Colombo Fort

The grand old world charm of the Colombo Fort

It is good to know that the Colombo Fort retained its “old world charm” from the glorious days of the colonial era when this city first took shape. It was first the Portuguese who made this city their base for trading with the outer world. You can still view examples of colonial architecture. Most of the crumbled-down colonial structures had been built by the Dutch and the British and they have recently been given a facelift restoring the old world charm of the past era. However, these days it is the banking and commercial centre of Colombo. Sri Lanka’s own twin towers stand in this area flanked by the five star Hilton, Galadari and Kingsbury hotels. A juxtaposition of the old world charm and the rising modern structures outside of the preserved fort area is a wonderful sight not to be missed.

The Old Ceylon Parliament Building

Until the new parliament complex was built at Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, this attractive neo-classical grand building housed the parliament of Sri Lanka. It can be found facing the Indian ocean just at the end of the Galle Face Green at the entrance to the Colombo Fort. The British built it to house the Legislative Council of Ceylon during the islands colonial period. It looks older than it really is. The building was opened on 29th January 1930. The statues at the front of the building are of former Prime Ministers.

Now it is the Presidential Secretariat which is similar to the British Home Office or the American State Department. It puts into practice and monitors policies of the Sri Lankan Government. There are a number of national sub departments run from the building; Presidential Media Division: Alcohol tobacco and illicit drug policy unit: Parliamentary affairs and public relations division: Social sector development division: policy research and information unit: personal division: development and monitoring division: Administration and Finance division and the Secretary’s Office.

Walk south past the Colombo Presidential Secretariat building towards the pedestrian crossing and the green open area of Galle Face. Turn around and take a photo of the building against the backdrop of modern skyscrapers that appear to dwarf it. When it was first built in the 1930’s it was considered a tall building. Now it looks small. The modern buildings you can see are the Bank of Ceylon tower and the twin towers of the Sri Lankan World Trade Centre building.


Chatham Street Clock Tower

It is said that the lighthouse has a feminine feel about it because Lady Ward, wife of the Governor of Ceylon, created the elegant design. It is 132 feet above sea level. Although it used to be a lighthouse as it is still evident with the light still on the top of the tower, its use as a lighthouse became defunct because of the new tall buildings which were subsequently built around, it eventually could not function effectively as a light-house. It became redundant. The modern Galle Buck Lighthouse was erected on Marine Drive as its replacement.

The first light was powered by kerosene oil and could be seen seventeen miles out to sea in clear weather. According to the plaque on the side of the lighthouse it displayed its beam seaward every five seconds. On the top of the semi-globe roof is a metal arrow on a pole. It points in the direction the wind is blowing. The idea of building a lighthouse for Colombo Harbour to help shipping navigate into the harbour and miss the lethal rocks, was proposed in 1815. The lighthouse was built in 1856.

The presidential house and gardens are nearby but they are unfortunately off limits to the public. It is also the home of the Sri Lankan Navy so security is very high.

When measuring distances from one city to another, instead of working out what is the centre of Colombo the Lighthouse Clock Tower is used as the starting point. The Chatham Street lighthouse plans always made an allowance for the positioning of a clock on the outside. This feature was added later. The clock was ordered in 1872 but not installed. It was kept in storage in a warehouse for economic reasons. It was finally put in the tower in 1914. The clock was visible for some distance and would help local workers to be punctual as many could not afford a watch.


Cargill’s Department store

One of the grandest of the “old world charm” is the splendid Victorian styled red brick building of the Cargill’s Department store building which has not changed too much from the days the British ruled and when the hill country tea plantation superintendents and colonial administrators would travel by foot or carriage into the capital city of Colombo every six months or so to collect their supplies and luxuries. One of the best photos within the Fort that you could take is capturing the Cargills department store with the twin towers of the Sri Lankan World Trade Centre in the background. It portrays a mixture of the old world charm against the backdrop of the rising modern skyscrapers.

The hype of the once busy department store has diminished and it is now more of a shell, which is a shame. There is a small shopping museum. You will find it on the corner of York Street. In its heyday it was on par with London’s grand Fortnum and Mason department store, out fitters of the Empire. Sadly commerce has moved on. Cargill’s is now a modern supermarket company with stores all over Sri Lanka trading under the name of Food City.

Notice how the original Cargill’s building has archways over the pavement. They serve two purposes. They kept their customers dry in the monsoon and out of the glare of the hot sun by offering shade when needed.

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