48 Hours in Historic Colombo
By Yashy Murphy
Known as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka is a country steeped in history and known around the world for their famous teas. Colombo served as a sea port for trade between Asia and the West during the 5th century and history has seen the Arabs, Portuguese, Dutch and British occupy the country over the centuries. Each set of traders have left their mark in the architecture and cuisine of the country which are apparent even in modern day Sri Lanka.
While the country offers many attractions and beaches to be explored outside of the city, exploring Colombo, the commercial capital and largest city of the country, for a couple days is highly recommended for history buffs.
A mere walk through the Fort and Pettah area will immerse you in rich history and enable you to not only take in the architecture but also give you a chance to shop and engage in culinary pursuits.
Dutch Hospital : The oldest building in the Colombo Fort area, the complex dates back to the Dutch era and has been carefully restored. What was originally a hospital and later, a police station, is today a hub of activity where you can enjoy a drink, dine under the stars and shop at.
Old Colombo Lighthouse : Not to be confused with the newer lighthouse, this one located in Fort was originally a lighthouse that was later destroyed and reconstructed as a clock tower in the 1800s. It is said that original mechanism was constructed by the same clockmaker who was responsible for manufacturing the one for the famous Big Ben. Though, the six foot dial that sits today is from another upgrade from the early 1900s.
Viharamahadevi Park : This largest and oldest park in Colombo was built during the British rule and used to be called “Victoria Park”. A stroll through here will provide many photo opportunities with the Buddha statue, fountains and many pretty flowers.
University of Colombo : Originally known at the Ceylon Medical school and established in 1870, what is today the largest and oldest university in Sri Lanka was once the second European medical school in South Asia. Today it’s peppered with periodic architecture and sees tourists and students roaming the campus.
Galle Face Hotel : Originally a Dutch Villa that was a meeting place during the colonial era became the best hotel East of the Suez during the British reign. The hotel recently celebrated its 150th anniversary is today an accommodation property that is steeped in rich traditions and compelling stories. Catching a stunning sunset and enjoying their afternoon tea should be on everyone’s agenda.
National Museum of Colombo: Visitors looking to hear stories of ancient Sri Lanka will want to visit the museum and scope out the artifacts, war regalia and thrones of the original kings and monarchs. Masks, library of books and palm leaf manuscripts are other items that draw the visitors in here.
Mount Lavinia: A famous beach even during colonial times is still in place today just outside of Colombo. Roaming around the Governor’s House built in 1805 is possibly if you swing by the nearby Mount Lavinia Hotel.
Kotte Rajamaha Viharaya : Originally built in the 1400s the temple was destroyed by invaders and re-built in the 1800s. Many kings and politicians have visited the Na tree here in hopes of a successful reign and one can still spot original artwork depicting the Portuguese era here and partake in daily prayers and offers.
Wolvendaal Church: At the oldest church in Colombo one can find floor tiles are made from tombstones from the Dutch era. Today it is a place with the aim of encouraging cordial relations between different races and religions.
Hiring a driver, hopping in a trishaw and exploring the many historic landmarks of Colombo is just one way to explore the historic side of the city. For those who prefer guided tours, to experience the city and learn about the history and folklore, Sightseeing bus tour is one organized tour that is on offer in the city.
City walks, led by locals is another way to not only see the buildings but also hear about the stories behind them and in some cases, even walk into ones that may not always be open to the public. No matter what draws you to Sri Lanka, you’ll find this historic gem of an island and its people welcoming you with warm smiles and open arms.
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