City of Colombo

Colombo is the largest city in Sri Lanka is known as the financial and commercial capital of the country. Located on the west coast of the island, the city was originally a small seaport. Due to its strategic location on the East-West sea trade routes used by Roman, Arab, Persians and Chinese trade sailing vessels over 2,000 years ago, Sri Lanka has always been a part of the world’s history. It became the capital of Sri Lanka when Sri Lanka was ceded to the British Empire in 1815 and witnessed the rule of three rulers- Portuguese, Dutch and British. 

However, the position of acting as the capital was retained after Sri Lanka gained independence on the 04th of February 1948. Colombo came to be regarded as the country's commercial hub in 1978 when the administrative office was shifted to Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte. 

This small seaport with a natural harbor was introduced as "Colombo" by the Portuguese in 1505 and is believed to be derived from the classical Sinhalese name Kolon thota, meaning "port on the river Kelani". It has also been suggested that the name may be derived from the Sinhalese name Kola-amba-thota which means "Harbor with leafy mango trees". 

With all these historical events taking place in Colombo, it was largely developed as a city following independence. However, the contributions made by the Portuguese, Dutch and British played a major role to what Colombo is today. The influences made by these nations are evident today in the food, clothes, lifestyle and even names used in this city.  Even though today this wonderful city is much more modern and chic, it still resembles the glorious past. The city’s buildings, parks and monuments are living proof for that amazing history. 

In the past, Colombo was the area that covered the Fort and the Pettah Market. However, today Colombo is known to be city limits of the Municipal Council of Colombo. The Colombo Plan for Cooperative Economic and Social Development in Asia and the Pacific was conceived at the Commonwealth Conference on Foreign Affairs held in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in January 1950 and was launched on 1 July 1951 as a cooperative venture for the economic and social advancement of the peoples of South and Southeast Asia. Many prominent persons represented their respective countries at this Conference such as Percy Spender, Minister for External Affairs, Australia; Ernest Bevin, Foreign Secretary, Britain; Lester Pearson, Minister for External Affairs, Canada; Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister and Minister for External Affairs, India; Fredrick Dodge, Minister for External Affairs, New Zealand; Ghulam Mohammed, Minister of Finance, Pakistan and D.S. Senanayake, Prime Minister of Ceylon and J.R. Jayewardene, then Finance Minister and later President of Sri Lanka.

During the 1870s the breakwaters were built and Fort was created by flooding surrounding wetlands. Colombo was peacefully handed over when Sri Lanka achieved independence in 1948. A new parliament was built in Sri Jayawardenepura-Kotte, an outer suburb of Colombo, in 1982.
Isolated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) bomb attacks in Fort during the 1990s caused Colombo’s major businesses and institutions to disperse across the city. These days Colombo is spreading north and south along the coast as people migrate to the city to work.

The Fort

Originally a fort during the Portuguese and Dutch periods but now a major commercial center of the country and housing major offices, big hotels, some of the better shops, airline offices, banks, main post office, immigration office, travel agents and restaurants. Within Fort are several places of tourist interest, which can be conveniently seen on foot.


Adjacent to Fort is Pettah-Colombo's leading bazaar district. It has narrow cobbled streets lined with shops and street stalls that offer the most fantastic bargains and the most unimaginable range of goods varying from bright printed fabrics, suiting’s, undergarments, children wear, footwear and handbags to electrical goods, semi-precious jewelry, watches, rare first edition books, cutlery and other household items. Each crisscrossed lane of Pettah leads to the main street and each has developed its own specialized characteristic. For example, household goods are found on Keyzer Street. Prince Street is famous for glass, mirrors and electrical items. Malwatte Avenue sells English, Sinhala and Tamil music cassettes.

Galle Face

A promenade on the sea face stretching one and a half kilometers, it is a relic of the British era. Laid out in 1859 it was used for horse racing. Today it is the largest open space in Colombo and a famous picnic spot.

Slave Island

On the south of Fort, is a long, narrow island-where the slaves had their night quarters-called Slave Island. Today the spot is surrounded by the remains of the former Beira Lake and is home to many office buildings, hotels and stores.

Mount Lavinia

Mount Lavinia is a beach just 12 km from Colombo. It was a famous beach even during the colonial times. The Governor's House built in 1805 by Sir Thomas Maitland now forms part of the famous Mount Lavinia Hotel.

Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara

It is a famous Buddhist temple and is believed to be at the spot where the Buddha preached 2000 years ago. It has an excellent carving of a reclining Buddha, and is the site for an annual perahera (religious procession) in January.

Dehiwala Zoo

It is about 11 acres in extent and has very fine collection of fauna from all over the world. The highlight of the show is the elephant show, which is held every evening.

National Museum

Housed in a grand colonial building, the National Museum is the custodian of Sri Lanka's cultural heritage. Among its exhibits are a vast collection of half a million books, more than 4000 archaic palm leaf manuscripts, and rock sculptures from the ancient cities, bronze brassware and royal weapons of Sri Lankan kings, fascinating paintings of by gone eras and an excellent collection of antique demon masks. The most interesting among the exhibits are the regalia of the Kandyan Kings dating back to the 17th century.

The Viharamahadevi Park

Located next to the National Museum, it is Colombo's largest park. The park is famous for its flowering trees, water channels and fountains.

Wolvendaal Church

It is Colombo's oldest Dutch church. Its floor tiles are made from tombstones from the Dutch church in the Fort, and were brought here in 1813.

Hindu Temples

There are several Hindu temples, which are called Kovils in Colombo. In the Sea Street in Colombo are several Hindu temples, the Ganeshan, the Old Kathiresan and the New Kathiresan with their colorful Gopurams (doorways). Other important temples are the Shiva Subramanian Swami temple on Slave Island and the Sri Muthumariamman temple.