Cinnamon Gardens, Colombo

1 - Town Hall

Colombo Town Hall, in Cinnamon Gardens was completed in 1928. It draws reference from the Capitol Building in Washington D.C.

South of Fort and Pettah sits the suburb of Cinnamon Gardens. Its name is a reference to what used to stand here in the Dutch period – acres and acres of cinnamon orchards.

Its name is also a reference to one of the most important spices in the history of the island of Sri Lanka/Ceylon. True cinnamon is indigeneous to Sri Lanka – for centuries, it grew only here.

The Romans and the Arabs traded in cinnamon with early Ceylon. And it was in pursuit of this very spice that the Portuguese, and then the Dutch arrived on these shores.  Believing at first that cinnamon could only thrive in a wild state, the Dutch finally discovered that it could grow in gardens.

By the early 1800s, trade in cinnamon (and the spice trade in general) had diminished. In the mid 1850s, the British cleared out the cinnamon gardens, and relocated Colombo’s Turf Club and Race Course from Galle Face to here.  It was then the idea of Cinnamon Gardens as a new administrative and residential centre of Colombo really took off.

The rich and influential residents of the city moved here and erected their stately bungalows and villas in verdant estates.  Elegant boulevards, thoroughfares and circles were laid between the villas, with names such as Queen Street, Albert Crescent, Maitland Place and Rosmead Place.  Schools, colleges and places of worship sprang up.

Today, Cinnamon Gardens retains much of its elegant and genteel air and is home to many of the city’s Government offices – including the Prime Minister’s Office – as well as foreign embassies and consulates . It is well worth a leisurely stroll for the intrepid visitor.

At the heart of Cinnamon Gardens is the former Victoria Park, known today as Viharamahadevi Park.  To the north of the park stands one of the most important landmarks in this district – the Town Hall, built in 1928 in a style that self-consciously references the Capitol Building in Washington D.C.  To the south of the park stands the venerable National Museum of Colombo, established in 1877 and one of the most important museum institutions in the Subcontinent.

Just south of the Museum sits the Independence Memorial Hall, completed in 1953. It sits in what is formerly known as Torrington Square and today called Independence Square. Immediately to the south is Arcade Independence Square. Occupying a former asylum converted in the 1900s into the Auditor General’s Office, a cluster of Neoclassical buildings from the British era has been immaculately conserved and re-purposed as a lifestyle precinct in the vein of the Dutch Hospital in Fort.

The former Colombo Racecourse Ground, a mere 10 minute walk away, has followed in the steps of Independent Square, in having been also restored and converted into a shopping and F & B cluster.

All in all – the prevalent use of adaptive re-use reminded me very much also of how historic buildings are conserved and re-used in Singapore.

Finally, no visit to Cinnamon Gardens can be complete without a stop-in at these two important places.

I refer, first of all, to the Dutch Burgher Union Building on Reid Street, on the southwestern edge of Cinnamon Gardens – where one may learn more about the history of the Dutch Burghers (or Eurasians), and where one may partake of a scrumptious meal of authentic lampreis.

I refer, also to Paradise Road The Gallery Cafe on Alfred House Road (admittedly some distance west of Cinnamon Gardens and the Dutch Burgher Union).  The Cafe is housed in the former offices of architect, Geoffrey Bawa, who had personally approved the takeover of the property and its conversion into a gallery and restaurant.  The cafe serves excellent local and international grub.

2 - Colombo Club 1872

The former Colombo Club on Galle Face Green was built in 1872. It has been absorbed into the grounds of today’s Taj Samudra Hotel.

3 - Galle Face Court 1923 - Macan Markar

Just across the street from Galle Face Hotel stands Galle Face Court, built in 1923 by Macan Markar.

4 - Colonial edifice

Commercial edifice just off Galle Face Green.

5 - St Andrews Scotts Kirk

St Andrew’s Scots Kirk

6 - National Museum of Colombo

National Museum of Colombo, 1877.

7 - Shiva Nataraja

Shiva Nataraja, collection of the National Museum of Colombo.

8 - Shiva and Uma

Shiva and Uma, collection of the National Museum of Colombo.

9 - Palm leaves

Traditional palm leaf

10 - Royal Seat of Kandy

The Royal Seat of the Kingdom of Kandy. Collection of the National Museum of Colombo.

11 - Dutch markers

Dutch and VOC-era relics from Colombo. Collection of the National Museum of Colombo.

12 - National Museum Interior

The Neoclassical architecture of the National Museum of Colombo.

13 - Banyan Tree on National Museum grounds

Stately banyan tree on the grounds of the National Museum of Colombo.

14 - Houses along Albert Crescent

Stately residence along Albert Crescent.

15 - Sinhala Dictionary Office

Sinhala Dictionary Office.

16 - Government Offices

Government offices.

17 - Prime Minister's Office

The Prime Minister’s Office.

18 - Residence


19 - Royal College Colombo

Royal College, Colombo. The building dates from the 1920s.

20 - Race Course Building I

Colombo Race Course Complex – back view.

21 - Race Course Building II

Back view of Colombo Race Course Complex.

22 - The Racecourse

The Colombo Racecourse grounds have been converted into a Rugby Unions grounds.

23 - Independence Memorial

Independence Memorial Hall, 1953.

24 - Entrance to Independence Square - Former Colombo Asylum 1889

Entrance to Arcade Independence Square.

25 - View of Independence Square

Arcade Independence Square.

26 - Dutch Burgher Union

The Dutch Burgher Union.

27 - Burgher Union Building

The Dutch Burgher Union Building on Reid Street.

28 - Burgher Union Crest

The Dutch Burgher Union was established in 1908. Its coat of arms includes an East Indiaman and the VOC logo.

29 - Lampreis shut

Lampreis is served at the cafe of the Dutch Burgher Union. The dish is cooked in a banana leaf.

30 - Lampreis open

Absolutely delicious!

31 - Paradise Road Galleries

Entrance to Paradise Road Galleries.

32 - Geoffrey Bawa

The Gallery Cafe, Paradise Road Galleries.

33 - Town Hall

Backward glance at Colombo Town Hall, Cinnamon Gardens.


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, Heritage, Landmarks & History, Museums, Photography, Travel & Mobility and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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