Colombo has one of the world's largest manmade harbors. Most of Sri Lanka's foreign trade passes through the port. There are modern facilities for containerized cargo. Gem cutting is a Colombo specialty; other industries include food and tobacco processing, metal fabrication, engineering, and the manufacture of chemicals, textiles, glass, cement, leather goods, furniture, and jewelry. An oil refinery is on the city's outskirts. Colombo is also Sri Lanka's financial center; a major attempt was made during the 1980s to transform it into an offshore banking center.
The area was probably known to Greco-Roman, Arab, and Chinese traders more than 2,000 years ago as an open anchorage for oceangoing ships. Muslims settled there in the 8th cent. A.D. The Portuguese arrived in the 16th cent. and built a fort to protect their spice trade. The Dutch, also coveting this trade, gained control in the 17th cent. In 1796, Colombo passed to the British, who made it the capital of their crown colony of Ceylon in 1802. In the 1880s, Colombo replaced Galle as Ceylon's chief port and became a major refueling and supply center for merchant ships on the Europe-East Asia route. Colombo served as an Allied naval base in World War II and was made the capital of independent Ceylon in 1948. The Colombo Plan, an international program to aid the economic development of Asian nations, was launched at a conference there in 1950. Colombo was replaced as Sri Lanka's capital in 1982, when the new parliament building in Sri Jayewardenapura Kotte was inaugurated.
Two faculties of the Univ. of Sri Lanka, several colleges and research institutes, an observatory, a national museum, Independence Hall (1948), and numerous churches, mosques, and Buddhist and Hindu temples are in Colombo; on the outskirts are two Buddhist universities. About half the city's population is Sinhalese; there are also Tamils, Moors, and small European and Indian communities. Festering violence between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils continued to claim lives through the 1990s.
The name "Colombo", first introduced by the Portuguese in 1505, is believed to be derived from the classical Sinhalese name Kolon thota, meaning "port on the river Kelani". It has also been suggested that the name may be derived from the Sinhalese name Kola-amba-thota which means "Harbor with leafy mango trees".
Due to its large harbour and its strategic position along the East-West sea trade routes, Colombo was known to ancient traders 2,000 years ago. However it was only made the capital of the island when Sri Lanka was ceded to the British Empire in 1815, and its status as capital was retained when the nation became independent in 1948. In 1978, when administrative functions were moved to Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, Colombo was designated as the commercial capital of Sri Lanka.
Like many cities, Colombo's urban area extends well beyond the boundaries of a single local authority, encompassing other Municipal and Urban Councils. The main city is home to a majority of the Sri Lanka's corporate offices, restaurants and entertainment venues. Famous landmarks in Colombo include the Galle Face Green, the Viharamahadevi Park as well as the National Museum.
The Portuguese soon realized that control of Sri Lanka was necessary for protection of their coastal establishments in India and they began to manipulate the rulers of the Kotte Kingdom in order to gain control of the area. After skilfully exploiting rivalries within the Royal Family, they took control of a large area of the Kingdom and the Sinhalese King Mayadunne established a new Kingdom at Sitawaka, a domain in the Kotte kingdom. Before long he annexed much of the Kotte kingdom and forced the Portuguese to retreat to Colombo, which was repeatedly besieged by Mayadunne and the later Kings of Sitawaka, forcing them to seek reinforcement from their major base in Goa, India. However, following the fall of the Kingdom in 1593, the Portuguese were able to establish complete control over the entire coastal area, with Colombo as their capital.
This part of Colombo is still known as Fort and houses the presidential palace and the majority of Colombo's five star hotels. The area immediately outside Fort is known as Pettah (Sinhala piṭa koṭuva, "outer fort") and is a commercial hub.
Although the British captured Colombo in 1796, it remained a British military outpost until the Kandyan Kingdom was ceded to them in 1815 and they made Colombo the capital of their newly created crown colony of Ceylon. Unlike the Portuguese and Dutch before them, whose primary use of Colombo was as a military fort, the British began constructing houses and other civilian structures around the fort, giving rise to the current City of Colombo.
