City of Colombo, the Pearl of Ceylon
Many are the stories that envelope the origins of the multitude of names of the city of Colombo, viz; KOLONTOTA, KOLA-AMBA, KOLUMBOO, KALAMBO etc. that is a subject best left to sort itself out in the next 200 years or so.
Colombo was part of the Kingdom of Kotte. The Portuguese built a Fort, circa 1517, a wooden stockade at first, improved and made stronger by the Dutch, later, which was finally demolished by the British in the 1860s in order to expand the city. All the road distances of the country were measured from the Colombo Clock Tower, located at the intersection of Queens Road and Chatham Street close to the gates of the Queens House.
Rivers and waterways have always been sensible natural boundaries to demarcate zones within a city.
The Kelani River in the north and a canal separating Dehiwela and Wellawatte on the southern side, the Bora-Ela (Borella area), and other canals eastwards formed several such geographical divides within the city.
The Colombo harbor, on the Indian Ocean, was a roadstead until it was developed. It replaced the Galle Harbor which was used as the main harbor in the island at the time, after adequate dredging and breakwaters built.
The Galle Road, stretches from The Colombo Fort to the city of Galle in the south, and borders the western seaboard of the city. In recent years, The Marine Drive, parallel to Galle Road, has been built from Kollupitiya to Dehiwela. The towns of Kollupitya, Bambalapitiya and Wellawatte lie within the perimeter of Galle Road and Marine Drive. Duplication Road, presently known as RA de Mel Mawatha, runs parallel to Galle Road, from Slave Island to the Wellawatte canal. Havelock Road, is a third parallel road that stretches from the Thunmulla junction on Bullers Road to Kirulaponne. Narahenpita Road runs from Kanatte, in Borella, to Kirulaponne. Other roads, perpendicular to Galle Road, that demarcate towns and suburbs are Galle Face Center Road, Bullers Road, Dhammarama Road, and Hospital Road in Dehiwela, which marks the southern boundary of Colombo City.
The three Station Roads, at Kollupitiya, Bambalapitiya and Wellawatte, are also demarcation lines for the towns, respectively.
The Colombo Postal Zone system was established in the 1940s. The valid boundary for the south eastern sector of the city limit should have been the Kirullapone Canal. However, an influential politician of that era wanted his home in Nugegoda to be included within a Colombo address, and, in the 50s used his magic to extend this boundary of the city to Nugegoda, in order to accommodate his home address within a Colombo Zone. This is why the city boundary on High Level Road is now located close to Anula Vidyalaya. He used to have a Colombo 6 address. For some, Colombo 6 was not good enough and so they got a more elite Colombo 5 stretched to include Poorwanarama Road which lies within the town of Nugegoda proper.
In the City map there is a funny finger like extension from Colombo 5 to Nugegoda but the phone numbers of the houses within this ‘bump’ are 281 and 251 as prevails in the telephone exchange serving the Nugegoda area.
The terrain in the city of Colombo is generally flat, about 10-40 feet above sea level, with mild undulations at Maligakanda and San Sebastian Hill. Kotahena and some northern areas have a few ’high spots’ reaching to a maximum height of 90 feet.
The terrain in the city of Colombo is generally flat, about 10-40 feet above sea level, with mild undulations at Maligakanda and San Sebastian Hill. Kotahena and some northern areas have a few ’high spots’ reaching to a maximum height of 90 feet.
ETHNICITY & RELIGION
The metropolitan area and the congested business districts have a sizeable Moor (Ceylon & Indian) and Tamil population, while the northern areas and elite settlements have more Christian exposure.
There are the Ceylon Moors, The Bohra Muslims, the Memon Muslims and the Malay community, and The Sindhis of Gujurati origins. The Burghers are the descendants of Poruguese, Dutch and English colonial ancestors. The Parsees and Dravidian Tamils are of Indo/Asian origin. So are the Malabaris/Keralites, Bharathas and Chetties. There were Chinese settlements in Maradana, in the area between Symonds Road/Deans Road. The Nectar Café in Fort used to be the Free China Restaurant.
The Sinhalese are a mix of Kandyan and Southern sub ethnic groups.
There were many villa style bungalows for the Governor and other senior administrative officials from the Dutch days. St Peters Church next to the GOH was the residence of the Dutch Governor. What is now Presidents House (formerly Queens House, which at one time was also called King’s House depending on the monarch of the day), was the residence of the Governor General and Governors. The current head office premises of the business of Cargills Ceylon Ltd was, then, a bungalow of a Dutchman, Pieter Sluyskens, replaced by the new building in 1906. Whist Bungalow at Modera was a ‘very private club’ for lonely British gentlemen where an ‘assortment’ of entertainment awaited in the evenings. Watersmeet nearby was the house of D.M Arsecularatne a Lawyer who worked with Sir Richard Morgan. Ellie House was a large bungalow on Ellie Hill, and now is part of a reservoir.
