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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrColombo, which lies on the west coast of Sri Lanka, adjacent to the parliament capital Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, is the largest city of Sri Lanka. With a population of 4,575,000 inhabitants, Colombo is a vibrant and busy town, which boasts of a mixture of modern lifestyle along with colonial architecture and also ,sadly, its ruins due to the former LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam ) outrages in this town.
In the modern times, even after the administrative capital of Sri Lanka has been moved to Sri Jayawardenapura-Kotte, which is a suburb that lies to the east, Colombo still remains both as the financial and commercial capital of Sri Lanka.
Due to its strategic positioning along the East-West Sea trading routes, Colombo has remained as a large harbor, which was even well known by the ancient seafaring traders 2000 years ago.
In the past during the British rule in Sri Lanka, Colombo was the capital of the British Sri Lankan Empire and so this town is home to all major Sri Lankan corporate offices, entertainment venues, hotels and restaurants in this country.
EtymologyThe name Colombo was first introduced in 1505 by the Portuguese who land on its shores- ‘Kolamba’ which means Ford or Harbor in Sinhalese.
It is also said that the city of Colombo got its name from the Sinhalese words ‘Kolon thota’ or ‘Kola-amba-thota’ which means "Port on the river Kelani" and "Harbour with leafy mango trees" respectively.
HistoryThe Colombo town, which was even visited by the famous Moroccan traveler Ibn Batuta who visited Sri Lanka during the 14th Century AD, was a well-known harbor city to the Persians, Romans, Greeks, Arabs, Indians and the Chinese traders since 2000 years.
It was during the 8th Century AD that the Muslim Moors started settling in and around the Colombo Township because of its port facility, which helped them to control the trade between the Sinhalese kingdoms and the outside world. Their descendants can still be seen among the local Sri Lankan Moorish community.
Sri Lanka has also been mentioned in the two great Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. The epic battle between King Rama and King Ravana who was the king of ‘Lankapuri’ (modern Sri Lanka) is depicted in the famous 12th Century bas-relief found in the Khmer temple of Angkor Wat.
In 1505AD the Portuguese explorer Dom Lourenço de Almeida first arrived in Colombo and made a treaty with King of Kotte Parakramabahu VIII, which allowed them to establish trade with the island’s crop of cinnamon along with full authority over the Sri Lankan coastline, in exchange for the promise to guard the Sri Lankan coast against foreign invaders. Later on, as the Portuguese realized that the more control of Sri Lankan territories are necessary for establishing their control in India (Goa), they slowly started gaining larger control of Sri Lanka. By 1593, the Portuguese not only established complete control of the coastal areas of Sri Lanka but also made Colombo as the capital of their territories. This part of Colombo is still known as the Fort which presently houses all the major five star hotels as well as the presidential palace.
However in 1638, the Dutch signed a treaty with King Rajasinha II of Kandy with the assurance of helping the king to oust the Portuguese settlers from Sri Lanka in exchange for a monopoly over all major trade goods of Sri Lanka. After an epic siege of Colombo city the Dutch general Rijcklof van Goens captured the area back to the Sinhalese kings, but later on refused to give back the land to the Sri Lankan rulers and so Colombo served as the capital of the Dutch Maritime Provinces until 1796, which was subsequently governed by the Dutch East India Company.
During the later years the British captured Colombo in 1796, kept it as a British military outpost until Colombo was ceded to them in 1815AD.
After 1815 the British made Colombo as the capital of the newly created crown colony of British Ceylon and started constructing civilian structures around the Fort area, which gave rise to the current Colombo city.
The British government which was much responsible for the planning of Colombo, also gifted the city with tram cars and granite flooring on the roadways, some of which are still visible as of today.
After the end of colonialism which ended peacefully in 1948, Sri Lanka (Ceylon) gained independence from Britain and an entirely new culture took root in Sri Lanka, which got influenced by the Portuguese, Dutch and the British rules.
In the modern day’s scenario one can see an interesting mix of European lifestyle, names and clothing along with local Sinhala and Tamil customs in the city of Colombo.
Languages SpokenWhile Sinhala and Tamil are the official languages spoken by the people in Sri Lanka, English is also understood by most of the people who lives in the Colombo city.
What to seeAmong several landmarks that are found interesting to the travelers in Colombo, the two World Trade Centers and the Old Colombo Lighthouse are important and beautiful landmarks in Colombo.
Apart from these, travelers can also visit the following location such as:
Gangaramaya TempleGangaramaya Temple is one of the most important temples in Colombo, combining different cultures, however it is a Buddhist temple.
Galle Face Green PromenadeThis promenade which runs between the Galle Road and the Indian Ocean and stretches over an area of 13 acres, is an excellent place for viewing the scintillating and ever changing sunsets over the Indian Ocean. This promenade which got reopened in 2001 is an ideal place for picnicking during the weekends which attracts the teenagers, children, families and tourists who visits this city.
