2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Geography of Asia

Official seal of Colombo
Map of Colombo with its administrative districts
Map of Colombo with its administrative districts
Coordinates: 6°54′0″N, 79°50′0″E
District Colombo Division, Colombo District
Mayor Uvaiz Mohammad Imitiyaz ( Sri Lanka Freedom Party)
 - City 14.4 mi²/ 37.31 km²
 - Land / km²
 - Water / km²
 - City (2001) 642,163 (Colombo metropolitan area 2001 census)
 - Density 3,305/km²
 - Metro 2,234,289 (Colombo District)
Time zone Sri Lanka Standard Time Zone ( UTC+5:30)

Colombo (කොළඹ in Sinhala; கொழும்பு in Tamil) is the largest city and commercial capital of Sri Lanka, located on the west coast adjacent to the present administrative capital of Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte. The name Colombo is derived from the Sinhala name Kola-amba-thota which means "harbour with leafy mango trees". Traveller Ibn Batuta in the 14th century referred to it as Kalanpu. Today's Colombo is a busy vibrant city with a mixture of modern life and colonial ruins.


Since Colombo was a natural harbour, it was known to Romans, Arabs, and Chinese traders from more than 2,000 years ago . Arabian Muslims whose prime interests were trade, settled in Colombo in the 8th century mostly because the port helped their business and controlled much of the trade between the Sinhalese kingdoms and the outside world..

Portuguese Era

The Portuguese first arrived in Sri Lanka in 1505. On their first visit they made a treaty with the king of Kandy enabling them to trade in the islands crop of cinnamon, which lay along the coastal areas including Colombo. They were given full authority of the coast line with the promise of guarding the coast against invaders. The Portuguese expelled the Muslim inhabitants and built a fort there to protect their spice trade. The land between the fortress and the interior was unoccupied and covered with trees. The Portuguese were compelled to reinforce the garrison to resist attacks by the indigenous leaders Mayadunne, Vidiya Bandara and Rajasinghe I. 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 (or "pita kotuwa" in Singhalese which means outer fort) and is a commercial hub.

Dutch Era

The Dutch captured the city in 1656 after an epic siege, at the end of which a mere 93 Portuguese survivors were given safe conduct out of the fort. It served as the capital of the maritime provinces under the control of the Dutch East India Company until 1796.

The historical Wolvendhal church established during the Dutch era in the 1749
The historical Wolvendhal church established during the Dutch era in the 1749
The VOC (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie) logo of Dutch East India Company on the gates of Wolvendhal church
The VOC (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie) logo of Dutch East India Company on the gates of Wolvendhal church

British era

The British made the city the capital of their crown colony of Ceylon in 1802. They were responsible for much of the planning of the present city. In some parts of the city tramcar tracks and granite flooring laid during the era are still visible.

Post Independence

This era of colonialism ended peacefully in 1948 when Ceylon gained independence from Britain. Because of the tremendous impact on the city's inhabitants and the country at large, 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, Dutch and British is clearly visible in Colombo’s architecture, names, clothing, food, language and attitudes. Buildings from all three regimes stand in their glory as reminders of the turbulent past. The city and its people show an interesting mix of European clothing and lifestyles together with local customs. The city is by far more modern than most others in the neighbouring countries and continues to be a blossoming metropolis of the East. Its growth and prosperity has been hampered only by the effects of the protracted conflict between the Government of Sri Lanka and Tamil Tiger rebels in the northeast, which has produced economic effects throughout the island.

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. It may also refer to the Colombo District. Colombo lost its status as the capital of Sri Lanka in the 1980s, but continues to be the island's commercial centre. Despite the official capital of Sri Lanka moving to nearby Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte (sometimes referred to as the administrative capital), most countries maintain their diplomatic missions in Colombo.

Economic history

In the past the city has included cinnamon and coconut cultivation, but mostly throughout the history the city has been a port city. Colombo port is one of the busiest ports in Asia.

Colombo has a history of boom and bust, or at least boom and quiescence. Colombo was sent into decline by the aftermath of bomb blasts by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)rebel group. However the city remains a regional economic hub and a centre of supplies for the rest of the island.

Geography and climate


Colombo's geography is a mix of hilly, flat and marshy land. The north and the south parts of the city are hilly and the east, and south east areas are bordered by marshy land. The city has many canals and the Beira Lake in the heart of the city. North and the North-East borders of the city flows the Kelani river, the river meets the sea in part of the city known as the Modera in Sinhala which literally means Delta.


Colombo’s climate is fairly temperate all throughout the year. During the March - 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 2,400 mm a year.

Seema Malakaya Temple in the Beira Lake in the slave island area
Seema Malakaya Temple in the Beira Lake in the slave island area
Buddha's statue inside the Seema Malakaya Temple
Buddha's statue inside the Seema Malakaya Temple


Colombo is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural city. The population of Colombo is a mix of Sinhalese, Moors and Tamils. There are small communities of people with Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch, Malay and Indian origins living here. Colombo is the most populated city in Sri Lanka. According to the census of 2001 the demographics of urban Colombo by ethnicity is as follows.