Hulftsdorp in the Colombo 12 area has been the home for the Legal fraternity, The Law College, and the many Lawyers’ offices.
George Steuarts established in 1835 is known as the oldest established firm in Ceylon currently in operation. Other old establishments were Ceylon Cold Stores, The Colombo Gas & Water Company Ltd, the Colombo Electric Lighting & Tramways Co Ltd, The Colombo Apothecaries Co. Ltd, Cargills Ceylon Ltd, HSBC, A. Baur & Co, Walker Sons Ltd, Brown & Co Ltd, Colombo Commercial Co Ltd. The South Western Bus Company provided public transport for commuters in Colombo across all critical destinations. They ran both single decker and double decker buses.
Abdulhussein Davoodbhoy, Moosajees, Lever Brothers (Ceylon) Ltd, Ceylon Tobacco Co. Ltd, Hemas Group, Ceylon Cold Stores, Bartleet & Co.
Colombo Fort is a small area criss crossed by many streets that housed bars, businesses, billiard rooms, banks, and bazaars. The primary roadways in the town are Queen Street, Chatham Street, York Street, and Prince Street. Other smaller connecting streets are Flagstaff Street, Galle Buck Road, Church Street, Baillie Street, Hospital Street, Lower Chatham Street, Upper Chatham Street, Chaithiya Mawatha, Leyden Bastian Road, Bristol Street, and Duke Street.
The outer Fort area, that we know as The Pettah, has a ‘grid ‘pattern of streets running from Main Street in two directions. Front Street, First Cross Street, Second Cross Street, Third Cross Street and Fourt Cross Street are the main arteries where bazaars and businesses thrived trading goods of all kinds from socks to satellite dishes. The other main roadways that enveloped The Pettah are Reclamation Road, bordering the Colombo harbor and running north towards Kotahena, Bankshall Street, and Olcott Mawatha.
Other streets in The Pettah are Keyzer Street, Maliban Street, China Street, Mayuri Lane, 1st Rohini Lane, 2nd Rohini Lane, Kosala Lane, Market Street, St John’s Road, Sea Beach Road, & Gabo’s Lane.
Prince Street of the Fort is now titled Sir Don Baron Jayatilleke Mawatha. This gets confused with Prinz Street in The Pettah. Note the more European spelling for PRINCE with the Z. In the area between Lower Chatham Street, York Street, Lotus Road (center section) there was a square known as Transworks Square as there were many engineering related establishments within it. (the PWD, Institute of Engineers’, Ceylon Survey Department). The PWD Headquarters was also at Transworks house which was burnt down in 1987 by the JVP. The ornate red building is mistakenly known as Transworks House as Transworks House was next to it.
Renaming of streets began in the 1950s, Some names are so long that it has been a challenge to include them on a standard business card.
- Sir Chittampalam A Gardiner Mawatha used to be Parsons Road, and ran from the present Air Force Head Quarters to the Regal Theatre.
- Olcott Mawatha was Norris Road, and ran from the CTO, past The Fort Railway Station to Technical College in Maradana.
- - P de S Kularatne Mawatha was Maradana Road, and, before that almost more than a century ago, was known as Parana Veediya (Old Street).
- - Devanampiyatissa Mawatha was Forbes Lane.
- - Vinayalankara Mawatha was Rudd’s Lane.
- - EW Perera Mawatha was Regent Street.
- - WAD Ramanayaka Mawatha was Alston Place.
- - Abdul Caffoor Mawatha was Pendennis Avenue.
- - Malwatte Mawatha was Front Street.
- - MahaVidyala Mawatha was Barber Street.
- - Amarasekere Mawatha was Dawson Road.
- - Sangamiththa Mawatha was Van Rooyen Street Kotahena.
- - Philip Gunawardene Mawatha was Reid Avenue.
- - Baladaksha Mawatha was Boy Scouts Head Quarters Road.
- - Col TG Jayawardene Mawatha was Clifford Road.
- - N.W.J. Mudalige Mawatha was Baillie Street
- - The Marine Drive is the Colombo Plan Road now.
- - RA De Mel Mawatha was Duplication Road.
- - R.G. Senanayake Mawatha was Gregory’Road
- - Dudley Senanayake Mawatha was Horton Place.
- - Wijerama Mawatha was Mc Carthy Road.
- - CWW Kannangara Mawatha was Alexandra Place (Town Hall area).
- - K Cyril C Perera Mawatha was Bloemendhal Road.
- - W Danister de Silva Mawatha was Baseline Road.
- - Mahanuga Gardens was 1st Lane.
