The iconic Cargill’s Building on York Street was built by Walker, Sons & Co in 1906 in an Edwardian style. It occupies a former Dutch military commander’s residence, which had been built in 1684.
Fort, or Colombo Fort, is one of the oldest built-up areas in downtown Colombo, having been established by the Portuguese in the early 1500s as a fortified port settlement.
Once there were actually walls that surrounded the city. Part of these walls were destroyed and others reinforced to when the Dutch V.O.C. conquered the city in 1656, then all of it was demolished when the British took control in the 1800s.
This part of the city has always been its administrative centre, be it during the Portuguese, Dutch or British eras. Even though the Fort proper was abolished in the 1800s, this part of the city still retains the name “Fort” in reference to its fortified past.
Today, much of Fort consists of monumental civic and commercial buildings erected in the late 1800s and early 1900s during the British era, with painfully little remaining from the Dutch period and nothing at all from the Portuguese.
This post takes us on a leisurely jaunt through Fort, taking in the most significant of these buildings, many of which have been immaculately restored as Colombo and Sri Lanka – benefiting from political stability – restores its economy and its interest in its heritage.
From the Old Parliament Building sitting just outside where the ramparts of Fort used to sit, we dive into Fort proper, taking in the key landmarks along the thoroughfares in the area, chiefly Chatham Street, York Street and Main Street.
Oldest known map of Colombo Fort with fortifications still intact, dated 1888, by John Leonard Kalenberg van Dort, a Ceylonese Dutch Burgher.
The former Ceylon Legislative Council Building was erected in 1930 in a Palladian style. It houses the Presidential Secretariat today.
The Old Colombo Lighthouse on Chatham Street was built in 1857. It still stands today but as a mere clocktower.
The former National Mutual Life Association of Australia Building was built in 1911 in a Neo-classical style reminiscent of New York City. Today it houses a museum and government offices.
Right beside it stands Brown & Co, circa 1897.
Chatham Street is also home to the For Jumma Mosque, established in the 1800s.
Restored colonial edifices on Chatham Street.
Another institution – two, in fact! – on Chatham Street. These are the De Mel Building, this version dating from 1925, and the Pagoda Tea Rooms, in operation here since 1884.
Leaving Chatham Street we arrive at York Street, perhaps the most important street in Fort. This is the York Building, probably dating from the early 1900s.
Across the street from the York Building, sitting on Bristol Street, is the YMCA building, in a Moorish-influenced Art Deco style possibly dating to the 1920s or ’30s.
Beside it is the Bank of Ceylon building, also in an Art Deco style possibly dating to the 1920s or ’30s.
A little further down from York Building on York Street are the Moorish-influenced Edwardian-style Australia buildings, built in 1900. They stand at a spot previously occupied by VOC offices from 1687.
Having already admired Cargills, we left on Sir Baron Jayathilaka Mawatha Street. This is the former Imperial Bank of India building, erected in 1928. Interestingly, half of it (the left half) is now used by HSBC, while the other continues to be used by the State Bank of India, just next door.
The State Bank of India Building.
A quaint old low-rise building just beside the State Bank of India Building.
Across the street sit a trio of lovely edifices – the first is Lloyd’s Building, built in 1908.
The second is the Whiteaway and Laidlaw Building, built in 1907.
The third is the Macan Markar Building, built in 1915.
The General Post Office Building, built in 1895, with the Republic Building to the left. Both sit on Janadipathi Mawatha.
Next door is the Chartered Bank of India, China and Australia Building, with its distinctive elephant heads.
Back on York Street, we stop off at the historic Grand Oriental Hotel, originally built in 1875. This is the city’s other grand hotel.
Leyden Bastian Road to Main Street
Here’s a front view of the Grand Oriental Hotel – the front facade was built in 1926.
From the terraces of the Grand Oriental Hotel, one can get a magnificent view of today’s Port Authority Building. This used to be the Passenger Jetty, built in 1928.
The Victoria Arcade comes next. It was built in 1900, and housed the offices of Mackinnon Mackenzie & Co, alongside other shoppes.
The Art Deco Walker & Sons offices.
At the intersection between Leyden Bastian Road and
Back onto Baron Jayathilaka Mawatha, we have the State Pharma Building.
…and the earlier offices of Walker, Sons & Co, built in 1881 – this is probably one of the oldest British buildings in Fort.
The Central Telegraph Office (1911) is today’s Sri Lanka Telecom Building.
Across from it is the Colombo Fort Police Station – this is a side view as the building is closed off.
The Negris Building on York Street.
Warehouses on York Street.
And finally, the Dutch Hospital, where we take a breather…
A backward glance at Cargills, on York Street.