Colonial Period Architecture
The accidental arrival of the Portuguese Lorenzo De Almeida in 1505, when his fleet of ships steered off course following a storm at sea, changed the history of this island nation. The Portuguese were followed by the Dutch in 1640 and then the British in 1796. With each occupation, the cultural and architectural influences remained. Forts and townships originally built by the Portuguese in Galle, Matara, Negombo and Kalpitiya were later captured by the Dutch and developed further to include churches, canals, and public buildings. British Colonial period architecture is seen in Colombo and the hill country.
Galle’s 17th century Dutch Fort
Galle Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, originally built by the Portuguese and then further developed by the Dutch and the British, covers nearly four sq kms, and is protected by 12 bastions and connecting ramparts. During the early 18th century the Old Dutch Gate was the entrance point to the Fort. Subsequently the British built the Main Gate which is still used today. Buildings of interest include the Dutch Reformed Church, All Saints Church, Amangalla Hotel (formerly the New Oriental Hotel), the lighthouse and bell tower. The Dutch also developed what was then an innovative tide-based sewage-system within the Fort. A maze of narrow roads lined with small houses and shops with Dutch names still remain. Recently, a spate of old colonial houses within the Fort have been intelligently renovated and made into exquisite boutique villas and hotels retaining the colonial architectural features including arches and columned courtyards, verandas, and high ceilings.
Colonial architecture of Colombo
Colombo’s three-mile long rampart cordoning of the area covered by today’s Fort and Pettah districts, was originally built in the 17th century by the Portuguese and then further developed by the Dutch and the British. Today, it is the commercial hub of the country consisting of government offices, banks, five-star hotels and the country’s largest wholesale bazaar with a maze of lanes and small shops crowded with people frantically buying and selling. In Fort, many of the old colonial buildings still stand gloriously, side by side with the rest of Colombo’s modern skyline. Interesting buildings to visit include the Galle Face Hotel (once the mansion of a British Governor), the Presidential Secretariat (previously the Parliament house), Grand Oriental Hotel (previously barracks for soldiers during Dutch period), the red & white Cargills & Millers department store buildings, the General Post Office building (the Delft Gateway built during the Dutch period), and the Fort Police Station (previously a Dutch hospital). The St. Peter’s Church and the Wovendaal Church located by the Grand Oriental Hotel were also built during the Dutch period.
Colonial architecture of the North West Coast
The influences of the Dutch and Portuguese periods are notable right along from Negombo to Kalpitiya. Several 17th century Catholic churches are found in this area and are popular pilgrimage sites, especially St. Anne’s shrine in Talawilla where pilgrims flock during the months of March and July for the church festivals. A century’s old network of canals developed by the Dutch, linking Colombo’s seaport to the North Western coastal towns, still function as active waterways full of life. These canal paths winding through the villages can be explored by boat. Cycle along side these canal ways or go on a walking journey where you can experience life along these coastal rural fishing villages.
British colonial architecture of the hill country
Nuwara Eliya, nestled at the foot of Pidurutalagala Mountain, was made into a summer retreat by the British in the early 1800s and much of its colonial character still remains. Nuwara Eliya’s leafy by-roads are lined with Victorian style mansions dating back to the 19th century which have now been converted into characterful hotels. Some of the more interesting buildings include the Hill Club - a 130-year-old granite mansion resembling a mini Victorian castle; St. Andrew’s Hotel housed in a stately Tudor-style colonial mansion built in the latter part of the 19th century; and the Grand Hotel - once the residence of Sir Edward Barnes, a British Governor of Sri Lanka. The Adisham Monastery modelled on Leeds Castle in Kent, was built in the early 20th century. Examples of colonial planter’s bungalows include the Ceylon Tea Trails Bungalows in Dickoya, Netherbyres in Haputale, and Kirchhayn in Bandarawela. These bungalows have been designed with gabled roofs and large open fireplaces.