- - Walukarama Road was 7th Lane.
- - Baddegama Wimalawansa Mawatha (part of) was Dean’s Road, and the other part was Symonds Road.
- - Colvin R de Silva Mawatha was Union Place. This road linked the mainland with the island of the slaves (Slave Island). The place where they united was called Union Place not as a result of any trade unions.
- - Dharmapala Mawatha was Turret Road Kollupitiya up to Town Hall.
- - TB Jayah Mawatha was Darley Road.
- - EW Perera Mawatha was Regent Street.
- - S Mahinda Himi Mawatha was Avondale Road
- - Cumarathunga Munidasa Mawatha was Thurstan Road (named after Rev. Joseph Thurstan, an educationist of the poor and under privileged).
- - Kumaran Ratnam Mawatha was Shorts Road.
- - Sri Vipulasena Mawatha was Hedges Court.
- - Isipathana Mawatha was Greenlands Road.
- - Justice Akbar Mawatha (one section) was Bridge Street and the other section was Rifle Street.
- - Janadhipathi Mawatha was Queen Street near the Kingsbury Hotel.
- - Chaithya Road was previously called Galle Buck Road.
- - Baudhdhaloka Mawatha was Bullers Road.
- - Srimath James Peiris Mawatha was General’s Lake Road.
- - Sugathananda Mawatha was Jefferson Street (Nawaloka Hospital area) and now may be changed to - HK Dharmadasa Mawatha.
- - Abdul Jabbar Mawatha was Quarry Road.
- - Dhedhahas Hayaseeyey (2600) Sri SambuddhaJayanthi Mawatha was Havelock Road.
- - Lester James Pieris Mawatha was Dickman’s Road.
- - Balahenmulla in the Kirulaponne area was Francis Place.
- - Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha Edinbugh Crescent.
- - MJM Lafir Mawatha was Messenger Street.
- - Sri Sumanatissa Mawatha was Armour Street, names after Rev Andrew Armour.
- - Vincent Perera Mawatha was Grandpass Road.
- - Jayantha Weerasekera Mawatha was Drieberg’s Avenue.
- - Ananda Rajakaruna Mawatha was Campbell Place.
- - Srimath Ramanathan Mawatha was Korteboam Street.
- - Srimath Ratnajothi Saravanamuttu Mawatha was Wolfendhal Street.
- - Siridhamma Mawatha was Ingrams Road.
- - Sir Earnest de Silva Mawatha was Flower Road.
- - Ananda Cumaraswamy Mawatha was Green Path, now Nelum Pokuna Mahinda Rajapaksa Mawatha.
- - NM Perera Mawatha was Cotta Road.
- - Keppetipola Mawatha was Brownrigg Road.
- - Malalasekara Mawatha was Longden Place.
- - Bandaranaike Mawatha was Silversmith Street.
- - DR Wijeyawardene Mawatha was McCallum Road.
- - Main Street (MAYNISSTRITT) was Roa Direto in the early 19 century.
- - WA Silva Mawatha was High Street.
- - Jethawana Road was Prince of Wales Avenue.
- - Bag- a- tell Road pronounced commonly as “BuggerThaley” Road.
- - Guildford Crescent was named after the first Governor Frederick North, who was later the Earl of Guildford. This road was suddenly renamed as Premasiri Kemadasa Mawatha.
- - Maya Avenue was Link Road.
RA de Mel Mawatha was the longest named street in Colombo. It was unofficially known as Duplication Road. William Geddes, a Town Planner forethought that the Galle Road would be inadequate to handle the envisaged increase in motor traffic and was of the opinion that the Galle Road should be duplicated, so 50 years vacation notice was served to householders in 1928 where the street line cut across houses and properties. Towards the 1970s these houses on death row were abandoned or left to rot. However for the Non Aligned Conference in 1976 under the Emergency Regulations, these properties were acquired overnight to demolish houses to construct this road.
Colombo had its share of bomb-blasts during the war with the LTTE. The most severe were the Pettah bus stand bombing in 1987 and the Central Bank blast in 1996.
In 1992 there was a heavy downpour which flooded the city in areas never expected to have floods.
At one point of time the tallest building was the Times of Ceylon building in the Fort. In the mid-60s the Post Office Savings Bank, now the NSB building near Coopers Hill Kollupitiya, held the title as the tallest building and with the most number of floors, until the Ceylinco building structure, also in the Fort, overtook it. The first escalators were seen at Ceylinco House which had a popular higher floor restaurant ’AKASE KADEY’ with a panoramic view of Colombo,
The Higher Levelling of the Avissawella Road took place in the 1930s. The original level of the road can be noticed when compared with the present level just before Sieble Place in the Kirullaponne area.
