The Galle Face Green is a 5 hectare large field along the ocean that is not always ‘green’, in the dry season it is more ‘brown’ than green. Up to the early 1820s the area south of Colombo Fort was an extended marshland, but when the land was filled it became a racecourse. However, the waterfront was already used by the Dutch in the 17th Century to line up their canons to defend themselves from Portuguese attacks. Later the canons were used by the British. In 1845 something went wrong when a cannonball was misfired in a shooting practice and landed on a floor in the drawing room of the Galle Face Boarding House, the former building before it became the Galle Face Hotel. The 30 pounder cannonball is now an object of exhibition in the Regency Wing of the Galle Face Hotel. The racecourse extended 1.5 miles, all the way up till Kollupitiya and eastwards till Beira Lake, known as the Kolpetty Race Course. The Turf and Sporting Club built a wooden pavilion, later replaced by bricks and extended and called the ‘Race Bungalow’, it still exists and is the last reminder of the Kolpetty Race Court. Now it is the Taj Samudra’s Chrystal Ballroom. On the place of a former Dutch villa, the famous Galle Face Hotel, one of the oldest hotels in Sri Lanka, was built in 1869, which has been in use ever since and was extended by a new wing. The colonial main building is currently undergoing an extensive restoration. Just before the opening of this legendary hotel a one mile long promenade was constructed along the waterfront for the ladies and their children “To saunter and take in the air” as the governor of British Ceylon, Sir Henry George Ward stated it; however I think he had the British and European elite ladies specifically in mind. The promenade was completed in 1859 and henceforth Galle Face Green started as an area of entertainment and sports, which flourished in the second half of the 19th Century. The inner space of the racecourse was used for rugby matches. In 1879 golf was introduced by some expats and they started playing golf on the Galle Face Green. In 1880 the Colombo Golf Club was established. However, in 1896 they moved to Borella, because the area had become too crowded. In the same period, in 1893 the racecourse was already shifted to Cinnamon Gardens, followed by the upper class of mainly British colonial elite.
Galle Face Green today is the largest open space in Colombo and a wonderful place to make a stroll in the evening or to do your early morning run. It is an area for kiting and playing cricket and getting a taste of the local junk food, especially the isso wade or prawn wade and the chicken naan, specialties of the Galle Face Green. In the evenings and particularly in the weekends and holidays it can be very busy. The Galle Face Green is surrounded with four and five star hotels: The Galle Face Hotel, Taj Samudra Hotel, Shangri La (under construction) and the Kingsbury Hotel. From the Sky Lounge on top of this hotel you have a stunning view on the Galle Face Green. Nearby there are the Ramada and Cinnamon Grand Hotels.
Galle Face Hotel’s annual Cannonball Run on 5th of April
Annually on the 5th of April a run is organized by the Galle Face Hotel to commemorate the misfiring of a cannonball by the British artillery in 1845, where the cannonball landed in the drawing room of the Galle Face Boarding House, the building on the spot where the current Galle Face Hotel is situated. The one mile run goes from the canon near the Kingsbury Hotel and ends at the place where the cannonball is placed on a pedestal inside the Galle Face Hotel. Participants of the run are mainly foreign diplomats.