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Colombo Fort - Past and Present
Fort Should not be referred to as the Fort. There are no actual fortifications left, so the definite article has been modestly dropped.

The old fortified harbour was originally built by the Dutch to protect their prosperous trade in sapphires, elephants, cinnamon and ivory. But when the British forces came to attack it, the garrison of swiss mercenaries had already abandoned the area. Colombo surrendered to its new master without putting up much resistance. So the victorious British tore down the old defences and began transforming the city into a thriving port.

Remnants of Dutch colonial architecture can still be glimpsed among the British constructions and the building sites which are hastily trying to piece together the scars of recent bombings. If you are undaunted by the litter of makeshift security barriers and military guards, hosting rifles on their hunchedup shoulders, you might find a prowl around Fort worthwhile, particularly if you are in search of the remnants of colonial rule.


Start at the Galadari Hotel, opposite the sandstone colonnaded facade of the former parliment building, now known as the presidential secretariat Unfortunately, Photography in this area is banned because of the military installations behind it, opposite the seashore of the Galle Face Green.

There is a checkpoint at the roundabout end of the road (Janadhipathi mawatha) that separates at the galadari from the Ceylon International Hotel but it is possible to walk past it. On the right is the Bank of Ceylon Skyscraper next to the ones which were destroyed in a bomb blast.

Head for the Lighthouse Clock Tower at the top of Lower Chatham Street. This Victorian landmark was designed by the British governor's wife in an attempt to instil punctuality into the notoriously bad timekeepers under her husband's rule. After 10 years a light was attached to the tower. and it successfully functioned as the city's lighthouse until the 1950s, when it was over whelmed by new buildings separating it from the shore. It has stood the test of time surviving bomb blasts that shook its modern neighbours.

Walk on the right-hand side of the road for a view of the white mansion which was once Queen's House. In its new guise as Jandhipathi Mandiraya, it is supposed to be the presidents official residence. However, President Chandrika Kumaratunga prefers the safety of Temple Trees, the Prime Ministerial residence on Galle Road, to this beautiful villa built in the late 18th century by the last Dutch governor. It was home to subsequent British governors including the building effort. A ststue of him stands guard at the gate. All road distance from Colombo are measured from here.

Behind this is Gordon Gardens, once a park and now alas, barred from vision because the Edwardian style buildings in it function as government offices. The impressive Edwardian facade of the building opposite the president's House is the General Post Office. The interior has lost much of the grandeur the building had in olden days, but the atmosphere of the slow days when mail went by sea remains. The post office is open 24 hours a day and there is a special counter where letters can be handed in to franked (instead of popped into the post boxes outside).

If you Stroll down the length of Sir Baron Jayatillike Mawatha and turn left into York Street, you will come face to face with the Passenger Harbour Terminal, once a busy port of emigration when P&O liners frequented Colombo. From here the Ceylon Steamship Company operated a weekly service which circumnavigated the island calling at jaffna, trincomalee, Galle and Hambantota. It took eight days and cost a total of Rs.100.

The Original P&O offices in York Street have been improbably preserved. The polished wood facade still lists the names of all the defunct shipping lines which had their offices in this same building. Opposite the Grand Oriental Hotel, an erstwhile luxury hostelry, is another relic from times when all tourists were called "passengers". In 1890, an unknown Russian writer called Anton Chekhov checked in here. His last book hadn't done too well, hardly surprising since it was entitled A Dreary Story, but he perked up after a tour of the island and went home to try his hand at play writing. One of the best views of Colombo harbour can be enjoyed from the aptly named harbour Room on the fourth floor. Try it for a drink or the buffet lunch. The tiny bookshop in the foyer downstairs is also worth a browse, and the somnolent lounge off the foyer is perfect for a peaceful morning coffee or afternoon tea.

The faded grandeur that still clings to the hotel was a gleaming reality in 1914 when Bella Wolf wrote: "It is said that if you waited long enough in the hall of the Grand Oriental, you would meet everyone worth meeting".

Three of Colombo's five-star hotels make the Echelon Square area popular with Visitors. The Colombo Hilton extends (byoverhead bridge) across Lotus Road where its sports complex lies by the banks of the Beira Lake. It is linked by another bridge with the world Trade Centre. When the Hilton and its neighbour, the galadari, suffered from bomb blasts, both hotels used the opportunity to refurbish, adding new restaurants and bars to cater for Colombo's discerning Clientele. The Ceylon Intercontinental completes the trio; it was Colombo's first five-star hotel to be built and retains a dated dignity.

 

Colombo Places: Colonical Colombo|| Colombo Fort || Galle Face Area || National Museum ||
|| Cinnamon Garden || Colombo Map || Dutch Museum || Pettah || Temple's Churches || Cargill's ||
|| Around Colombo || National Art Gallery ||

 

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