The Colombo Electric Lighting & Tramways Co. Ltd was a British firm represented here by Boustead Brothers. The first major electricity generators were in a small power station located between Bristol Street and Duke Street. The building is now a CEB stores. This would ideally be suited to be established as an electricity museum. A much larger capacity power house was required when the tramcars were introduced. The Pettah Power Station was established with 4 steam engines at Saunders Place.
The Tramcar barn was next door and the tramways had terminals at the end of York Street near the GOH. The other, at Borella and the Northern terminal was at the end of Nagalagam Street, Grandpass/Thotalanga. The decrepit tramways system was sold to the Colombo Municipality in 1943/4 and their Tramways department operated the system until the last tram ran in 1960. From mid 1950s the system was replaced by electric trolley buses almost on the same routes which were discontinued by 1964.
The trolley bus shed was subsequently the Sugathadasa Indoor Stadium. Grandpass was Passe de Grande and there was Passe de Piconino (Little Pass). The location of which is yet to be established.
Electricity was first supplied in 1896 to the fans and lights of the Billiard room of the Bristol Hotel at 110 volts DC. The Colombo Electric Lighting Company phased out its lighting operations by 1931 and the department of Government Electrical Undertakings (DGEU) took over the task in the same year (initially augmented by the Stanley Power Station in Kolonnawa - coal/steam powered), established in 1929, and which ceased operations in 1953, as, by that time the Laxapana and other hydroelectric schemes were in operation.
The gas works was established in 1872 and most of the oil lamps and candle lights on streets were replaced by piped gas lamps. Gas lighting was discontinued by 1962. THE Colombo Gas &Water Company was nationalized by 1973. Many established houses had ‘Town Gas’. There was a gas meter which was read monthly and a bill issued. Piped gas was used for garden lights and cooking.
27th December 1864 was the ceremonial run of the first train from a location in the Maradana/Maligawatte area.
The railway crossing near the Khan Clock Tower area were for the Cement Sidings (before cement was manufactured here imported cement was brought in barges and loaded on to trains which were shunted to a siding alongside the canal). This line exited across Norris Road (now Olcott Mawatha to join up at the Fort Railway station. The Chalmer’s Grannaries also had a railway siding which branched off the Harbor line and crossed Prince Street. The Cement Siding line was called the Racquet Court line and it existed in 1889 as evidenced by the list of Speed Restrictions (5 miles per hour for this line).
The first railway station in Colombo was the Terminus which was at the end of Norris Road. This gets confused as the first Fort Railway station. The first railway station in Fort was a wooden planked hut like construction at the location where the present Secretariat Halt is.
The Fort Railway Station at this location lasted from 1878 to 1883. A larger station was built at the bend behind the present Lake House building. This larger station was in operation until 1917. It was relegated for ‘lesser use’ and was converted to the Employment Exchange until the 1960s. The present station, the third for Colombo Fort, was built on reclaimed land of the Beira Lake and brought into operation in 1917.
The original railway station for Maradana (then known as Marandhan) was at a location near the old Colombo Terminus. Another railway station in Colombo was at The Pettah, which was located close to the Manning Market area. The other railway stations in Colombo were at Kompannavidiya (Slave Island) and further south, at Kollupitiya, Bambalapitiya and Wellawatta.
The Kelani Valley Railway had its stations at Baseline Road and Cotta Road, and a halt at Manning Town. There were stations at Orugodawatta and Kolonnawa on the Kolonnawa line. The Mutwal railway branched off at Orugodawatta through Mahawatta and Madampitiya towards the Colombo harbor and Mutwal.
In the 1970s the Kolonnawa railway and Mutuwal railway was briefly revived. But due to security reasons the services were done-away within two years. The original airport for Colombo was at a location in Ratmalana on Lady Catherine’s Estate. The RAF Air Base at Negombo was later developed as the Colombo International Airport (Katunayake).
Train services were operated from The Colombo Fort Station all the way down south to Wellawatte and also on the Kelani valley Line to Maharagama. The original Southern Coastal Railway was laid alongside Norris Road with a station in The Pettah (now THE Manning Market area). The Fort Station was located at the Lakehouse bend. The current station was built on reclaimed land from the Beira Lake and opened for operations in 1917. The car park of the current Fort Station was the Southern Railway line. There was also a level crossing where the motor over bridge is today near Lake House. The level crossing was done away with in 1920, the roads raised up to cross the railway lines with an over bridge.
The Break-Water line was laid on what is today, Lower Lotus Road, near the Hotel Galadari with a level crossing near the present Kingsbury Hotel. This line was lifted in 1924 when the harbor was connected by the Mutwal Railway in 1923.
COMMUNICATION & MEDIA
The Oriental Telegraph Company started operations around 1858, and the Ceylon Telegraphic Office (CTO) was established in 1906. The mode of data transmission then was Morse Code Telegraph and later on, the Telex machine.
