tea with friends or having a swim off Lady’s Sea Bath Beach.
Photos by Atheeq Ifthikar
Atheeq is a photographer with a passion for Galle Fort. In fact, it is here that he learned how to use a camera. He loves capturing people’s unique characteristics. Atheeq is most likely to be found on the ramparts giving a walking tour or at his friend’s art gallery on Leyn Baan Street.
Map by Shehan Dissanayake
Shenan is a Landscape Architect. He seeks inner-happiness by colouring dreams with his hands.