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The architectural mark left by three European nations on one city

Ten colonial buildings worth visiting

A number of the old buildings that constituted Colombo in her colonial heyday are still standing. They are landmarks that evoke nostalgia for an era when Colombo was a bustling, cosmopolitan babel of a port city.

The Queen’s House in Fort, Colombo 1(Now the President’s House)

The Queen’s House in Fort, Colombo 1(Now the President’s House)

Today the official residence of the country’s president, Queen’s House has a history going back to Dutch times. After the last Dutch governor left, the edifice became home to the British governor. It seems the manor was destined to always remain the residence of the most important citizen of the country, for after British Occupation it became the Governor General’s house and then the president’s. 

It is grand to suit its purpose, set in 4 acres of land studded with massive trees giving shade to grassy lawns. Inside, the building houses a very valuable collection of paintings and antique furniture. In Sri Lanka, all distances from Colombo are measured, formally in miles, from the President's House.

The General Post Office (GPO) in Fort

The General Post Office (GPO) in Fort

Called an ‘Edwardian monster’ because it is a melange of the classical styles of Doric, Ionic and Corinthian, this grand and very imposing building was built by Wapchi Marikar who was responsible for a number of other landmarks in Colombo: the National Museum, the Galle Face Hotel and the New Town Hall among them. 

 
Though the huge edifice lies neglected today, its interior had been remarkable. Even today, a grand flight of steps, floors laid in Intaglio tiles of different colours, a ceiling of plaster with papier-mâché enrichments are in evidence. 

Central Point building in Fort

Central Point building in Fort

Central Point has had its highs and lows. When its more-than-a-century old history began, it was the tallest building in Colombo and boasted of exquisite marble floors and the tallest chandelier in Asia. After the Central Bank bomb in 1996 the building was damaged and abandoned.

After some years of ignominy the building is now again resplendent as the tastefully turned out Economic History Museum of Sri Lanka (of the Central Bank), narrating the history of currency in our country. 

The Cargill-Millers building in Fort

The Cargill-Millers building in Fort

David Cargill and William Miller founded their warehouse in York Street in 1844. The imposing red and white brick building is today probably the most recognised building in Colombo.

The Dutch Hospital in Fort

The Dutch Hospital in Fort

Today a shopping and dining precinct, the old Dutch hospital is said to have been founded in 1681, to look after the officers and other staff of the Dutch East India Company. The building reflects Seventeenth century Dutch colonial architecture. 

 
Built to keep out the heat and humidity and provide a comfortable environment within, the building is solid with walls 50cm thick and massive teak beams. The upper storey has a wooden floor. Paintings by a Dutch artist now preserved in the Netherlands, show that the building has changed little since its origins. 

The Chartered Bank building in Fort

The Chartered Bank building in Fort

The Chartered Bank building, a huge brown stone pillared structure, was established to provide banking services for the rapidly expanding banking trade between Britain and the East.

 
During colonial times the building also housed various other companies, including Aitken Spence, Cumberbatch and Muller and Phipps.

The Dutch Period Museum in Pettah

The Dutch Period Museum in Pettah

This museum is housed in the large two-storied building built in the 17th century by the Dutch governor Thomas Van Rhee as a residence for himself. During the British period the building was used for many purposes. It was a police-training center, an arms store for the army hospital and the Pettah post office and telecommunication center. 


This building was preserved by a special preservation committee with the assistance of Netherlands government in 1977 and opened for the public as Dutch museum by the Department of National Museums. It displays over 3000 objects related to the Dutch who ruled coastal areas of Sri Lanka from 1658 to 1796.

The National Museum, Albert Crescent, Colombo 7

The National Museum, Albert Crescent, Colombo 7

A grand edifice symbolic of Colombo, the museum was yet another building by Wapchi Marikar. The then governor of Ceylon Sir William Henry Gregory founded the establishment. 

It was the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society that pointed out the need for a museum to the governor. It was J.G. Smither, architect of the Public Works Department, who designed the building based on Italian architectural style.

   The Town Hall in Colombo 7

The Town Hall in Colombo 7

The Town Hall of Colombo, situated in front of the Viharamahdevi Park, is the meeting place of the elected municipal council of Colombo.

The foundation stone for the Town Hall was laid on May 24, 1924, by Mayor of Colombo T. Reid, and the work was completed in 1927. Designed by S. J. Edwards, it was originally meant to house the office of the mayor and the council chamber, and as a venue for functions with a large ballroom.

The Racecourse in Colombo 7

The Racecourse in Colombo 7

The Cinnamon Gardens racecourse was opened for horse racing in 1893. In 1922 it became the first racecourse in the East to have a totalizator. The Colombo Turf Club was based here with its own pavilion and clubhouse next to the grand stand.

During the Second World War the racecourse was used as an airstrip and after the end of the war, reconverted to a horseracing track. In the 1950’s gambling and betting were banned in the country and the racecourse was neglected. In 2014 the ground went through a major renovation, which included installation of floodlights and the conversion of a substantial part of the grandstand into a shopping and dining complex.

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