The General Post Office building was built in 1895 opposite the Governor's residence at the King's House (currently the President’s House), on King's Street (currently the Janadhipath Mawatha). This Edwardian style building housed the GPO until recently, when it was moved for security reasons. A new GPO building was built for the Sri Lanka Post.
Sri Lanka Post has a long history dating back to 1798, when the colonial Dutch rulers started five post offices in the Maritime Districts under their control. In 1799, they published the first postal regulations and postage rates. The Dutch East India Company operated the Postal service, which was not meant for the public but for official use.
The British took control of the country in 1815, when E. Bletterman was the Postmaster General for the whole island. Mr. Luis Fonsi succeeded Bletterman as the second Postmaster General in 1817. The third Postmaster General was Major G. Stewart, who extended the postal services to major towns in the country. They re-organised the postal service and others eventually established a permanent Post Office in Colombo in 1882.
The first postage stamps for Ceylon were issued on 1 April 1857. The stamp features a portrait of Queen Victoria and is brown in color. It is a 6 pence value used to send a half ounce letter from Ceylon to England. Eight more stamps were issued in year 1857, all featuring the portrait of Queen Victoria. One of the 5 stamps that were issued on 23 April 1859 is considered to be the most valuable stamp in Sri Lanka: it is a 4 pence with a dark pink color known as the 'Dull Rose'.
Postal service was the main means of communication for business and personal needs in the early 18 century onwards.
The Central Telegraph Office is a building in Colombo that housed the Ceylon Telegraph Department, the precursor to the present day Sri Lanka Telecom office.It is situated at Colombo Fort along Duke Street, across from the headquarters of the Colombo Metropolitan Police. It was built in 1910/11 and is now used by SLT.
Radio Ceylon, the oldest radio station in Asia, began its initial broadcasts from this building in 1923 with transmitting equipment from a captured WWI German U boat. The station has been broadcasting in many Indian languages on its All Asia Service and was extremely popular with the Asian subcontinent listeners.
The 1950s is considered the ‘golden age’ of Sri Lankan journalism, producing many giants such as Denzil Peiris, Ernest Corea, Mervyn de Silva, Tarzie Vittachi, Ira Amarasekera, and Piyasena Nissanka. At the time, there were only two main news publishers in the country—the Times group and the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited, better known as the ‘Lake House’.
The Daily News is an English-language newspaper in Sri Lanka. It is now published by the the Lake House Group, a government-owned corporation. The newspaper commenced publishing on 3 January 1918. D. R. Wijewardena was its founder.
The present-day newspaper is written as a broadsheet, with photographs printed both in color and black and white. Weekday printings include the main section, containing news on national affairs, international affairs, business, political analysis, sports, editorials and opinions. The Sunday Observer is issued on weekends. Other English newspapers in the island are The Times, SUN, Nation, Observer, Island, and The daily Mirror. Newsprint are also published in Sinhala and Tamil languages.
The two main newspaper publishers were based in the Fort area and journalists from the rival papers often fraternized with each other at the cafes and restaurants on Chatham Street, Hospital Lane, at the Lord Nelson cafe, and the National Restaurant Bar in the Fort, and, at the Nippon Hotel in Slave Island. The Ratnagiri Hotel and Bar, located opposite the WTC building at Echelons Square, Colombo Fort, was also another watering hole and eating place for journalists of that era. It was customary for reporters to hang out at these restaurants and bars after work or during the day. It was here that many interesting stories were exchanged over a drink and ideas—part of a journalistic lifestyle.
Easter Sunday 1942 Colombo was subject to aerial bombing by the Japanese, some ships were sunk in the harbor and the residential areas were evacuated. Ono & Company, a Japanese business had to cease operations. The German firm of Heller who were agents for Mercedes Benz had to dissolve their board. There were wartime blackout regulations, all vehicle lights had to have a black shield and houses had black curtains drawn halfway at night. Food was rationed and issued on a quota basis..
The Race Course was requisitioned to operate an airstrip, Hurricane fighters were stabled/and hidden under the shady trees at Bullers Road. This was unexpected for the Japanese raiders who did not know of the existence of this hidden fleet which took them by surprise to counter attack and reduce the effect and intensity of the raid. There was a women’s unit called the WRENS and NAAFI Shops for the forces.
RELIGION & ETHNICITY
The Sinhalese population of Colombo, as per the census of 2012, was 25%, while the Tamils were 33% and the Muslims 40%. Muslims comprise, Ceylon Moor, Indian Moor, Malay, Davoodi Bohra, and Memon sub communities.
