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Recommended Colombo museums

Step back in time to experience Sri Lanka's rich cultural and architectural heritage at one of these great museums

© BT Images

Prepare yourself for an inspiring and interesting journey surfing through tides of time to the ancient kingdoms of Sri Lanka. Grand façades influenced by colonial architecture, long passageways, large wooden doors that open up to vast chambers of antiquities and artefacts – a visit to at least one of Colombo’s museums is a wonderful and unmissable experience. The Colombo National Museum is the country's main museum, focusing primarily on Sri Lanka's ancient heritage, while the Dutch Period Museum and Independence Memorial Museum will help you get to grips with the island's more recent political history.

Museum officials are friendly and will be happy to help or tell you about the significance of exhibits – most museums will request a reasonable additional sum if you want to take photos.

Colombo National Museum

Established as the Colombo Museum in 1877, the Colombo National Museum is the main museum in the country that exhibits a plethora of artefacts representing Sri Lanka's rich history and ancient heritage. The architecture and design of the premises are dominated by features of Italian architecture and the museum spans across two floors with multiple viewing galleries on each floor. The ground floor displays artefacts belonging to the Pre and Proto Historic, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Kandy and Transitional periods with stone antiquities gallery. And on the upper floor, you will find paintings, ancient textiles, pottery and ceramics, coins and currency, art and crafts, arms and armaments, presentations of traditional agricultural methods and traditional rituals and the D S Senanayake Memorial Gallery. The atmosphere is usually quiet and calming, and you can explore and wander around the premises at your own pace. If you are in the city, even for a short visit, we recommend that you pay a visit, because there is so much to learn and discover.

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Ape Gama

At Ape Gama, the outstanding recreation of life in a Sri Lankan village has been achieved with precision. And it is not too far from Colombo, situated at the Jana Kala Kendraya in Battaramulla. From the well kept garden to the many houses made of mud enclosed with wattles, to the figurines of men and women in many postures, the concept has been brought to fruition with much meticulousness. The simplicity and plainness that typifies village living is showcased in all the exhibits.  The houses represent the abodes of people of importance in the village, such as the village Headman, the blacksmith, the weaver, the potter, the medicine man, and the drummer. It offers a journey back in time as each dwelling has a scattering of implements that had been used by these different occupants.

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Dutch Period Museum

A 300 year-old governor’s manor houses the Dutch Period Museum. Looming about a locale easily ranked as one of the busiest places on earth and severely contrasting with its surroundings of modern shops selling everything from toys, to jewellery, footwear and what not, this two-storey house oozing centuries old Dutch architecture remains untouched by time. It displays selected objects of the period through the commencement of Dutch occupation with the seizure of Portuguese settlements in Sri Lanka by the VOC on June 12, 1656 to the surrender of these regions to the British East India Company on February 14, 1795. Antiquities such as swords, clothing, porcelain, mediums of exchange, furniture, ancient maps and documentation of treats—all belonging to the Dutch period find their home within this abode. Artefacts laid out within an artefact; the Museum is housed in the abode of the Dutch Governor (1692–1697) Thomas van Rhee and most of the structure remains same as when built three centuries ago. Its high risen roof, square courtyard decorating the centre of the house and large pillars announcing the entrance are distinct elements of 17th century Dutch architecture.

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Independence Memorial Museum

Given its location at the basement of the Independence Memorial Hall, the Independence Memorial Museum was established with the objective honouring national heroes who were instrumental in gaining independence from the British Rule. And thus, you will find rows and rows of statues of those who led the independence movement. Apart from the sculptures of national heroes, the main gallery houses weapons, diaries, telephones and other souvenirs that belonged to some of them. There are also elaborate illustrations and charts which display how the independence progressed. A section that is reserved for the war heroes who sacrificed their lives in the three decade Sri Lankan civil war from 1983 to 2009 was also constructed in commemoration of them. A visit to this place is worthwhile since you get to learn all about Sri Lanka's freedom struggle and of those great personalities who faught for the country.

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National Museum of Natural History

The National Museum of Natural History is the only museum in Sri Lanka that showcases the natural heritage and the diversity of life offered by the island. Situated by the same premises of the Colombo National Museum (facing Nelum Pokuna Mawatha), this place is easy to find. Species that are endemic to Sri Lanka, endangered and rare are displayed through the vast collection of specimens and you get to see viewing galleries that elaborately present statues of mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, fish, amphibians of various kinds of plants and geological rocks. Among the exhibits that will draw interest is the leopard of Punani, known to have killed around 13 people and had been caught in Batticloa.

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