Friday, 13 June 2014 00:00
The Bard of Avon once wrote that ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’. The Galle Face Hotel for almost a century and a half has been known by many names. Asia’s Emerald on the Green, the Grande Dame of Serendip and the Beautiful Duchess are but a few that are reminiscent of the grandeur and history of perhaps the oldest hotel East of the Suez. Among its quaint stone pillars the GFH has quite a collection of stories and memories from the years gone by.
GFH possesses a prestigious heritage. Four British entrepreneurs built the hotel in 1864, embedding the colonial style architecture which has been preserved to this day. In the years since, the hotel earned its place as a landmark that gracefully lent romance and grandeur to Colombo. The tales of the GFH and the Galle Face Green that it overlooks have been captured by writers, artists and even scientists who favoured the hotel as their retreat of choice.
In many ways the GFH mirrors what Ceylon once was. Under British colonial rule, Ceylon thrived and was often known as the empire’s favourite colony. In another sense the GFH also embodies the true Sri Lankan spirit of strength. It is said that the area adjoining the hotel was used as a practicing ground for the British Royal Artillery Company and on one bright and sunny day a young Ceylon lascar ignited a 30-pound cannonball that went off course and ended up in the hotel dining room where it rolled and came to rest beneath a chair but fortunately did not explode.
The governor at that time Sir Collin Campbell on hearing of the incident arrived to view ‘the incredible cannonball’ and the mischief done. Over the years the hotel has marked this event with the annual Cannonball Run.
The hotel has also stood its ground through two world wars, 30 years of civil strife, the ever-changing tropical weather in Sri Lanka and a rollercoaster economy, even while others around it have risen and fallen. Today the GFH is undergoing extensive restoration in preparation for its 150th anniversary but the old world charm and the countless stories that its walls have seen and heard will live on.