Theravada Buddhism is the primary philosophy adhered to by all of the Buddhists who comprise about 60% of the population of the whole island. The Gangaramaya Temple is one of the most popula temples in the city. The Vajiraramaya temple on Vajira Road, Sri Bodhirukkarama Road in Wellawatte, are also some of the other active Buddhist temples.
The Colombo Grand Mosque, which is over 500 years old and considered the oldest Mosque in the city, is located on New Moor Street. The red and white bricked “Shamman Kottai” Mosque stands proudly at the entrance to The Pettah and was built by the Indian Muslim community to cater to the worship of the Muslims in the bazaars. The Fort Mosque down Chatham Street was built much later on and provided prayer services for those workers in that locality, who, would have had to trudge to the Pettah Mosque to offer their Friday prayers.
Mosques are located in every single zone of the city where the majority Muslim community in the city, are spread far and wide across all towns and suburbs of Colombo. The Bohra Mosque is located down Adamaly Place in Bambalapitiya.
Hindu Temples (Kovils) are mainly seen in the northern region, Maradana, Havelock Town, Bambalapitiya, and Wellawatte. He Annual Vel festival is a significant event among the Tamil Hindu community. The oldest and largest of the temples is the Sri Kailawasanathan Swami Devasyhanam Kovil, located in Captain’s Gardens in Maradana. Other temples of note are the Sri Venkateshwara Maha Vishnu Kovil in Modera, Sri Ponnambalam Vanesar Kovil in Kotahena, the two Kathiresan Temples in Bambalapitiya, the Mayurapathi Sri Bathrakali Amman Kovil in Havelock Town, and the Kannagi Amman Kovil in Wellawatte.
Christians comprise Burghers, Sinhalese (converts since Colonial times) and Tamils (converts since Colonial times).
The Roman Catholic Cathedral is St Lucias at Kotahena, the Anglican Cathedral was earlier adjoining St. Thomas College. By reason of its granite construction it is known as the “GAL PALLIYA”. The present Anglican Cathedral is located at Bullers Road. All Saints Church Hulftsdorp is unique in having a tall spire (a very British feature). The Parsee community have their place of worship in Kollupitiya, while the Parsee Club is in the Liberty Plaza area. The Parsee Burial Ground is off Jawatte Road.
Churches, belonging to all sects of Christianity are also located in every town and suburb of the city.
The Colombo Academy (Later renamed to Royal College) was established 1835 in The Pettah area at Dam Street and later shifted to Cinnamon Gardens at Colombo 7. St. Thomas College was established in Mutwal in 1851 and relocated to Mount Lavinia in 1918. St Josephs College was established in Maradana and priest, father JM LeGoc established St. Joseph’s College West in Bambalapitiya, which was later renamed and is still known as, St. Peter’s College.
St. Thomas’ College was established in Mutuwal bordering Kotahena, in 1851, and remained there until 1917 after which it was relocated in Mount Lavinia by 1918. Many stories are erroneous when they report that the first PM after independence, the Hon Mr. DS Senanayake studied at St. Thomas College in Mount Lavinia. He was actually enrolled at St. Thomas College in Mutuwal. In 1890 STC Mount Lavinia was not even planned.
College Street Kotahena has nothing to do with St. Benedicts. It was so named because it was in the vicinity of STC. In the old days, St Benedicts was St. Benedicts Institute.
Other schools in Colombo are St Joseph’s College, St Peter’s College, Holy Family Convent, CMS Ladies College, Methodist College, St Bridget’s Convent, St Pauls Milagiriya, Muslim Ladies College, Zahira College, St Benedicts College, Visakha Vidyalaya, Wesley College, Ananda Vidyalaya, Nalanda Vidyalaya, Hindu College, and Buddhist Ladies College.
The original building of the General Post Office, on Queen Street in The Colombo Fort, was built by Arasi Marikar Wapchi Marikar 1829-1925, paternal grandfather of Sir Razik Fareed, Kt., JPUM, OBE, b:29-Dec-1893, d:23-Aug-1984. Wapchi Marikar also built the Colombo Museum, Colombo Customs, Old Town Hall in Pettah, the Galle Face Hotel, Victoria Arcade, Finlay Moir building, the Clock Tower, Batternburg Battery, and the NMLA building. The Old Town Hall in Pettah, which is now a busy market, was also built by him on a contract for the sum of 689 Sterling Pounds.
Other significant buildings in Colombo from Colonial times are the Chartered Bank building, NMLA Building, Apothecaries Building, Ghaffoor Building, Central Bank, all in The Fort, Mansoor Building in the Pettah, Macan Markar building at Galle Face, Iceland building, and the DBU on Reid Avenue.
The Galle Face Boarding House, then a single floor building, was an early residence said to be expanded and organized as a hotel in 1864. The barracks in Fort became the Grand Oriental Hotel GOH, later to be named the HOTEL TAPROBANE.
