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Sri Lanka’s commercial capital, Colombo, seems totally out of proportion with the rest of the country, stretching for 50km along the island’s western seaboard in a long and formless urban struggle which is now home to around three million people. The city’s sprawling layout and congested streets make it difficult to get to grips with, while a lack of obvious charms means that it’s unlikely to win many immediate friends, especially if your first taste of the capital is via the hour-long drive from the airport through the northern breeze-block suburbs and hooting files of weaving traffic.

There’s plenty to enjoy beneath the unpromising exterior, especially if you’re interested in getting behind the tourist cliches and finding out what makes contemporary Sri Lanka tick — it’s definitely a place that grows on you the longer you stay, and is worth a day out of even the shortest itinerary. The city musters few specific sights but offers plenty of atmospheres and quicky character: a heady admixture of Asian anarchy, colonial charm and modern chic. Shiny office blocks rub shoulders with tumbledown local cafes and shops, while serene Buddhist shrines and colonial churches stand next to the garishly multicoloured towers of Hindu temples — all evidence of the rich stew of races and religions that have gone into the making of this surprisingly cosmopolitan city. And for sheer adrenaline, a walk through the crowded bazaars of the Pettah or a high-speed rickshaw ride amid the kamikaze traffic of the Galle Road has no rival anywhere else in the country.

Brief History

In the context of Sri Lanka’s almost 2500 years of recorded history, Colombo is a relative upstart. Situated on the delta of the island’s fourth-longest river, the Kelani Ganga, the Colombo area had been long settled by Muslim traders who established a flourishing trading settlement here from the eighth century onwards, but only rose to nationwide prominence at the start of the colonial period. The Sinhalese called the port Kolamba, which the poetically inclined Portuguese believed was derived from the Sinhalese word for Mango Trees (kola meaning “leaves” and amba meaning “mango”); it’s more likely, though, that kolaba was an old Sinhala word men=aning “port” or “ferry”.

Colombo Attractions

Buddha Statues at Gangaramaya Temple Colombo Sri Lanka

Gangaramaya Temple

Gangaramaya is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Colombo, started by the famous scholar-monk Hikkaduwa Sri Sumangala Nayaka Thera In the late 19th Century. This Buddhist temple includes several imposing buildings and is situated not far from the placid waters of Beira Lake on a plot of land that was originally a small hermitage on a piece of marshy land. It has the main features of a Vihara (temple), the Cetiya (Pagoda) the Bodhi tree, the Vihara Mandiraya, the Seema Malaka (Assembly hall for monks) and the Relic Chamber. In addition, a museum, a library, A residential hall, a three-storeyed Pirivena, educational halls and an alms hall are also on the premises.

Shri Arulmigu Sivasubramania Swamy Kovil

Shri Arulmigu Sivasubramania Swamy Kovil

This kovil at Kompanna Veediya, Colombo 2 has a long history going back to 1822. This shrine was known as a pilgrims temple because devotees were largely travellers, including those proceeding to Kataragama From the North and the other parts of the island. It was also a place of worship for many officers and men who travelled through Colombo from India to Africa during the Boer War.

St. Lucy Cathedral Kotahena

St. Lucia’s Cathedral – Kotahena

St. Lucia’s Cathedral is considered the oldest and largest parish cathedral in Sri Lanka.  Open confessionals of intricately carved dark wood are also placed along the aisles. On the left, in front of the sanctuary is a unique dark-skinned statue of the Madonna called ‘Our Lady of Kotahena’, which is taken in procession during the annual celebrations. Altars of white marble are located in the transepts of the church with relics enshrined within them.

Red Mosque

Jami-Il-Alfar Mosque also known as the Red Mosque is a historic mosque in Colombo, Sri Lanka. It’s located on Second Cross Street in Pettah. Construction of the mosque commenced in 1908 and the building was completed in 1909. The mosque was commissioned by the local Indian Muslim community, based in Pettah, to fulfil their required five-times-daily prayer and Jummah on Fridays. The mosque’s designer and builder was Habibu Labbe Saibu Labbe (an unqualified architect) and was based on details/images of Indo-Saracenic structures provided by South Indian traders, who commissioned him. It’s a hybrid style of architecture, that draws elements from native Indo-Islamic and Indian architecture, and combines it with the Gothic revival and Neo-classical styles. Originally it had the capacity for 1,500 worshippers although at the time only around 500 were attending prayers.

Galle Face Green

The Galle Face is a 12 acres ocean-side urban park, which stretches for 500 meters along the coast, in the heart of Colombo, the financial and business capital of Sri Lanka. The promenade was initially laid out in 1859 by Governor Sir Henry George Ward, although the original Galle Face Green extended over much larger area than is seen today. It was initially used for horse racing and as golf course, but was also used for cricket, polo, football, tennis and rugby.

Galle Face Green originally extended over a much larger area than exists today. Records indicate that it was bounded to the north by Beira Lake, the ramparts of Colombo Fort and the city’s cemetery, to the West by the Indian Ocean, whilst to the South by the Galle Face Hotel and to the East by St Peter’s Church. It was initially laid out by the Dutch as a means to enable their cannons a strategic line of fire against the Portuguese.