Initially, they placed the administration of the city under a "Collector", and John Macdowell of the Madras Service was the first to hold the office. Then, in 1833, the Government Agent of the Western Province was charged with the administration of the city. Centuries of colonial rule had meant a decline of indigenous administration of Colombo, and in 1865 the British conceived a Municipal Council as a means of training the local population in self-governance. The Legislative Council of Ceylon constituted the Colombo Municipal Council in 1865 and the Council met for the first time on the January 16, 1866. At the time, the population of the region was around 80,000.
During the time they were in control of the Colombo, the British were responsible for much of the planning of the present city. In some parts of the city tram car tracks and granite flooring laid during the era are still visible today.
This era of colonialism ended peacefully in 1948 when Ceylon gained independence from Britain. Due to the tremendous impact this caused on the city's inhabitants and on the country as a whole, the changes that resulted at the end of the colonial period were drastic. An entire new culture took root. Changes in laws and customs, clothing styles, religions and proper names were a significant result of the colonial era. These cultural changes were followed by the strengthening of the island's economy. Even today, the influence of the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British is clearly visible in Colombo’s architecture, names, clothing, food, language and attitudes. Buildings from all three eras stand in their glory as reminders of the turbulent past of Colombo. The city and its people show an interesting mix of European clothing and lifestyles together with local customs. Colombo is by far more modern than most cities in neighbouring countries and continues to be a blossoming metropolis of the East.
Historically, Colombo referred to the area around the Fort and Pettah Market which is famous for the variety of products available as well as the Khan Clock Tower, a local landmark. At present, it refers to the city limits of the Colombo Municipal Council. More often, the name is used for the Conurbation known as Greater Colombo, which encompasses several Municipal councils including Kotte, Dehiwela and Colombo.
Although Colombo lost its status as the capital of Sri Lanka in the 1980s, it continues to be the island's commercial centre. Despite the official capital of Sri Lanka moving to the adjacent Sri Jayawardanapura Kotte, most countries still maintain their diplomatic missions in Colombo.
Colombo's geography is a mix of land and water. The city has many canals and, in the heart of the city, the Beira Lake. The lake is one of the most distinctive landmarks of Colombo, and was used for centuries by colonists to defend the city. It remains a popular attraction, hosting regattas, and theatrical events on its shores. The Northern and North-Eastern border of the city of Colombo is formed by the Kelani River, which meets the sea in a part of the city known as the Modera (mōdara in Sinhala) which means river delta.
Colombo’s climate is fairly temperate all throughout the year. From March to April the temperature averages around 31 degrees Celsius (88 degrees Fahrenheit) maximum. The only major change in the Colombo weather occurs during the monsoon seasons from May to August and October to January. This is the time of year where heavy rains can be expected. Colombo sees little relative diurnal range of temperature, although this is more marked in the drier winter months, where minimum temperatures average 22 degrees Celsius (72 degrees Fahrenheit). Rainfall in the city averages around a year.
| Avg Temp °C|
Colombo is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural city. The population of Colombo is a mix of numerous ethnic groups, mainly Sinhalese, Muslims and Tamils. There are also small communities of people with Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch, Malay and Indian origins living in the city, as well as numerous European expatriates. Colombo is the most populated city in Sri Lanka, with 642,163 people living within the city limits. According to the census of 2001 the demographics of urban Colombo by ethnicity is as follows.
|No||Ethnicity||Population||% Of Total|
|7||Sri Lankan Chetty||740||0.11|
The city government provides sewer, road management and waste management services, in case of water, electricity and telephone utility services the council liaises with the water supply and drainage board, the Ceylon electricity board and telephone service providers.Official Vision and mission Vision:
Colombo being a model city in Asia, a caring organization looking after interests of citizens and users with an efficient quality service for creation of safe, healthy and wealthy life.
