Colombo is the largest city and former administrative capital of Sri Lanka. It is located on the west coast ...
Colombo is the largest city and former administrative capital of Sri Lanka. It is located on the west coast of the island and adjacent to Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, the present administrative capital of Sri Lanka. Colombo is a busy and vibrant city with a mixture of modern life and colonial buildings and ruins and a city population of over a million.
The name "Colombo", first introduced by the Portuguese in 1505, 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".
Due to its large harbor and its strategic position along the East-West sea trade routes, Colombo was known to ancient traders 2,000 years ago. However it was only made the capital of the island when Sri Lanka was ceded to the british empire in 1815, and its status as capital was retained when the nation became independent in 1948. In 1978, when administrative functions were moved to Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, Colombo was designated as the commercial capital of Sri Lanka.
Like many cities, Colombo's urban area extends well beyond the boundaries of a single local authority, encompassing other municipal and urban councils. The main city is home to a majority of the Sri Lanka's corporate offices, restaurants and entertainment venues.
The island of Sri Lanka was first infiltrated by Sinhalese people in the 5th or 6th century BC and the first settlers most likely originated from nearby India, replacing the original inhabitants, the Veddahs or Wanniyala-aetto.
Colombo itself began as a small port town in the 5th century before becoming one of the capitals of the Sinhalese kingdom of Anuradhapura, which was established in the 4th century BC. Arab traders graced the shores of Colombo in the 8th century, evidence of which is still present today, until the 10th century, at which time attacks from southern India became common and later there were attacks by Chinese and Malayans. Invasions continued until the Portuguese arrived in 1505, colonizing the entire coastal belt and monopolizing trade. Attempts to enlisted Dutch help to expel the Portuguese, merely succeeded in replacing the Portuguese leaders with Dutch ones, who then continued to rule for 140 years.
In 1796, the British replaced the Dutch and became the first European power to control the whole island. During British rule, the Fort area was created and large numbers of Tamils from southern India were imported to work on the islandís coffee and tea plantations, and it was at this time that Colombo became the capital city. After the island won independence from Britain in 1948, tensions grew between the Tamils and the Sinhalese, particularly after Sinhalese was introduced as the official language as well as the introduction of discriminative laws depriving Tamils of equal rights to education. Violence began in the 1970's and a state of emergency was imposed by the government. Indian intervention to keep the peace in 1987 proved to be unsuccessful and peacekeepers later withdrew in 1990. Warfare continued and peace talks failed.
Presently, the conflict between Tamil tiger separatists and government forces remains unresolved and is largely confined to the north and the east of the island, with Colombo being largely unaffected. Despite the political situation and the occasional bomb, Colombo remains the cultural, economic and political center of the island.
The climate in Sri Lanka is similar to that of southern India, experiencing two monsoons and a dry season. The southwestern half of the island, where Colombo is situated, is affected by the Yala monsoon from May to August, while the same area remains dry throughout December to March. The north and east of the island experiences different weather, with the wet season arriving in October and lasting until January, while these parts of the island are dry from May to September. However, during the period from October to November, any part of the island can experience rain or thunderstorms.
Colombo's most beautiful festival is the celebration of lord Buddha's birth, Enlightenment and Death all falling on the same day. In Sinhala this is known as Vesak. During this festival, much of the city is decorated with lanterns, lights and special displays of light(known as Thoran). The festival falls in mid may and lasts a week when many Sri Lankans visit the city to see the lantern competitions and decorations. During this week people distribute, rice, drinks and various other food items for free in places what is known as Dunsal which means charity place. These Dunsals are popular amongst visitors from the suburbs.
Christmas is another major festival in the city. Although Sri Lanka's Christians make up only just over 7% of the population, Christmas is one of the island's biggest festivals. Most streets and commercial buildings light up from the beginning of December and festive sales begin at all shopping centres and department stores. Caroling and nativity plays are also frequent sights during the season.
December to March
The Fort, Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara Temple, Pettah in Colombo, Dehiwala Zoo, Colombo National Museum, Wolvendaal Church, Vihara Mahadevi Park
The Fort: Fort, between Colombo Harbour to the north and Beira Lake to the south, is the heart of Colombo. The Portuguese built and extended their fortress here during more than a century of conquest and resistance. It was taken over by the Dutch, and finally demolished by the British after they completed their conquest of the country in the mid-19th century. Today, the area is the city's financial and commercial heart and houses Colombo's main international hotels, as well as Sri Lanka's seat of government.
The mid-19th-century Clock Tower, at the comer of Janadhipati Mawatha and Chatham Street, was originally a lighthouse and is now a handy landmark for the city centre area. Other landmarks include the President's House and Presidential Gardens, a palatial neo- classical building which was originally the home of the British Governors and is now the residence of Sri Lanka's president; it is sadly off limits to visitors.
Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara Temple: The Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara is one of the most sacred worshipping places of the Buddhists of Sri Lanka since it is a site made hallowed by the visit of Lord Buddha. In the past Kelaniya itself was a large city and the Kelani Raja Maha Viharaya was one of the largest and one of the most beautiful temples of Sri Lanka.