Casa Serena Art GalleryLocated in 122 Havelock Road, this art gallery in Colombo is often visited by the tourists as it exhibits a diverse range of photographs, art, sculpture, crafts and video installations of local and international artists. This gallery focuses both on traditional and contemporary art forms and remains opens from Tuesdays till Friday from 10 am till 6pm and on Monday from 1pm till 6pm.
Colombo Zoological GardensThe Colombo city zoo, is one of the most popular zoos in this country that attracts the tourists for its elephant shows which is held every day at 5.15 pm. There are also a wide variety of animals, reptiles and birds from all over the world in this animal park. Visitors to this place can even enjoy elephant and pony rides which is often liked by the children who come to visit this animal kingdom.
Turtle Conservation VillaThis non-profit turtle conservation project is a local initiative which aims at educating both the locals and the tourists about the necessity of protecting these incredible sea animals. This conservatory ensures the hatching, preservation, release and protection of the endangered Sri Lankan turtles.
Jami Ul-Alfar MosqueOne of the most visited tourist spots in Colombo, this mosque was formerly recognized as a landmark for the sailors as they approached the port of Colombo.
Independence HallLocated near the Cinnamon Gardens, this edifice is a historic landmark of Sri Lankan independence, which is situated at the Independence Square in Colombo.
St.Paul's Church-MilagiriyaThis is one of the oldest churches in Sri Lanka which was built by the Portuguese settlers in this country and was later on rebuilt by the British in 1848.
Murugan Hindu TempleSituated on the Slave Island area, this beautifully sculptured religious edifice is worth a visit for its architectural importance while staying in Colombo.
Nelum Pokuna Mahinda Rajapaksa TheaterThis world class theater in the Colombo city was opened in 2011. Designed in the form of a Lotus Pond , this theater which is located in Polonnaruwa is a major tourist destination for all travelers visiting Colombo.
Colombo Dutch MuseumLocated next to the Natural History Museum, the Dutch Museum in the Colombo city, has several relics and artifacts that details the Dutch colonial history of this country.
R. Premadasa StadiumCricket being the most popular sports in Sri Lanka whereby the country emerged as a champion of the 1996 Cricket World Cup, one can surely visit this international standard cricket stadium-and if luck even watch a cricket match while visiting this city.
Apart from the above mentioned locations one can also visit the Fort area, the Cargills & Millers' complex, the Colombo Harbor, the Lionel Wendt Theatre and the Old General Post Office which is an Edwardian style building while visiting this historic Asian town.
FestivalsVesak or the festival that celebrates the birth, death and enlightenment of Lord Gautama Buddha, is one the major festivals held in the month of May/June in Colombo city.
Eid Ul Fitr and Eid Ul Adha is also celebrated by the Muslims living in Colombo along with Christmas which is celebrated by the Christians living in this land.
Traveling in the cityThere is an extensive network of local city buses that is operated by private and government establishments in the Colombo city.
The city also has auto-rickshaws (Tri-shaw) and train services that helps in commuting in and around this town.
Taxis and private cars can even be used by the travelers for traveling within Colombo.
How to reachAir: The Bandaranaike International Airport which is located at Katunayake and is an hour’s drive from the Colombo city connects this town with all major destinations around the world. There is also another airport- the Ratmalana Airport in this city, which connects Colombo with local destinations within the country.
Ferry: The international ferry liner, the Scotia Prince connects Colombo with Tuticorin, which lies in southern most part of India.
Where to stayFor budget travelers one can stay in City Beds the Regent, Hotel Nippon, Kamvelta Holiday Resort, YMCA and others.
Grand Oriental Hotel, Palm Village Hotel, Galle Face Hotel and others are mid-range hotels in this city, which offers a comfortable stay while visiting this town.
There are also several star hotels in Colombo such as the Berjaya Hotel, Hotel Clarion, The Havelock Place Bungalow, Casa Colombo, Taj Samudra and others, which are always ready to accommodate those travelers who are looking for a splurge.
What to eatAlthough all types of cuisines are available in Colombo, right from Sri Lankan, Indian, Chinese, Thai, Lebanese, Korean and Continental delicacies, however one must not forget to taste the quintessential Sri Lankan snack “Kothu Rotti” which consists of sliced-up bits of Rotti, expertly blended with choice of chicken, beef, egg, onions, tomatoes and green chilies.
When to visitColombo is a tropical city and so the weather is mostly humid and hot in this place throughout the year.
However, it is best not to visit Colombo during the months of April and May and then again in-between the months of September, October and November as it rains profusely during these months.
Other attractions near ColomboOne can also visit the Arugam Bay, Sigiriya, Adam's peak, Kandy Township, Anuradhapura, the busy Jaffna town and also Negombo and the most interesting Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage while travelling in Sri Lanka.
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Author: SubhasishMitra. Last updated: Jan 12, 2015