Organization achieving excellence in providing citizen centered services to the public / customer, optimizing the use of available resources through a competent, motivated and dedicated team.
The great majority of Sri Lankan corporations have their head offices in Colombo. Some of the industries include chemicals, textiles, glass, cement, leather goods, furniture, and jewelry. In the city center is located South Asia's second tallest building - The World Trade Center. The 40 story Twin Tower complex is the centre of important commercial establishments, situated in the Fort district, the city's nerve center. Right outside the Fort area is Pettah which is derived from the Sinhalese word pita which means out or outside as it is outside the Fort.
Pettah is more crowded than the fort area. It's a place you can buy almost anything you want, Pettah's roads are always packed and pavements are full of small stalls selling from delicious Sharbat to Shirts. Main Street consists mostly of clothes shops and the cross roads, which are literally known as Cross Streets where each of the five streets specializes in a specific business. For example the first cross street mostly comprises electronic goods shops, the second cellular phones and fancy goods. Most of these businesses in Pettah are dominated by Muslim traders. At the end of the main street further away from Fort is the Sea Street, Sri Lanka's Gold market. This mile-long street is full of jewellery shops.
The Colombo Metropolitan Region (CMR) encompasses the country's administrative capital Kotte and Colombo. Found within the borders of the CMR is 80% of the country’s industrialization and over 60% of all vehicles plying Sri Lankan roads.
The Sri Lanka Police the main law enforcement agency of the island liaise with the municipal council, but is under the control of the Ministry of Defence of the central government. Policing in Colombo and its suburbs falls within the Metropolitan Range headed by the Deputy Inspector General of Police (Metropolitan), this also includes the Colombo Crime Division. As with most Sri Lankan cities, the magistrate court handles felony crimes, the district court handles civil cases.
As in other large cities around the world, Colombo experiences certain levels of street crime and bribery. In addition, in since the 1980s there has been a number of major terrorist attacks. The LTTE has been linked to bombings and assassinations in the city. Welikada Prison is situated in Colombo and it is the one of the largest maximum security Prisons in the country.
The two World Trade Center towers use to be the most recognized landmarks of the city. Before these towers were completed in 1997, the adjacent Bank of Ceylon tower was the tallest structure and the most prominent landmark of the city. Before the skyscrapers were built it was the Old Parliament Building that stood majestically in the Fort district with the Old Colombo Lighthouse situated close to it. Another important landmark of the city is the Independence Hall at Independence Square in Cinnamon gardens.
Even before the parliament was built some claim that the Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque was recognized as the landmark of Colombo by sailors approaching the port. The mosque is still one of the most visited tourist sites in Colombo.
The Fort district also has the famous Cargills & Millers complex that is protected by a special government law from demolition. This is done mainly to preserve the historic beauty of the Fort area.
The Galle Face Green is the city's largest and most elegant promenade. Lined with palm trees and adjacent to the coast, this mile-long stretch in the heart of the city is a constant beehive of activity. The green is especially busy on Fridays and Saturdays. In the evenings it plays host to families and children playing sports and flying kites, lovers embracing under umbrellas and health enthusiasts taking their daily evening walks. There are numerous small food stalls and a small stretch of beach to get wet. The green was recently given a make over and since then has been even more popular with the local community. The Green also frequently hosts numerous international and local concerts and performances, such as the recently concluded World Drum Festival.
Cannons that were once mounted on the rampart of the old fort of Colombo laid out for observance and prestige at the Green, giving a colonial touch to the city. The famous colonial styled Galle Face Hotel, known as Asia's Emerald on the Green since 1864, is also adjacent to Galle Face Green. The Hotel has played host to distinguished guests including the British Royal Family and other Royal Guests and Celebrities. Apparently after having stayed at the hotel, Princess Alexandra of Denmark had commented that "the peacefulness and generosity encountered at the Galle Face Hotel cannot be matched". Around the corner from Galle Face are prominent coffee bars, chic bars and boutiques.