Ethnicity Population % Of Total
Sinhalese 265,657 41.37
Sri Lankan Tamils 185,672 28.91
Sri Lankan Moor 153,299 23.87
Indian Tamils 13,968 2.18
Malays 11,149 1.74
Burghers 5,273 0.82
Sri Lankan Chetty 740 0.12
Bharatha 471 0.07
Other 5,934 0.92
Total 642,163 100

Source: Census 2001

Note: The totals are calculated through enumerations made from Colombo DS and Thimbirigasyaya DS, also part of Colombo Municipal Council.

Government and politics

The City Town Hall in Cinnamon Garden area is the mayor's office
The City Town Hall in Cinnamon Garden area is the mayor's office

Colombo is a charter city, with a Mayor Council form of government, most of its satellite cities are with urban councils. Colombo's mayor and the council members are elected through local government elections held once in five years. For the past 50 years the city had been ruled by the United National Party.

The city government provides sewer, road management and waste management services, in case of water, electricity and telephone utility services the council liases with the water supply and draineage board, the Ceylon electricity board and telephone service providers.

As with most Sri Lankan cities, the magistrate court and the district court handles felony crimes — the Municipal Council deals with parking tickets, traffic infractions, and misdemeanors. Colombo houses the countrys largest jail known as the Magazine Prison. And headquarters of the Police, Army, Navy, Air Force and many other judicial offices including the Supreme Court are in Colombo. The law enforcement agencies also liase with the municipal council but are managed by the ministry of interior and ministry of justice of the central government.

The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka in Colombo
The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka in Colombo

Official Vision and mission


“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 centre is located South Asia's second tallest building - The World Trade Centre. The 40 storeyed Twin Tower complex is the centre of important commerial establishments, situated in the Fort district, the city's nerve centre. Right outside the Fort area is Pettah which is derived from the Sinhala word pita which means out or outside as it is outside the Fort.

Pettah is more crowded than the fort area. Its 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 Sherbats to Shirts. Main Street is mostly clothes shops and the cross roads, known as First Cross Street etc up to Fifth Cross Street each street has a specific business. For example the first mainly sells electronics, 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 industrialisation and over 60% of all vehicles plying Sri Lankan roads.


Colombo is home to some of the island's top schools and universities. Education is free in Sri Lanka and 10 years of schooling is compulsory for everyone. One of the most popular of Colombo's schools is Royal College, which is also one of the oldest educational institutions in the country with a history of more than 170 years, Ananda College, with the largest Buddhist student population, and Zahira College, with the largest Muslim student population, and Colombo Hindu College with the largest Hindu student populationare also located in Colombo. The latter is the oldest Muslim educational institution in the country. Most of the schools in the city are managed by the provincial council and the prominent schools with many facilities that fall under the national schools scheme are managed by the central government.

The University of Colombo, the only university in the city, has courses in many disciplines such as Arts, Science, Medicine, Law, Management and Computer Science. The university's school of computing is famous for its contributions to the Apache web server software project.



The skyline of the Fort area, the twin towers are the World Trade Center building and the other tower is the Bank of Ceylon
The skyline of the Fort area, the twin towers are the World Trade Centre building and the other tower is the Bank of Ceylon

The two World Trade Centre towers have become the most recognized landmarks of the city in recent years. 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.

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 historical Cargills & Millers building standing the test of time
The historical Cargills & Millers building standing the test of time

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 used during wartime in the colonial era are still 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.

Annual cultural events and fairs

The Old Parliament Building the near the Galle Face Green, now the Presidential Secretariat
The Old Parliament Building the near the Galle Face Green, now the Presidential Secretariat

Colombo's most beautiful festival is the celebration of Buddha's Birth, Enlightenment and Death all falling on the same day. In Sinhala this is known as Vesak. During this festival, much of the city is decorated with lanterns, lights and special displays of light. 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.

Performing arts

The Jami Ul Alfar mosque in pettah area one of the oldest mosques in Colombo
The Jami Ul Alfar mosque in pettah area one of the oldest mosques in Colombo

Colombo has several performing arts centers which are popular for their musical and theatrical performances. The most famous performing arts centers are the Lionel Wendt Theatre, the Elphinstone and the Tower Hall, all of which have a very rich history.

Museums and art collections

The colonial era All Saints Church in Dam Street area
The colonial era All Saints Church in Dam Street area

The National Museum of Colombo, situated in the Cinnamon Gardens area, is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the city. The museum houses the jewellery and throne of the last king of the country, Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe, who was captured and executed by the English in 1815. Colombo does not boast a very big art gallery. There is only a small collection of Sri Lankan masterpieces at the Art Gallery at Green Path.


The city has comparatively more nightlife than other cities in Sri Lanka, boasting numerous casinos, bars, nightclubs and pubs. In Sri Lanka alcohol is sold fairly freely, except on full moon Poya Days when sales are prohibited. The cessation of hostilities between the Government and LTTE rebels in 2002 resulted in an entertainment boom in the city and greater economic growth. However in the aftermath of 2005 Presidential change, a low intensity war commenced between GOSL and LTTE centred around north and east provinces. This, as well as several bombings or attempted bombings in Colombo, has led to a greater military presence in the city.


Undoubtedly the most popular sport in Sri Lanka is cricket. The country emerged as champions of the 1996 Cricket World Cup. 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 and R Premadasa. Rugby is also a popular sport at the club and school level.

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