The Castle Hotel near the Slave Island Railway Station was also a proper hotel, and, so was the Bristol Hotel in The Fort and the Nippon Hotel located in the Manning Mansions building in Slave Island. The latter three hotels faced a decline and degeneration in the 1950s, the BRISTOL was demolished to make way for Hemas Building.
Bristol Hotel in The Fort was also a very popular guest house for many visitors and locals who used to patronize the famous bar within the facility. Dominion Hotel was another. The Pagoda restaurant run by the Rodrigo family, on Chatham Street, was also an extremely popular chilling place for office workers and visitors to The Fort.
There was the Galle Face burial grounds on a mound, where the Bandaranaike statue stood. The main cemetery for Colombo was at Madampitiya. Then, in the 1840’s a new location was thought of at Kitulwatte and this is the present General Cemetery at Kanatte. This has been divided into the Roman Catholic Section, Church of Ceylon Section, General Christian Section , the Goan Mission, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian Clergy Sections, Jesuit Section and a few War Graves. There is the Liveramentu Cemetery off Torrington Avenue at Jawatte.
The main Muslim burial grounds in Colombo are at Kupiyawatte, Maligawatte, Jawatte and Dehiwela.
The Parsee community have their burial ground at Jawatte Road. As part of their disposal rituals, based on their culture and religion, their dead bodies are given to caged and trained vultures to feed on.
The General Cemetery at Kanatte, in Borella, was also referred to, pun intended, as ’the dead center’ of Colombo.
Before 1950 the area occupied by the Bambalapitiya Flats was a coconut plantation with the Colombo South Magistrate’s Courts within it. The Court was shifted to Mount Lavinia to make way for the Bambalapitiya Flats. Many families whose head worked in Government service and the private sector were given the opportunity to rent these apartments. A large number of Burgher, Moor and Malay families lived there.
The Anderson Flats in the Narahenpita area was built on the site of the Anderson Golf Links. In the 1970s, marshes in the central Colombo area were filled to construct the low cost Maligawatte Flats.
More low cost flats were constructed in the Wekanda area in Slave Island.
Horse Racing was made illegal in Ceylon in the 1960s. The Havelock Grandstands (The Racecourse) were requisitioned for the extension of the university. The Colombo Industrial Exhibition in 1965, and the Jathika Pola, a peoples fair/market for bargains and economy living, was established in this location. The Colombo Planetarium was also established here along with the Colombo Industrial exhibition.
Summit Flats were built in time for accommodating Administrative officers’ requirements for the Non Aligned Conference, held in Colombo, in 1976. These were built on land re-claimed after demolishing colonial bungalows in the Jawatta Road area. Crow’s Island was a mangrove filled peninsula in the north of Mattakkuliya. For the Non-Aligned Conference, as part of the city beautification program, all beggars, hobos, and vagrants were rounded up and placed here. The original Mental Asylum was in the area of the current Independence Arcade. This was shifted to Angoda and Mulleriyawa in the Kolonnawa area.
Bullers Road, from the Thunmulla junction all the way down to Torrington, housed many large and sprawling bungalows that were given to government civil servants in the legal and political fraternity.
The Maligawatte flats were built on reclaimed marshlands for the lower income families.
The General Hospital and its specialty wards are all in the Punchi Borella area. The original Eye Hospital was the Victoria Memorial Eye Hospital of 1903, the current red and yellow Indo-Saracen style building near Lipton Circus. In the 1950’s the present Eye Hospital complex was ear-marked to be built at the beginning of Deans Road, in Maradana.
The Grandpass Maternity and Nursing Home, now known as Dr. Sulaiman’s Hospital, is in Grandpass. St Michael’s and St. Anne’s Nursing Homes are in the Kollupitiya and Bambalapitiya areas.
Dr Kaleel’s Nursing Home, on Maradana Road, was another very popular clinic that many people patronized. Other healthcare centers in Colombo were St Michael’s Nursing Home, St Anne’s Nursing Home, in Bambalapitiya, Durdan’s Hospital, in Kollupitiya, The Central Hospital, in Colombo 7, Joseph Frazer Memorial Hospital, in Torrington, and Dr Rutnam’s Hospital down Union Place.
The first self-service store in Colombo was the Russian inspired store run by the Colombo South Co-operative Society known as Supun Sala and the next shopping center was the Dasa Super Center in Kollupitiya. The first proper supermarket was Cornel’s at Kollupitiya Junction. The old style Department Stores were Colombo Apothecaries, Cargills, Millers, and Whiteway & Laidlaw and Simes.
Every town had its own municipal market supervised by the Colombo Municipal Council, where meats, poultry, fish, vegetables, fruits, and oilman goods were sold in stalls that were rented to traders.