Colombo has an extensive public transport system based on buses, The bus service is operated both by private and government own Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB). Train transport within the city is limited since most trains are meant for transport to and from the city rather than within the city and are often overcrowded. However the Central Bus Stand and Fort Railway Station functions as the islands primary hub for bus and rail transport respectively. Up until the 1970s the city had a trams service, which was discontinued. Other means of transport includes auto rickshaws (commonly called "three wheelers" in Sri Lanka) and taxicabs. Three wheelers are entirely operated by individuals and hardly regulated whilst cab services are run by private companies and are metered.
Construction of the Colombo Metro Rail, a Mass Rapid Transit railway system, similar to that of other advanced Asian cities has begun, this is to control the excessive traffic in the city. The project is carried out by NEB Rapid Infrastructure Projects Pvt.Ltd. an Indian and Singaporean collaboration.
Colombo has many of the prominent public schools in the country some of them government owned and others are private.. Most of the urban schools of Sri Lanka have some religious alignment, this is partly due to the influence of British and Dutch colonization who established Christian missionary schools. Continuing this tradition in Colombo and other parts of Sri Lanka there are Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Christian schools. This religious alignment does not effect the curriculum of the school except for the demography of the student population .
Higher education in the city has a long history, it begins with the Colombo Medical School and the Colombo Law College being established in the 1870s. The first step in the creation of a University in the island was taken in 1913 with the established of the Ceylon University College, this was followed by the formation of the University of Ceylon, which had a campus in Colombo. Today the University of Colombo and the University of the Visual & Performing Arts are state universities in the city. The Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology also has a metropolitan campus in the center of the city. There are several private higher education institutions within the city.
Much of the old buildings of the fort area and in other parts of the city date back to the British times, these include governmental, commercial buildings and private houses. Some of the notable government building of British colonial architecture includes; the old Parliament building which is now the Presidential Secretariat, the Republic Building which houses the Ministry of Foreign affairs, but once housed the Ceylon Legislative council, the Treasury building, the old General Post Office an Edwardian style building opposite the President's House, the Prime Minister's Office, the Mathematics department of the University of Colombo (formally the Royal College, Colombo). Notable commercial buildings of the British era include, the Galle Face Hotel, Cargills & Millers complex, Grand Oriental Hotel. Several old clubs of the city gives a glimpse of the British equestrian life style, these include the Orient Club, the 80's Club, the Colombo Cricket Club.
During this festival, much of the city is decorated with lanterns, lights and special displays of light(known as Thoran). The festival falls in mid May and lasts a week when many Sri Lankans visit the city to see the lantern competitions and decorations. During this week people distribute, rice, drinks and various other food items for free in places what is known as Dunsal which means charity place. These Dunsals are popular amongst visitors from the suburbs.
Christmas is another major festival in the city. Although Sri Lanka's Christians make up only just over 7% of the population, Christmas is one of the island's biggest festivals. Most streets and commercial buildings light up from the beginning of December and festive sales begin at all shopping centres and department stores. Caroling and nativity plays are also frequent sights during the season.
Undoubtedly the most popular sport in Sri Lanka is cricket. The country emerged as champions of the 1996 Cricket World Cup and became runners up in 2007. The sport is played in parks, playgrounds, beaches and even in the streets of the city. Colombo is also the home for two of the country's international cricket stadiums, Sinhalese Sports Club's cricket stadium and R. Premadasa Stadium (named after late president Premadasa). Rugby is also a popular sport at the club and school level. Colombo has the distinction of being the only city in the world to have 4 cricket Test venues in the past: P. Saravanamuttu Stadium, Sinhalese Sports Club Ground, Colombo Cricket Club Ground and Ranasinghe Premadasa Stadium. The Sugathadasa Stadium situated in the city, is an international standard stadium for athletics, swimming and football, also held the South Asian Games in 1991 and 2006.
The city of Colombo also has its own local football team Colombo FC and the sport is being developed as a part of the FIFA Goal program.