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Colombo guide
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Last updated : Nov 2009
Colombo Travel Guide
Colombo Travel Guide and Colombo Travel Information -
"The Emerald Island”

Colombo is situated on Sri Lanka's west coast with a population of between 800,000 and one million, which is by far the country's biggest city. Colombo has natural harbour located at the mouth of the Kelani River which was the attraction for consecutive traders and conquerors - first Arab merchants, then Portuguese, Dutch and British imperialists.

Colombo may not have the historical and cultural atmosphere of Kandy or the scenic beauty of Hikkaduwa, but it is a good place to start a Sri Lankan discovery. The city has its history and its beautiful places. It is the seat of government and the home of most businesses. In many ways it is the commercial and political heart of Sri Lanka.

Colombo is a jarring combination of old and new, with a group of high-rise office blocks and hotels overshadowing red-tiled colonial-era buildings and sprawling street markets which overflow with high piled fruit and vegetables, colourful cottons and silks, and fragrant spices.

On its busy streets are places of worship, a symbol of the country's multi-ethnic heritage. The tasteful Buddhist viharas are located close to attractive temples encrusted with Hindu statuary, and Muslim mosques with slender minarets.

The city's streets are filled with life during the day when its population is swollen by some 400,000 commuting workers, become nearly empty after nightfall, with little nightlife outside a handful of international hotels.

During the day colombo's colourful street markets, colonial-era buildings, museums and galleries, mosques, churches and temples, and the charming Viharamahadevi Park make it an excellent place to reach on foot.

In the beginning, Colombo named Kolomtota and was the major seaport of Kotte, Sri Lanka's 15th- and 16th-century capital. It was known to Arab traders as Kalamba. The city attracted the Portuguese as early as 1505 and became the bastion of their rule for almost 150 years. Little remains to prove this era, aside from a few Portuguese surnames in the telephone directory and a cluster of Roman Catholic churches and seminaries. Nor of the Dutch who forced the Portuguese to leave in the mid-17th century.

The central part of the capital is still known as Fort, but the remains of the colonial battlements have long since been incorporated in newer buildings or demolished. There are more mementoes of the British period, such as the neo-Classical old parliament building, the Victorian-era President's House (often called 'Queen's House'), and the grand mercantile brick facade of Cargill's, a 19th-century shopping mall that has changed little since the heyday of the country's British tea planters.