Colombo is the commercial capital of Sri Lanka – it is the traditional gateway to the Orient. Colombo was a popular port of call for many a passenger liner from the western route to Australia and the Far East, during the leisured times of a bygone era, when India was the biggest ornament of the British Empire and Sri Lanka was then known as its brightest pendant ! The city is bordered by the waters of the Indian Ocean on the west and the bustle of the harbour mingles with the activity of its busy commercial, banking, and shopping area. The approach to Colombo is from the north and is a minimum one hour drive from the Katunayake International Aiport. The original Moorish trading settlers, the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British, have left in their wake churches and monuments, clock towers and belfries, canals and breakwaters, religions and names, costumes and food and smattering of their languages which have been absorbed into the speech of the Sri Lankans. Cutting across Colombo’s main trunk road is an old Dutch Canal which is a part of the character of Colombo city, with its cosmopolitan life and landscape. Buddhist Temples and Statues, Hindu Temples and Christian Churches of many denominations, Mosques and Minarets are sprinkled in profusion. Manifesting the peaceful tolerance of the city’s racial and religious mix. Colombo which has a population of over a million distributed over fifteen zones, has three main zones, each of which has a distinctive character. The Fort, the centre of metropolitan activity, the Pettah the bustling bazaar area and the old Cinnamon Gardens, now fashionably known as Colombo 7 with its spacious mansions and better residential areas.
The Fort is designated Colombo 1. The most important landmark in the Fort is the Lighthouse Clock Tower built in 1837. The tower was built to a design by the Lady Ward (wife of the British Governor at that time) and is possibly the world’s only light-house in the middle of the City. The new light-house is at Marine Drive over looking the Governor’s pool. A little away is the Janadhipathi Medura – the President’s House, formerly the Queen’s House. The statue facing east in front of President’s House is that of Governor Sir Edward Barnes – the great roadmaker who caused the Colombo-Kandy Road to be constructed, all trunk road mileage is measured from this statue.
Pettah which is known as Colombo 11, is an Anglo-Indian word derived from the Tamil “pettai” used by the British to describe the place the Dutch called :Oude Stad” or Old Town. The area is called “Pita Kotuwa” in Sinhalese and means “outside the Fort” . Here as in the past, a brisk trade goes on each day in fruits, vegetables, spices, cloth, gold and silver, jaggery and honey, coconut oil, sandalwood, brassware and copper – the list is endless. There are many legacies of the Moors, Portuguese, Dutch and British who lived and traded in the Pettah. The belfy at Kayman’s Gat marked one end of the Beira Lake. The old Pettah Post Office was once a Dutch Seminary. Headstones from the old Dutch cemetery are still seen at Keyzer Street, with Mosques and Hindu Kovils in close proximity and a famous Catholic Church dedicated to St Anthony the Miracle Worker, where the faithful of many religions go for assistance and solace is on the waterfront at nearby Kochchikade on a site dating back to Portuguese days.
Cinnamon Gardens popularly known as Colombo 7 is the city’s most exclusive residential district. Cinnamon Gardens – its name comes from the cinnamon plantations which once covered the area. Within the Cinnamon Gardens area are several places of interest : The Town Hall, premier civic centre, the beautiful Vihara Maha Devi Park (originally named after Queen Victoria but now commemorating a great Sinhala Queen of the pre-Christian era). The other places of interest are the War Memorial commemorating the dead of two world wars, the Public Library, the Art Gallery, the Lionel Wendt Theatre and Art Centre, Colombo National Museum, Independence Commemoration Hall and the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall.
The Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall in Sri Lanka was a gift to the people of Sri Lanka from the People’s Republic of China. This 30 million Rupee Convention Complex is the best of its kind in South Asia and equipped to handle the largest of conventions. Sri Lanka ‘s Zoological Gardens situated in Dehiwela is considered one of the best in Asia. A very fine collection of animals, birds, reptiles and fish from all parts of the world. The biggest attraction of the zoo is its daily elephant circus.
Just past Dehiwela is Mt Lavinia a popular beach resort of city dwellers has plenty of wide beach for sunning and the sea is ideal for swimming and surfing. Here is also a lovely palm-fringed bay and the spacious Mt Lavinia Hotel of which the main building was formerly the romantic hideout of a British Governor. Apart from Mt Lavinia, Colombo has a sea-front extending seven miles south from Fort to Dehiwela with many places ideal for sun and sea bathing, swimming and surfing. Dehiwela and Mt Lavinia also have small fishing hamlets, where you can watch the boats go out and if you like, help bring in the catch as well. There’s more beach north of the city at Hendela on the way to the International Air Port Katunayake where the Pegasus Reef Hotel provides international class accommodation. Hendela also affords opportunities for boating along the Dutch Canal which flows through miles of picturesque coconut grove.
Sri Lanka is also famous for its Temples and within Colombo itself you will see the Dipaduttaramaya in Kotahena (Colombo 13) founded in 1806 which is the oldest Buddhist Shrine in the city. The Paramananda Purana Viharaya also situated in Kotahena was also founded in the same year. The Gotami Vihara in Borella (Colombo 8) is notable for the contemporary paintings by George Keyt which adorn its walls depicting the life of the Buddha. The Isipathanramaya in Havelock Town (Colombo 5) and the Asokaramaya in Thimbirigasyaya (Colombo 5) also have paintings which illustrate the style of art during the Buddhist revival in the quarter of this century. In Colombo 2 is located the famous Gangaramaya, the meditating and Bhikku Training Centre sited on a picturesque location in the Beira Lake. This centre also includes a museum on Buddhism. The Vajiraramay in Bambalapity (Colombo 4) is one of the recognized seats of Buddhist learning and discipline. Seven miles from the city of Colombo is the Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara, on a site believed to have been sanctified by a visit of the Buddha. The Mahavams, ancient chronicle of the Sinhalese, records that the original dagaba at Kelaniya enshrined a gem studded throne on which the Buddha sat and preached. Sri Lanka’s famous Kovils, Churches and Mosques of historic value are also found within the city of Colombo.