Colombo is the main commercial city in Sri Lanka. When comparing with other cities in the country, Colombo is more developed. On the other hand Colombo is one of the popular tourist destinations. The total area of the city is 37.31 km². From March to April the average high temperature is around 31 °C (87.8 °F). The population of the city is approximately 800000. Around 100000 people visit Colombo city daily from faraway places for jobs and daily needs. Colombo city is located in the western province. In the western coast of the city there is a world famous commercial harbor. The fourth major river of the country, the Kelani river also flows towards the north of this city.

How Colombo came into being?

The Colombo port has a history around 2000 years. At that time the area where the port is now was densely forested with kolon trees (Haldina cordifolia). Furthermore, the place was surrounded with mango (Mangifera foetida) leaves. Therefore the city came in to being as “kola amba thota”. Arabians used this as a major trading port. In 1505 Portuguese, in 1638 Dutch and in 1796 British named this as “Colombo”.  The Colombo city which is densely populated with various nationalities like Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and Burgher is a very busy city. During the British rule from 1815 to 1948 Colombo was the capital of the country. Later, in 1978 Sri Jayawardhanepura Kotte was named as the administrative capital and Colombo continued as the hub. To make the administration of the city convenient the city has been divided into 15 zones. They are;

  1. Fort
  2. Slave island
  3. Kollupitiya
  4. Bambalapitiya
  5. Havelock Town
  6. Wellawatta/Pamankada/Kiralapana south
  7. Cinnamon gardens
  8. Borella
  9. Dematagoda
  10. Maradana/Panchikawaththa
  11. Pettah
  12. Hulfsdort
  13. Kotahena/kochchikade
  14. Grandpass/Madampitiya
  15. Mutuwal/Modara/Mattakkuliya

Important monuments in Colombo

There are several important places in Colombo which were built during the colonial era as well as before that. Some of them are;

Galle faces Green

This urban park is situated opposite the west part of the ocean. The total area of this park is 12 hectares.  It is said that this is an idea of Victoria Ward, wife of the British governor Sir Henry Gregory Ward. This ground was initially used for horse racing and playing golf. Later the sports like rugby, cricket, polo, football and tennis were played on this ground. The area was originally used by the Dutch to enable their cannons a strategic line of fire against the Portuguese. One version of how the name Galle Face came into being is it derived from the original Dutch name “Gal Gate” the gateway to Colombo Fort, facing southwards to Galle. Another version is that it is a corruption of “Gal Bokka” , the original Sinhala name for the rocky shoreline. Horse racing in 1820, Golf, rugby and Royal-Thomian inter-school cricket matches were played on this ground in 1879. Today, this urban park is used by the government to hold ceremonies. People use this ground to spend their leisure time.

Galle face Hotel

For the first time a Dutch businessmen started this used as his place. He named it as Dutch Villa. Later on in was converted into Galle Face House. Four Englishmen officially renovated the building in 1864. In 1894 the new building was constructed under the guidance of the architect Edward Skinner. This hotel complex has been declared as a world heritage site. Sri Lanka Broadcasting cooperation (then Radio Ceylon) was opened to the public in this place in 1950.

Beira Lake

Portuguese constructed the lake mainly to protection from enemies, especially local kings. In 1578 its area was 165 hectares.

President’s House

This special residence is located in Janadipathi Mawatha. 29 governors have used this mansion as their official residence since 1804.this was named “King’s House” or the “Queen’s House” until Sri Lanka became a republic in 1972. After gaining the independence in 1948, the Governor General used this as his official residence. This has been used to hold official ceremonies up to date. This is the official residence of the presidents in Sri Lanka. It is mentioned that 10000had been spent to construct this building.

Gangarama Temple

A mudliyar called Don Bastian (de Silva Jayasuriya Goonewardane, Mudaliyar) built this temple. It is situated not far from the Beira Lake. Originally this is a hermitage. The part which mostly attracts tourists is the architecture of Simamalakayan (chapter house) which has been designed under the guidance of the renowned architect Geoffrey Bawa. By today it serves not only as a place of Buddhist worship but it is a centre of learning too. The temple   includes old peoples’ homes, a vocational school and an orphanage.

Colombo Clock Tower and the Lighthouse

This tower is 29 meters in height. This is the only tower that can be seen in Sri Lanka which has both the clock and the light house on the same tower. Emily Elizabeth Ward, the wife of the Governor Sir Henry Ward designed only the clock tower in 1860. It was built by John Fleming Churchill.  In 1865 a lighthouse was attached to it. As a result of constructing many buildings in the surrounding in 1952 the lighthouse is not in function.. An English clockmaker named Dent constructed the mechanism of this clock.

Town Hall,Colombo

This monument is located in a very beautiful place in Colombo. Thomas Reid, the Mayor of Colombo then started the construction of the building in 1924. The construction was completed in 1927. S.J. Edward, the architect who planned the building, planned the structure of the town hall according to the structure of the White House in America.

Independent Square

This is a creation of Tom Neville W Jhons. The structure of this monument is supposed to be based on the Magul Maduwa or the Royal  Hall of the last Kandyan Kingdom. The first parliament meeting was held in this building.

Bandaranayaike International Memorial Conference Hall

This particular building was established under the patronage of Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the first stateswoman in the world. The People’s Republic of China donated LKR 35 million to construct this building. This building was constructed in the memory of Late Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Hon. S.W.R.D. Bandaranayake.

Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque

This mosque is located in Pettah, Colombo. The business community built this mosque in 1909. Saibu Lebbe, an unqualified architect designed this building. This is a red and white candy-striped two-storied building. This was built in a very busy area, Pettah for the convenience of the Muslim business community.

Viharamahadevi Park

An Englishman built this park in 1951. This park is in front of the Town Hall. From 1927 to 1995 this place had been used as a cricket ground. This is also known as “Victoria Park”. Later this park got the name as Viaharamaha devi park in memory of the late mother of King Dutugemunu, Vihara Maha Devi (queen).

National Museum

Sir William Henry Gregory, the British Governor of Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) started on 1st of January 1877. J.G. Smith designed the building according to Italian architecture. This museum depicts the history of Sri Lanka.

Fort Railway Station

Although the rail was introduced in 1864, the Fort Railway Station was started in 1908. Railway was started mainly to transport coffee from plantations in the hill country district of Kandy to the port city of Colombo on its way to Europe and the world market. It has the structure of the railway station in Manchester in Victoria, England.

Old Parliament Building Complex

Austin Woodeson, the chief architect designed this building in 1929. It has the neo-baroque style. It has the space for 50 persons. This building had been used as the parliament complex until 1977. But after the establishment of the new parliament complex in Sri Jayawardhanepura Kotte this building was converted into the presidential secretariat.

Dutch Hospital

The Dutch rulers constructed the building in 1616. This building has five wings and two central courtyards. In the northern part of the building is located the store room, staff quarter and the pharmacy.  There was a plot of land in the same place where the medicinal plants were grown.

Wolfendhal Church

This Dutch reformed church was established in 1749 by the VOC. The church is still in function. It took eight years to complete this church. The name “Wolfendhal” came into being because of the howls of the wolves from the area where the church is located. The cemetery of the Dutch governors is in this premise.

Dutch Museum

This colonial building is in Pettah. Thomas Van Rhee, the Dutch Governor of Sri Lanka built this for his residence (1643-1701). Later this building had been used for various purposes such as an orphanage, residence for priests, teacher training center, police training Centre and a post office. With the assistance of Netherland this building was opened for the public as a Dutch museum.


Sources: Brohier D, Changing Faces of Colombo.