A Wander through Colombo Fort

1 - Cargills York St - built by Walker, Sons and Co in 1906, occupying the former residence of Captain Pieter Sluysken Dutch military commander of Galle 1684

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.

2 - Map_of_Colombo_Fort

Oldest known map of Colombo Fort with fortifications still intact, dated 1888, by John Leonard Kalenberg van Dort, a Ceylonese Dutch Burgher.

3 - Old Parliament - Palladian 1930 Former Legco of Ceylon

The former Ceylon Legislative Council Building was erected in 1930 in a Palladian style. It houses the Presidential Secretariat today.

Chatham Street

4 - Old colombo Lighthouse Chatham St Clocktower (1857)

The Old Colombo Lighthouse on Chatham Street was built in 1857. It still stands today but as a mere clocktower.

5 - National Mutual Life Association of Australiasia Ltd 1911 Chatham St (now Central Pt Bldg)

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.

6 - Brown and Co 1897

Right beside it stands Brown & Co, circa 1897.

7 - Fort Jumma Mosque 1800s Chatham St

Chatham Street is also home to the For Jumma Mosque, established in the 1800s.

8 - Chatham St Blgds II

Restored colonial edifices on Chatham Street.

9 - De Mel Building 1925 Chatham St Pagoda Tea Rooms since 1884

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.

10 - York Building

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.

11 - YMCA

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.

12 - Bank of Ceylon 1939

Beside it is the Bank of Ceylon building, also in an Art Deco style possibly dating to the 1920s or ’30s.

13 - Australia Buildings (1900) - occupied by VOC since 1687

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.

14 - Imperial Bank of India 1928

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.

15 - STate Bank of India

The State Bank of India Building.

16 - Beside State Bank of India

A quaint old low-rise building just beside the State Bank of India Building.

17 - Lloyd's Building 1908

Across the street sit a trio of lovely edifices – the first is Lloyd’s Building, built in 1908.

18 - Whiteaway and Laidlaw 1907

The second is the Whiteaway and Laidlaw Building, built in 1907.

19 - Macan Markar Building 1915

The third is the Macan Markar Building, built in 1915.

20 - General Post Office 1895 with REpublic Building to the left

The General Post Office Building, built in 1895, with the Republic Building to the left. Both sit on Janadipathi Mawatha.

21 - Chartered Bank

Next door is the Chartered Bank of India, China and Australia Building, with its distinctive elephant heads.

22 - Grand Oriental Hotel I 1875

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

23 - Grand Oriental Hotel II - 1926

Here’s a front view of the Grand Oriental Hotel – the front facade was built in 1926.

24 - Former PAssenger Jetty - Port Authority Building 1928

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.

25 - Victoria Arcade 1900

The Victoria Arcade comes next. It was built in 1900, and housed the offices of Mackinnon Mackenzie & Co, alongside other shoppes.

26 - Walker and Sons 1920s

The Art Deco Walker & Sons offices.

27 - Ghafoor Building 1907 and YMBA - Main Street

At the intersection between Leyden Bastian Road and

28 - State Pharma

Back onto Baron Jayathilaka Mawatha, we have the State Pharma Building.

29 - Walker Sons and Co 1881

…and the earlier offices of Walker, Sons & Co, built in 1881 – this is probably one of the oldest British buildings in Fort.

Lotus Road

30 - Central Telegraph Office 1911

The Central Telegraph Office (1911) is today’s Sri Lanka Telecom Building.

31 - Colombo Fort Police Station SIDE

Across from it is the Colombo Fort Police Station – this is a side view as the building is closed off.

32 - Negris Building

The Negris Building on York Street.

33 - Fort Building

Warehouses on York Street.

34 - Dutch Hospital 1680s

And finally, the Dutch Hospital, where we take a breather…

35 - Cargills FORT

A backward glance at Cargills, on York Street.

About Kennie Ting

I am a wandering cityophile and pattern-finder who is pathologically incapable of staying in one place for any long period of time. When I do, I see the place from different perspectives, obsessive-compulsively.
This entry was posted in Art & Architecture, Cities & Regions, Culture & Lifestyle, Heritage, Landmarks & History, Photography, Travel & Mobility and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to A Wander through Colombo Fort

  1. Dixon says:

    Not quite correct about the Imperial Bank of India building now being occupied by HSBC. That half has always been occupied by HSBC as the original building was jointly constructed by HSBC and the Imperial Bank of India (then Bank of Madras).

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