Around 5km southeast of Matara, the sleepy little town of DONDRA was formerly one of the south’s most important religious centres, known as Devi Nuwara (“City of the Gods”) and housing a great temple dedicated to Vishnu, among the most magnificent on the island until it was destroyed by the Portuguese in 1588. Nothing of the temple now survives apart from one ancient shrine, the Galge, a small, plain rectangular structure thought to date back to the seventh century AD, making it the oldest stone building in Sri Lanka. The shrine lies half a kilometre inland from the main crossroads in the middle of Dondra; turn left down a narrow lane just after the clocktower. After 400m you’ll reach a rather flouncy modern white temple; the Galge lies up a short flight of steps in a grassy field on the slope immediately above.

The diminutive Galge pales into insignificance next to modern Dondra’s main temple, the sprawling roadside Devi Nuwara Devalaya, right in the middle of town by the main road, complete with a huge standing Buddha (a copy of the Aukana Buddha). One of the south’s major festivals, the Devi Nuwara Perahera, is held at the temple every year on the Esala poya day (late July/early Aug).

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