Pettah – Dutch and Multi-cultural Colombo

1 - REd Mosque Closeup

The Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque, or “Red Mosque”, in Pettah, Colombo.

The name “Pettah” is derived from the Sinhalese “pita-kotuwa”, which means “outside the fort”.  This exactly describes what Pettah was and is today.

In the Dutch era, this area was known as the “oudestad”, or Old Town.  Where the Fort held the civic and commercial buildings, the oudestad was where the Dutch colonials had their villas and residences, erected along a tidy grid of verdant, tree-lined streets.

When the British took over, much the “Dutch-ness” of Pettah was gradually lost, and the district became what it is today – a multi-cultural hodgepodge of communities and religions; as well as the location of the city’s main marketplace or bazaar – Pettah Market.

All that remains of the Dutch in Pettah are two buildings. The first is the former residence of Dutch Governor, Thomas van Rhee (1692-1697), which sits somewhat awkwardly on Prince Street (formerly Prinsestraat).  It was built in the late 1600s and houses the Dutch Period Museum today.

The other Dutch-period building is the Wolvendaal Church, also known as the Dutch Reformed Church. It was built in 1757 and was the primary place of worship for the Dutch. On its grounds and inside the church building lie the graves of many Dutch residents of Colombo.

Elsewhere, Pettah is also home to some of Colombo’s most important places of the worship, one of which is the Red Mosque, or Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque, a surreal, Indo-Saracenic, red and white, wedding-cake confection of a building completed in 1909 during the British era. The Mosque serves the spiritual needs of a sizeable Tamil Muslim community that has historically made Pettah their home.

Another important place of worship is St Lucia’s Cathedral, erected in 1881 just beyond Pettah in the suburb of Kotahena. It is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Colombo, and it dominates the skyline where it stands with its imposing dome and soaring Palladian facade. This is the biggest church in Sri Lanka and it was inspired by St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

There are also civic buildings here that are not to be missed. The first is the Old Town Hall at the junction of Main Street and Dam Street. Built in 1873 by the British, it boasts a Gothic architectural style entirely out of sync with the rest of the landscape around it today.

Not so far away stands the Khan Clocktower, which marks the entrance to Pettah Market. It was erected in 1923 by a wealthy Bombay Parsi family, and attests to Colombo being a bustling cosmopolitan trading hub in the early 1900s.

2 - Dutch Hospital

We begin our walk at the Dutch Hospital, in Fort…

3 - Dutch Hospital Interior

From the Dutch Hospital, we head East towards Fort Station, and Pettah proper.

4 - Sri Sambuddhaloka Vehara

Along the way… the Sri Sambuddhaloka Vehara Stupa stands at the junction of York Street and Lotus Street.

5 - Lake House

Headquarters of The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited, also known as the Lake House. 1920s.

7 - Regal Cinema

Regal Cinema, 1930s.

6 - Regent Building

Regent Building.

8 - Pettah Station

Fort Station, built in 1908 in a Victorian-style, sits on the edge of Fort and Pettah. This marks the southern entrance to Pettah.

9 - St Philip Neri's Church

St Philip Neri’s Church, 1862. On Olcott Mawatha.

10 - Dutch Museum

The Dutch Period Museum, on Prince Street. The building is a former Dutch Governor’s Residence and dates from the late 1600s.

11 - Dutch Museum door

Entrance to the Museum.

12 - Dutch Furniture

The museum displays examples of Dutch-Ceylonese furniture.

13 - Dutch Furniture II

Satinwood Settee.

14 - Dutch Museum Furniture III

Dutch-Ceylonese furniture

15 - Dutch Museum Furniture IV

Ebony armchair.

16 - Dutch Museum interior

View of the interior courtyard of the Museum, a former Dutch Governor’s residence.

17 - REd Mosque

The Red Mosque, or Jami Al-Ulfar.

18 - Red Mosque

View of Red Mosque set against blue sky

19 - Khan Clocktower

The Khan Clocktower, 1923

20 - Pettah Market

Bustling Pettah Market.

21 - Old Town Hall

The Old Town Hall in Pettah, built by the British in 1873.

22 - Green Clock Tower Mosque

Green Clock Tower Mosque.

23 - Wolvendaal Church

Wolvendaal Church (1757) is the only other major landmark from the Dutch era still standing in Pettah. It was built in the shape of a cross.

24 - Wolvendaal Church alt view

25 - Wolvendaal VOC

VOC insignia on the building.

26 - Wolvendaal Tombstone

The church grounds are home to a few Dutch-era tombstones.

27 - Wolvendaal Tombstone II

28 - Annai Velangani Church

Annai Velangani Church on Sri Kathiresan Street in Gintupitiya.

29 - Old Kathiresan Temple

Old Kathiresan Temple, Sea Street, Gintupitiya.

30 - New Kathiresan Temple

New Kathiresan Temple, Sea Street, Gintupitiya.

31 - Sri Muthu Vinayakar Swamy Temple

32 - St Anthony Shrine

St Anthony’s Shrine (1828), Kochchikade, in the suburb of Kotahena.

33 - Sri Kathivelayutha Swamy Temple (prob)

Sri Kathivelayutha Swamy Temple (probably…)

34 - St Lucia Cathedral

St Lucia’s Cathedral (1902), in the suburb of Kotahena.

35 - Dutch Museum END

And finally….a backward glance at the Dutch Period Museum on Prince 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, Sociology & Urban Studies, Travel & Mobility and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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