Good afternoon everyone and thank you to everyone who helped organize this event today.
A special thanks to project co-directors Professor P.B. Mandawala and architect Prasanna Ratnayake, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura Sampath Amaratuge, friends from the Central Cultural Fund, Galle Maritime Archaeological Museum, Galle Heritage Foundation, and other distinguished guests. A particular welcome to the building owners in attendance. You have the honor and responsibility of living and working in properties that are part of the Galle Fort. We appreciate your cooperation with this project and your efforts to preserve these historic places, while we also recognize that the properties need to remain viable places of work and life, education and worship, for you and future generations.
It is a true pleasure for me to be here in southern Sri Lanka, and particularly in the city of Galle. One of the great attractions of this country is not only the warm hospitality of its people, but also Sri Lanka’s natural beauty and diverse architectural heritage.
The diversity of historically significant sites in Sri Lanka makes our work of awarding grants to preserve cultural heritage very rewarding but also very challenging. There are so many important sites to preserve and projects to undertake. No doubt you appreciate this is a serious commitment undertaken by my government and the people of the United States. Since its creation in 2001 by our Congress, the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) has provided financial support to more than 950 projects in over 125 countries. This accomplishment represents a contribution of more than $60 million towards the preservation of cultural heritage worldwide. Most significantly, these commitments display the depth of our nation’s respect for the cultural heritage of other countries.
This is by no means the first effort of its kind in Sri Lanka undertaken by my embassy. With the most recent award launched just earlier this month, to preserve four kinds of traditional Sri Lankan dance, we have now awarded a total of 12 grants under the Ambassador’s Fund. These projects include a grant to survey cultural properties affected by the tsunami that were located inside the Dutch Fort in Matara in 2005. In 2008 our support helped preserve documentary films on Sri Lanka. Grants in 2013 and 2015 have helped preserve a vast Buddhist monastic complex near Rajagala in the Eastern Province. All told, these dozen projects in Sri Lanka are valued at nearly $900,000.
As you know, the Portuguese first established a fort on this site in the early 1500s. When the Dutch took over Galle in 1640, they soon began construction of what is now this tremendous work of architecture. Some have called this complex the finest, intact fortified city built by Europeans in all of Asia. The Dutch Fort has already been recognized internationally for its importance, as UNESCO listed it among its World Heritage Sites in 1988.
We recognize that we cannot ignore the natural and human changes that continue to affect Galle Fort. The grant of $100,000 we commemorate today supported work led by the University of Sri Jayewardenepura to document the historic buildings within the Fort; to create a strategy for long-term preservation of its architectural characteristics; and to formulate a master plan to guide development within the historic area.
Congratulations and thanks to everyone who worked on this wonderful project. Reinforced by the master plan this project created, city officials and other stakeholders can better balance the economic growth potential of Galle as a tourism destination with the imperative to preserve the Fort area’s unique cultural heritage. This entire effort symbolizes the increasingly strong ties between the people of the United States and Sri Lanka.
Thank you everyone.