The Jathika Pola was the week end fair, all kinds of food stuff and low cost garments on the former Colombo Race Course grounds. The Colombo Race Course, also known as Havelock Race Course, was a hive of activity on Sundays when the elite of Colombo turned up in their best clothing and fortunes were lost by some people being addicted to hard drink, fast women and slow horses. Golf was played at the Ridgeway Golf links in the Borella area and the Victoria Golf Links also known as Havelock Golf links, where the BMICH now stands today. The Ladies Golf Links was at the corner where the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation is now. Victoria Park is now known as Vihara Maha Devi Park.
Titus Stores - is a shop with all kinds of household utensils and was built on a location of a Dutch Cemetery along Main Street in The Pettah.
Other famous shopping stores were WM Hassim, Jezima Drapery Stores, Mackie Stores, Hirdaramani, Kundanmals, ILM Noordeen Hajiar’s, Wimaladharma Brothers, all in The Pettah.
Reinforced Cement Construction (RCC) technology was first used on the Panchikawatte Bridge, which was rated at 5 tons per axle weight. This bridge is near the former BCC factory, formerly known as Belmont Mills.
There is another bridge of 3 ½ tons axle rating, on Stace Road. The Bridge of Boats on the Kelani River at Thotalanga was introduced in 1822 and was replaced in 1895 by the Victoria Bridge, further downstream of the Kelani River.
There had been an older stone bridge joining Hendala/Lansiyawatta with Mattakkuliya, closer to the area where the Kelani River meets the sea.
The bridges between Dehiwela and Wellawatta, Nugegoda and Kirullapona, Kirullapona and Thimbirigasyaya are all more recent constructions. The motor road over the bridge across the railway line replaced a level crossing at Parsons Road in 1920.
In 1920 All the roads leading to where this bridge is now were raised to clear the height of trains.
SPORTS, RECREATION & ENTERTAINMENT
The Colombo Club was at a location by the side of the present Taj Samudra Hotel complex. Other clubs in Colombo were the Havelocks Sports Club, CR&FC, CH&FC, Colombo Colts Cricket Club, Moors’ Sports Club, CCC, NCC, Malay Sports Club at Slave Island, and the Tamil Union Cricket Club located at Wekande.
Cricket was played at first on the Galle Face ground. The Gordon Gardens, next to Queens House was the venue for early Royal Thomian Cricket matches. Later the Tamil Union playing field, The Oval, was established in Wanathamulla, in Borella.
Rugby was also very popular and has been played in many similar clubs across the city.
Cinema Halls and Theaters the key attraction for evening family entertainment. There were many of them sprawled across the city showing Hollywood, Bollywood and local films, three times a day. The Roxy Theater and Plaza Cinema at Wellawatte showed Tamil and Sinhala movies. The Savoy Cinema at Wellawatte, Majestic Theatre at Bambalapitiya, Liberty Theater at Kollupitiya, Empire Theater at Hyde Park Corner, and The New Olympia Theater at Maradana, showed Hollywood movies. Other Theaters in Colombo were Central Theater, Elphinstone Theater, now converted to a drama hall, and Murugan Theater in Maradana. Slave island hosted the newly developed Rio Cinema who pioneered 70mm ToddAO Stereo Sound HiFi screening.
The Empire Picture Palace was replaced by the Regal Cinema. Where the Empire stood all these years at Braybrooke Place was the Public Hall. A Lecturer in Sinhala Cinematography announced this as the Public Hole, whatever it meant. The Roneo/cyclostyled handout was poorly proofread the ‘l’ in the Public Hall was missing and read as Pubic Hall.
The Alfred Model Farm in the Borella area, when it was deemed as not viable, was later the Ridgeway Gold Links. There was also the Anderson Golf Links at Narahenpita, where the low cost flats are now located. The Ladies Golf Club was at the corner of the Arcade area.
Horse racing was first at a racecourse at Galle Face around the Race Bungalow which was later the Samudra Hall of the Taj Samudra Hotel. The Havelock Race Course was established in the Cinnamon Gardens area with two grandstands. There was an electric totalizer that displayed the events and results. Sunday evenings was a hive of activity in this area for the Governor’s Cup Races when the elite turned up in their sophisticated attire.
Colombo has its National Museum since 1877 at a location in Cinnamon Gardens. There is a railway museum in the old Colombo Terminus and a Post Office Museum at the old General Post Office and a newer museum at McCallum Road. The Gangaramaya in Colombo 2, along with the Seemamalakaya, is a museum of modern living, having a collection of old printing machinery, old radios television sets, road construction machinery. and an archives of recent industrial life. There has been a recent trend in establishing museums and archives on various subjects.