Colombo Town Hall view from Viharamahadevi Park

Town Hall

The Town Hall of Colombo is the headquarters of the Colombo Municipal Council and the office of the Mayor of Colombo. Built-in front of the Viharamahadevi Park, Colombo, Sri Lanka, it is the meeting place for the elected municipal council. The foundation stone for the town hall was laid on 24 May 1924, by the Mayor of Colombo, Thomas Reid. The construction of the building was undertaken by A. A. Gammon & Co. and four years later on 9 August 1928, it was formally opened by the Governor Sir Herbert Stanley. The cost of the new town hall was met largely by revenue generated by the Council, without taking out any loans from the government.

Old Parliament Building Colombo

Old Parliament

The Old Parliament Building now houses the Presidential Secretariat of Sri Lanka. Situated in the Colombo Fort area facing the sea, it’s in close proximity to the President’s House, Colombo and adjacent to the General Treasury Building. The Neo-Baroque-style building was built during the British colonial era to house the Legislative Council of Ceylon and was an idea of Sir Henry McCallum. The building was opened on 29 January 1930 by Governor Sir Herbert Stanley; a year later it was taken over by the State Council of Ceylon for its use, who were tenants of the building unit 1947, wg=hen the House of Representative was formed with the onset of self-rule. Following the adoption of a republican constitution in 1972, the National State Assembly convened in the building unit 1977, when it was renamed the Parliament of Sri Lanka.

Old Town Hall Museum Colombo

Old Town Hall – Museum

The old Town Hall is a gothic-type Dutch building at the end of Main Street in Pettah. Inside it is a museum of life-size dolls sitting around a wooden table in different postures; a replica of a council meeting in 1906.

Independence Square Colombo Sri Lanka

Independence Memorial Hall

Independence Memorial Hall is a national monument in Sri Lanka built for commemoration of the independence of Sri Lanka from the British rule with the restoration of full governing responsibility to a Ceylonese-elected legislate on 4th February 1948. It’s located at the Independence Square (formally Torrington Square) in the Cinnamon Gardens, Colombo. It also houses the Independence Memorial Museum. The monument was built at the location where the formal ceremony marking the start of self-rule, with the opening of the first parliament by the HRH Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester occurred at a special podium February 4, 1948.

Ape Gama Colombo

Ape Gama

Ape Gama in Sri Lanka is a replica of traditional old day Sri Lankan village. This is located in Battaramulla, close to “Diyatha Park”. Ape Gama displays traditional industries, village lifestyle and how self-sufficient old day Sri Lankan society functions in those days.

Diyatha Uyana

Diyatha Uyana is located at Polduwa junction, Battaramulla near the Waters Edge Hotel. The park has been constructed on a marshy land on the banks of the Diyawanna Oya. It sits between the Parliament Complex and the Diyawanna Oya at the Polduwa junction.

Nelum Pokuna Theatre

Nelum Pokuna Theatre

The Nelum Pokuna (Lotus Pond) Theatre is a fully equipped state of the art performance centre, meant for large scale theatrical productions. The theatre consists of two venues for performances, which includes the main auditorium and an Open-Air Theatre. Situated in the heart of Colombo city, this modern architectural masterpiece facilitates easy access for both local and foreign producers. The Theatre is also surrounded by several five Star Hotels and other commercial establishments. The ease of access and the other facilities in the area ensures that foreign, local producers and artists are given the prime opportunity to promote their work artistically and financially. Hence, the Nelum Pokuna Theatre becomes a solid body for bringing in foreign investment to the economy and will play a vital role in promoting tourism in Sri Lanka.

National Museum Colombo

National Museum Colombo

National Museum of Colombo, also known as the Sri Lanka National Museum is one of two museums in Colombo. It’s the largest museum in Sri Lanka and maintained by the Department of National Museum. The museum holds a collection of much importance to Sri Lanka such as the regalia of the country, including the throne and crown of the Kandyan monarchs as well as many other exhibits telling the story of ancient Sri Lanka. The Colombo Museum as it was called at the beginning was established on 01 January 1877 by the British Governor of Ceylon, Sir William Henry Gregory.

Colombo Dutch Museum Garden

Colombo Dutch Museum

The two-storey collonaded building on Prince Street, Pettah (Colombo 11) which houses this museum was constructed during the Dutch occupation of Colombo (1656 – 1796) and was the formal residence of the Governor of Dutch Ceylon Thomas van Rhee (1634 – 1701) during his term of office in 1692 to 1697. The building has been used for many different purposes over the years. It was a teacher training college and an institute for the instruction of clergymen between 1696 and 1796. It was also used as a hospital. It becomes a barracks in the second half of the 1800s and in 1900 it was used as a police training school, set up by the British. In 1932 it was converted to the Pettah Post Office. In 1971 following heavy monsoon rains one of the exterior walls collapsed and the building was abandoned. Following protests by the Royal Asiatic Society and the Douch Burgher Union against plans to demolish the building, in 1973 a committee was established with representatives from the Ceylon Tourist Board, the Department of Archaeology, the Netherlands Alumni Association of Lanka and the National Archives, to restore the building and establish a museum covering the Dutch colonial period.

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