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 4th 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 harbour was introduced as “Colombo” by the Portuguese in 1505 and is believed to be derived from the classical Sinhalese name Kolonthota, 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 “Harbour with leafy mango trees”. Colombo is a busy and vibrant city with a mixture of modern life and ancient historical colonial buildings and ruins that offers a variety of experiences. It has the lazy charm of the historical era combined with the liveliness of a modern city. Colombo is an ideal location to start the Sri Lankan sojourn.
A large 9th-century stone Buddha greets you with an enigmatic smile as you enter Sri Lanka’s premier cultural institution. In galleries dating back as far as 1877, you’ll encounter all manner of art, carvings and statuary from Sri Lanka’s ancient past, as well as swords, guns and other paraphernalia from the colonial period. There are fascinating 19th century reproductions of English paintings of Sri Lanka, and an excellent collection of antique demon masks. Look for the magnificent royal throne made for King Wimaladharma in 1693, as well as the 9th-century bronze Bodhisattva Sandals. The grounds are shaded by magnificent banyan trees.
Run by one of Sri Lanka’s more politically adept monks, Galboda Gnanissara Thera, this bustling temple complex has a library, a museum and an extraordinarily eclectic array of bejewelled and gilded gifts presented by devotees and well-wishers over the years (plus one lonely and chained temple elephant named Ganga). Gangaramaya is the focus of the Navam Perahera on the February poya (full moon) day each year. This is the centre for the most extravagant Vesak celebrations in Colombo.
Viharamaha Devi Park
Colombo’s biggest park was originally called Victoria Park but was renamed in the 1950s after the mother of King Dutugemunu. It’s notable for its superb flowering trees, which bloom in March, April and early May. Elephants used for ceremonies sometimes spend the night in the park, chomping on palm branches. It has been given a major sprucing up and now boasts new benches (often occupied with caressing couples), walkways, landscaping and playground.
National Zoological Gardens
By Western standards, the conditions for the inhabitants of this are pretty dismal. Having said that, the place has steadily improved over the years. Still, most of the cages are too small and it’s pretty depressing to see all the elephants chained up at the foot. The monkeys seem to have scored the best digs. The zoo is 10km south of Fort; you can get there on bus 118 from Dehiwala train station.