Galle – Where the illustrious past of western medicine intertwines

    Galle – Where the illustrious past of western medicine intertwines with the dawn of the future of medicine in Sri Lanka

    Sri Lanka is credited as having the earliest documented institutions dedicated to the care of the sick anywhere in the world, namely the lying-in-homes and the ayurvedic hospitals (Sivikasoththisala) built by King Pandukabhaya (437 BC to 367 BC). There are documentary references to the Portuguese introducing western (allopathic) medicine to Sri Lanka and starting the first hospital in Mannar. The architectural genius of the Dutch who used Cabook (Coral stone) for their thick walled buildings granite for flooring has made the very first hospital constructed by them survive to this day in Galle.

    The Dutch took over the Galle Fort from the Portuguese in 1640. Till the Colombo Fort was taken over is 1656, Galle remained the administrative headquarters of the Dutch. Jan Carstens of Tonningen was the first surgeon appointed. According to archives, his contract as surgeon was ‘renewed’ in 1643 for ‘another 3 years’ by the Council of the Town of Galle. This helps to narrow down the period of starting of the hospital to a time between 1640-1643. In contrast, the Dutch hospital in Colombo Fort was built in 1669. Thus, the Dutch hospital in Galle remains the oldest remaining hospital premises where western medicine was practiced and its history precedes that of the Colombo Dutch hospital. The British expanded the hospital and after independence when a more modern hospital was built in Galle town, it served for a long period as the town administrative office (the Kachcheri). Today the buildings have been restored preserving the Dutch architecture and houses a plush shopping and dining precinct.

    In fulfilling the traditions of Galle as a centre of medical excellence spanning three hundred years, the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Ruhuna was started in Galle in 1980. Today it is a thriving medical teaching and treatment centre, having an undergraduate population of nearly 1000 future doctors and catering to the health needs of a vast number of patients from the Southern part of Sri Lanka.


    Harshini Rajapakse and Arosha Dissanayake

    Faculty of Medicine


    Old Dutch Hospital in Fort, Galle

    Old dutch hospital



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