The building was constructed during the Dutch occupation of Colombo (1656 – 1796) and was the formal residence of the Dutch East Indies Company Colonial Governor Van Rhee during his term of office in 1692 to 1697. At that time the surrounding streets in Pettah were very wide with rows of trees to give shade for those walking on the smooth and regular pavement. The area was described by a visiting English Doctor in 1757 as very elegant. Unfortunately these attractive avenues now no longer exist and the shopping bazaar of Pettah is full of narrow scruffy streets where vehicles have problems passing each other.
The building has been used for many different purposes over the years. It was a teacher training college and an institute for the instruction of clergymen between 1696 and 1796. There is an inscription over the entrance in Latin that dates from this period. It says ‘NisiJuehova aedificet domum, frustra laborant aedificatores’ which means unless ‘God builds the house, the workers toil in vain’ Psalm 127.
This is one of the few remaining buildings in the Pettah showing evidence of the Dutch period in history. You will find it at 95 Prince Street. It is a tall building painted white and has a row of classical columns holding up the red tiled roof facing the street. It is surrounded by antique shops and market stalls. It is open between 9am and 5pm every day except Friday. Entrance is free but you are expected to tip the official guide. The interior court yard garden is charming.
Colonnades were introduced into the design of Dutch buildings in the Tropics to give much needed shade to the open windows to try and keep the inhabitants cooler on hot dry days. They also provided much needed shelter from the monsoon intense rain storms. The over hanging roof channelled the great volumes of rain water that can occur in one of these deluges into the street and away from the house.
You will notice that there is no guttering system. On the outside of the building there are wood shuttered windows on two levels which contrast dramatically with the whitewashed plastered walls. Study the craftsmanship of the giant wooden doors.