Situated about six miles from Colombo, set within a sacred area of around ten acres, the Kelani Vihara stands beside the Kelani river as evidence of a Buddhist tradition in this country.The spot on which this vihara stands derived its sanctity in the Buddhist era 2531, with the third visit of the Buddha to this country. He hallowed this ground by His visit accompanied by 500 Arahants. The fact that the Buddha visited the spot on a Wesak day on the invitation of King Maniakkhika is given in the historic epics of Sri Lanka.
Pettah in Colombo: Immediately east of Fort ( across the narrow canal that separates the outer harbour from the Beira Lake) is Pettah, a maze of Streets and Alleys Piled and Crammed with goods of every description, from colourful textiles gold and silver and colonial-era antiquities to the necessities of everyday life - spices, fruit and vegetables, reeking heaps of dried fish, paraffin, batteries, electrical goods, clothes and footwear. Whatever you are looking for you'll find it in pettah-though shopping here, which can call for determined bargaining, is not for the faint of heart Among the Most interesting streets for both sightseeing and shopping is sea Street, in the northeast corner of pettah, with its goldsmiths' work shops and the dramatically colourful Hindu Kathiresan and Old Kathiresan Kovils (temples).
Dehiwala Zoo: The Dehiwala Zoo is one of the finest in Asia and its sprawling ares are host to a variety of animals and birds. Drive 6 miles from Colombo, south along the Galle Road. Turn left at Allen Avenue, Dehiwala, and follow the signposta.
It is pleasing to see many animals in their natural habitat. Whether it be lions, bears, tigers, rhinos, giraffes or gorillas, there is a greater freedom here than in many zoos around the world. The sight of painted storks fishing in the pond or screeching macaws ruffling their bright feathers immediately puts any visitor at ease.
In the Reptile House you will find a rare albino cobra and an enormous python. Watch out for the little tortoises which take piggy-back rides on the backs of ferocious crocodiles. The zoo also has an excellent collection of primates. Do not miss the 500 varieties of marine life at the Mini Medura, constructed with children in mind who dart around the exhibit like the fish in the tanks. The Nocturnal House allows visitors to see creatures like owls and lemurs in their natural habitat.
Colombo National Museum: National Museum of Colombo, also known as the Sri Lanka National Museum is one of two museums in colombo. It is the largest museum in Sri Lanka. Its is maintained by the department of national museum of the central government. The Colombo museum as it was called at the beginning was established on 1 January 1877. It founder was sir William Henry Gregory the british governor of ceylon (Sri Lanka) at the time. The royal asiatic society (CB) was instrumental in bringing to the notice of Gregory on his appointment as Governor in 1872 the need for a public Museum with much difficulty the approval of the legislative council was obtained within a year. The Architect of the Public Works Department, J. G. Smither was able to prepare the plans for new structure on italian architectural style.
Wolvendaal Church: Wolvendaal Church in Colombo is the oldest Protestant church of Sri Lanka. The church is named after the place Wolvendaal. The floor tiles of the church are made from the Dutch church in the fort and were brought here in 1813. The Dutch reformed church came to Sri Lanka in 1642. The governing body of the church was established in 1658 introducing the Protestant church or what they called 'True Christian Reformed Church'. Church councils were set up in Colombo, Galle and Jaffna propagating conversion measures.
The Dutch assumed the administration of Colombo and its outskirts, whereby the surrounding region of the church was called Wolvendaal (Valley of Wolves). John Penry Lewis his work List of Inscriptions on Tombstones and Monuments in Ceylon (1913) refers to 'a marsh or a swamp frequented by jackals.'
Vihara Mahadevi Park: The Vihara Mahadevi Park in Colombo was originally known as the Victoria Park. The Park was renamed in the 1950's. Reputed to be the largest urban Park in Colombo, the Vihara Mahadevi Park was renamed such as a mark of respect to the mother of the great king Dutugemunu. The Vihara Mahadevi Park is located opposite to the Town Hall and makes a great place to go for a walk. The beds of flowering plants in their full bloom are a beauty to see during the months of March to early May. The park is well maintained by the city authorities. The grounds are kept absolutely clean so that it ranks higher in the list of the tourists. The western side of the Vihara Mahadevi Park has a carnival and playground area meant strictly for the children.
There are three main rail lines on the island. The Coast Line connects the southern coastal towns of Matara, Galle, Hikkaduwa and Aluthgama with Colombo, while the Main Line travels east from Colombo, connecting the city with Kandy, Nanu Oya, Ella and Badulla. The Northern Line links the capital with Anuradhapura and Vavuniya. Other minor branch lines allow you to reach further destinations. Trains are a comfortable way to see the country, although they are often late.
The city has three main bus stations, all in southern Pettah, for travel across the island. Bastion Mawatha Station offers buses to Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Galle, Matara and the airport among other places, while Saunders Place Station has bus links to Negombo, Ratnapura, Badulla and Anuradhapura. Suburban buses depart from Central Bus Station. There are also some private bus companies that run services to Jaffna.
Most visitors to Colombo arrive by air at Bandaranaike International Airport, which is located at Katunayake, 18 miles from Colombo city centre. Flights are available to most Asian destinations including Thailand, India, Malaysia and Singapore, from where transatlantic connections can be made, while there are also many flights offered to the Middle East and some to Europe. Arrivals can reach the city by taxi, while some of the more upmarket hotels offer pick-up services. Alternatively, buses operate from 04:30 until 23:00, with bus number 187 travelling to Pettah every 30 minutes.
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