In our armchair travels we’ve been traveling about Sri Lanka. Now we have arrived in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. In history it was a port on ancient east-west trade routes and has been ruled by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British. It is a city with a mixture of colonial buildings, high-rises and shopping malls.
Golf lovers will especially like the Royal Colombo Golf Club, right in the heart of the city. However even if you don’t play golf you will enjoy it here since it is a tranquil place where you can watch others tee off and relax in the natural surroundings. The scenic landscape has some rare species of flora and fauna. At one time this was a 96 acre farm. It was founded more than 130 years ago and is the second oldest Royal Golf Club located outside of the U.K. In the club house you can find an extensive array of historic golf memorabilia.
As you enter The National Museum you’ll find a large stone Buddha smiling at you dating from the 9th century. Here you can see displays in galleries dating back to 1877 of all kinds of art, carvings and statuary from Sri Lanka’s past, as well as swords, guns and other paraphernalia from the colonial period. There are also impressive 19th century reproductions of English paintings of Sri Lanka and an amazing collection of antique demon masks. You can also find the wonderful royal throne that was made for King Wimaladharma in 1693 as well as 9th century bronze Bodhisattva Sandals. The grounds are shaded by lovely banyan trees.
The Old City Hall dates back to 1865 and was built during the British era. On the ground floors you’ll find old trucks and municipal equipment on display. Tip the attendants and they’ll take you up the vintage mahogany stairs where you can take a look at the old council chambers and see replicas of the town’s first councilors in 1906.
The Dutch Period Museum has made its home in the 17th century residence of the Dutch governor. The building has been used as a Catholic seminary, a military hospital, a police station and a post office. There is a lovely garden courtyard. On display you can see Dutch colonial furniture and other artifacts.
Viharamahadevi Park is Colombo’s biggest park and was originally called Victoria Park. It was renamed in the 1950s after King Dutugemunu’s mother. There are lovely flowering trees that bloom in March, April and early May. At times elephants that have been used for ceremonies wind up spending the night in the park, enjoying a feast from the palm branches. There are benches upon which to rest, walkways for strolling, lovely landscaping and playgrounds.
The most important Dutch building in Sri Lanka is Wolvendaal Church dating from 1749. At the time that the church was built this area was a wilderness beyond the city walls. When Europeans mistook roaming jackals for wolves the area became known as Wolf’s Dale or Wolvendaal in Dutch. The church was built in the form of a Greek cross, with walls 1.5m thick. The real treasure here is the Dutch furniture. Dutch governors has a special pew created with elegant carved ebony chairs. The workmanship on the wooden pulpit, baptismal font and lectern is just as impressive. The stone floor includes the elaborate tombstones of long-forgotten Dutch governors and colonists.
St. Anthony’s Church is one of the most interesting shrines in the city. It looks just like a typical Portuguese Catholic Church. Inside it’s more sub continental. You can see devotees making offers or prayers to a dozen ornate statues. The statue of St. Anthony is said to be endowed with miraculous qualities. No photography is allowed.
The centerpiece of the vibrant Fort is the Old Dutch Hospital dating back to the early 1600s. It has been restored and is now home to shops, cafes and restaurants. You can take a pause and have a cold drink while admiring the thick columns of its arcades.
The Fort was once indeed a true fort during the European era. At that time it was surrounded by the sea on two sides and a moat on the landward sides. Today it’s an unusual mixture of modern structures, like the World Trade Center and red-brick institutions from the Colonial-era, like Cargills and Millers. An impressive landmark is the clock tower at the junction of Chatham St. and Janadhipathi Mawatha, once originally a lighthouse.
To the south of the Fort is Galle Face Green, a long stretch of lawn that faces the sea. Originally it was cleared by the Dutch so that the cannons of the Fort would have a clear line of fire. Today its lawns are a popular place to meet. You can see joggers running by, kite flyers and walkers. It gets crowded on the weekends and food vendors are on hand to feed the masses.
About 5km south of the Fort and 2km inland you’ll find Cinnamon Gardens which is Colombo’s ritziest address. At one time this area was covered by cinnamon plantations. Today you can delight in elegant tree-lined streets and posh mansions, as well as the city’s biggest park, some sports grounds and museums and galleries.
Right in the center of Cinnamon Gardens is the 50-acre University of Colombo (also known as the University of Ceylon) campus. It originally opened its doors as the Ceylon Medical School in 1870. The campus is surrounded by long tree-lined avenues lined by colonial-era mansions.
Of interest is the Italianate Baroque Saifee Villa dating from 1910 and the nearby turreted College House from 1912.
Independence Memorial Hall sits in the very heart of Cinnamon Gardens. It is popular as a recreational venue for joggers, strollers, students from the university and families relaxing. This stone edifice commemorates Sri Lanka’s independence from the British Empire in 1948. The monument has lavish symbols of the island’s rich history and political freedom. At the very entrance is a statue of D.S. Senanayake, Sri Lanka’s first prime minister, surrounded by four stone lions with protruding eyes. While visiting don’t forget to take a look at the basement museum that displays interesting exhibits that showcase Sri Lanka’s colonial history and struggle for independence. There are also cultural exhibits demonstrating Sri Lanka’s ancient literature and arts.
It is believed that Buddha visited the Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara temple on his third visit to Sri Lanka. It is a most impressive temple. The original was destroyed by Indian invaders, restored and destroyed once again by the Portuguese in the 16th century and finally the Dutch restored it in the 18th century. It is located about 7 km northeast of the Fort.
Gangaramaya Temple is run by one of Sri Lanka’s more politically adept monks, Galboda Gnanissara Thera. This is a vibrant temple that has a library, a museum and an amazing eclectic array of bejeweled and gilded gifts that had been presented by devotees and well-wishers over the years. This temple is the center for the most extravagant Vesak celebrations in Colombo.
De Soysa (Lipton) Circus is a bustling roundabout that is occupied by the popular Odel Department Store. Right opposite is the Cinnamon Gardens Baptist Church dating back to 1877. South of the church is the Dewata-Gaha Mosque from 1802.
A lot of old buildings are being renovated on Chatham Street. One of the grandest is the old colonnaded 1914 Central Bank building called Central Point. The beautifully restored interior has Greco-Roman detailing and features the tallest chandelier in Asia. There is also a museum displaying local money.
Overshadowing Slave Island is the 350m Lotus Tower, opening some time in October 2017. The top of the tower is meant to resemble the Lotus flower. This tower will be equipped with telecommunications equipment and tourist attractions that include an observation deck at the top and a water park at the base. It is being financed by China.
Old Galle Buck Lighthouse was built in 1954 and is surrounded by old cannons. You can climb up onto the large central terrace for spectacular views of the ocean and the commercial port.
The National Zoological Gardens of Sri Lanka or Dehiwala Zoo is located in Dehiwala, a suburb of Colombo. The zoo is home to a variety of animals like birds, snakes, fish, monkeys and other animals. There are also some animal shows featuring seals and elephants. You can find a number of kiosks selling drinks and snacks. There are benches upon which you can relax while observing rhinos and giraffes. The zoo is also home to sea lions, horses, zebras and crocodiles. The chimpanzees are always ready to entertain.
Arcade Independence Square is located in Colombo 7 and is part of the process of beautifying the city. This is one of the best places in Colombo to relax, shop and dine. The Arcade is lovely especially at night when all lit up. There is an interesting lion sculpture and an aquarium. The plants and pathways make it more interesting. There are many shops to explore and you can also purchase Sri Lankan products. Visitors can also enjoy the Ceylon Theater’s Empire Cineplex for entertainment. It is also a great place to relax, do some people watching or enjoy the lights when they come on at night.