Colombo, in Sri Lanka.

Colombo, Sri Lanka's bustling capital, is located on the country's west coast and with a population of between 800,000 and one million (estimates vary) is by far the country's biggest city, as well as its window on the world. Its natural harbour at the mouth of the Kelani River was a magnet for successive traders and conquerors - first Arab merchants, then Portuguese, Dutch and British imperialists.

The city is a sometimes jarring mix of old and new,with a central cluster of high-rise office blocks and hotels overshadowing red-tiled colonial-era buildings and sprawling street markets which overflow with highpiled fruit and vegetables, colourful silks and cottons, and deliciously fragrant spices.

On its crowded streets stand places of worship symbolic of Sri Lanka's multi-ethnic heritage: graceful Buddhist viharas, for instance, stand close to gaudy temples encrusted with Hindu statuary, and Muslim mosques with slender minarets.

Colombo's streets, which buzz with life during the day - when its population is swollen by some 400,000 commuting workers - are virtually empty after nightfall,with little nightlife outside a handful of international-standard hotels.

During the day, however, its colourful street markets, colonial-era buildings, museums and Galleries, churches,mosques and temples, and the lovely Viharamahadevi Park with it beautiful trees, make it a great place to explore on foot.

Originally named Kolomtota, Colombo was the main seaport of Kotte, the country's 15th- and 16th-century capital. Known to Arab traders as Kalamba, the city attracted the rapacious Portuguese as early as 1505 and became the bastion of their rule for almost 150 years. Surprisingly little remains to attest to this era, apart from a scattering of Portuguese surnames in the telephone directory and a handful of Roman Catholic churches and seminaries. Nor are there many mementoes of the Dutch who expelled the Portuguese in the mid-17th century. The central area of the city is still known as Fort, but the remnants of the colonial battlements have long since been demolished, or incorporated in newer buildings. There are more mementoes of the British period, including the neo-Classical old parliament building, the Victorian-era President's House (still often called 'Queen's House'), and the grandly mercantile brick facade of Cargill's, a splendid 19th-century department store that has changed little since the 19th-century heyday of Sri Lanka's British tea planters.
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Colombo, Highlights

Fort

Fort, between Colombo Harbour to the north and the murky urban lagoon of 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 Janadihipathi 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.
Fort

Pettah

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 kovik (temples). These are the starting point for the Vel fe stival, celebrating the marriage of the god Murugan (the top Tamil deity) to his queen. Deivanai and concubine Valli Ammal, and held each year in August. Not too far from these stand the Grand Mosque, the most important mosque for Sri Lanka's Muslim population, on New Moor Street, whose very name reflects a long-standing heritage of contact with the Arab world, and the Jami Ul Alfar Mosque, at the corner of Bankshall Street and Second Cross Street. Built at the beginning of the 20th century, its decorative brick- work, patterned in red and white, is conspicuous.
Pettah

Dutch Period Museum

Built during the second half of the 17th century as the residence of Count August van Ranzow, the Dutch East India Company's governor in Colombo, this attractive old building at 95 Prince Street is one of the few surviving remnants of Colombo's Dutch colonial heritage. On the fringes of Pettah, it is surrounded by market stalls and antique shops. Its rather chaotic collection includes coins, weapons, pottery, portraits and furniture from the period of Dutch rule, and also traces the descent of the dwindling 'Burgher' community. Open Saturday- Thursday 09:00-17:00.
Dutch Period Museum

Wolvendaal Church

Another relic of the Dutch period is this stone church on Wolvendaal Street, built in 1749. Worth looking at are the tombstones set into the floor, which were moved from a church with in the Fort in 1813. The dates on the tombs of several Dutch governors, whose bones were reinterred here, reveal how risky life could be for the Dutch conquerors : even in peacetime, the death toll from disease was high and many died after only a short stay in Colombo. Open during usual church hours.
Wolvendaal Church

Gall Face Area

 Galle Face Green, immediately south of the Fort, is a long, thin park which fills up with food stalls on weekend evenings and is a popular meeting place for local people. A narrow arm of Beira Lake separates this district from Slave Island, actually a peninsula where the Dutch imprisoned slaves from their Asian colonies. Galle Road, Colombo's long seafront boulevard, runs south from Calle Face Green, eventually becoming the main coastal road to Galle and the south. It's always crowded with traffic and short on charm, but as the city's main thoroughfare it also has some of the best shopping and a number of-important buildings, including the official residence of Sri Lanka's premier, the US Embassy, the British High Commission and some of the city's top hotels.
Gall Face Area

National Museum and Puppetry and Children's Museum

At Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha (also known as Albert Crescent), next to the Viharamahadevi Park, the National Museum was Sri Lanka's first and was founded in 1877. Its collection spans several centuries and a range of cultures, from the Sinhala kingdoms through to the British era. Highlights include the royal trappings of the last Kings of Kandy. There is also some superb stone sculpture, as well as Hindu bronzes and wooden carvings, Sri Lankan and European furniture and ceramics, and (to Western eyes) a fine array of grotesque masks representing Buddhist demons and deities. The museum's huge library of more than 500,000 books is primarily of interest to scholars, but some of its collection of 4000 palm leaf manuscripts - created by etching the lettering into the fibrous surface of the leaf - are on display. A small Gallery of mid-19th-century paintings and etchings shows Sri Lanka through the eyes of British artists.

Within the National Museum, on the first floor, is the Puppetry and Children's Museum. Puppetry is a living part of Sri Lanka's cultural heritage, and the museum displays traditional Sri Lankan figures and marionettes from all over the world, with regular weekend performances. It is open Saturday-Thursday, 09:00-17:00.
National Museum and Puppetry and Children's Museum

National Art Gallery (Cultural Museum)

At 106 Ananda Kumaraswamy Mawatha, this Gallery on the edge of Viharannahadevi Park houses a rather humdrum assortment of portraits of Sri Lanka's independence pioneers and heads of state. The changing programme of shows by contemporary Sri Lankan artists is sometimes more interesting. Open 08:00-17:00 daily.
National Art Gallery (Cultural Museum)

Natural History Museum

Housed in the same building as the National Art Gallery, this collection is a hit and miss affair with stuffed birds and animals displayed in cases showing their natural habitat, and sections dealing with Sri Lanka's geology, Climate, and plant life. The most striking display is of an elephant's skeleton, and there are also displays which focus on some of the country's ambitious hydro-electric and irrigation engineering schemes. Open 09:00-17:00 daily.
Natural History Museum
References
http://www.sritravel.8m.net/colombo.htm

Map of Colombo, Sri Lanka

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