St Peter’s Church
Tucked between the Grand Oriental Hotel building and the military checkpoint, St Peter’s Church is easy to miss. Although the area east of the hotel is off limits to the public, the church can be accessed by ducking under the military barricade. Religious Buildings
A Dutch governor’s residence in the 17th century, the building was first used for worship in 1804 by the British as a garrison church before being officially consecrated on 22 May 1821. Despite the pleasing blue-grey exterior, the church’s interior is quite bare except for some memorial stones adorning the walls. Cool and quiet, the church is an atmospheric place that is usually deserted unless a service is in progress, and provides welcome relief from the bustle from Colombo. Visitors who are in interested in learning more about St Peter’s can pick up a free leaflet near the door.
A modern Buddhist dagoba, Sambodhi Chaitya was built in 1956 to commemorate the 2,500thdeath. Perched on stilts, 20 m above the ground, with the harbor roads running underneath, it is a landmark for visitors arriving in Colombo by sea. The dagoba can also be seen from some rooms of the nearby Grand Oriental Hotel. Inside, colorful murals depicting scenes from the life of the Buddha and important Buddhist events line the circular walls of the shrine. The elevated walkway inside the dagoba offers fantastic views of the busy harbor as well as Colombo’s skyline. Religious Buildings
This is usually a guardian on the grounds of the temple who takes visitors up in the life and unlocks he door to the temple. There is also staircase with some 260 shallow steps leading to the top. Visitors are expected to take off their shoes before entering the complex as a mark of respect. Note that the area around the temple, being in the vicinity of the President’s House, is a High Security Zone.
Mosques in Pettah and Kotahena
Islam was brought to Sri Lanka by Arab traders in the 7th century. These merchants, who dominated much of the trade on the Indian Ocean, gradually settled in its port cities. Of these, Colombo has a significant Muslim population, with many living in the Pettah and the neighboring suburb of Kotahena to the northeast. Consequently, the area is dotted with mosques of all sizes.
Located north of Main Street, the main thoroughfare in Pettah, is the Jami-ul-Alfar Mosque. Built in 1909, the mosque has striking, red-and-white brick exterior. A short distance southeast from the Jami-ul-Alfarlies the more traditional Hanafi Mosque, which is the principal Memonmosque in Sri Lanka. Further East, Main Street leads to New Moor Street in Kotahena, where the large but relatively austere Grand Mosque stands. The most important mosque in Sri Lanka, this is where decisions affecting the island’s Muslim population are made. This mosque was constructed in 1826, but further addition were made to the building in 1897.
The oldest Protestant church in Colombo, the Wolvendaal Dutch Reformed Church is considered to be one of the most interesting Dutch relics in Sri Lanka. Started in 1749, the building was constructed over a period of eight years on the sight of an earlier Portuguese church on Wolfendahl Hill. Build in the shape of St Andrew’s cross, this large sized church, with a red-and-white Neo-Classical façade, is easy to spot. It boasts an elegant interior, with a beautiful wooden pulpit, lectern and pews as well as an organ with patterned pipes. There are memorial tablets on the walls, and the floor is paved with dombstones. A number of 18th century headstones of Dutch governors as well as those of other Dutch officials can be seen in the south transept. Some of the oldestdombstones can be found against the northeast wall of the church. Visitors are advised to use the rear entrance. The old belfry that used to summon worshippers to the church in its early days now stands at Kayman’s Gate in the Pettah.
St Anthony’s Church
Built in the 19th century, this Catholic Church is dedicated to St Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of lost and stolen articles. St Anthony is usually portrayed holding the infant Jesus in his arms, and a dozen such statues greet devotes both outside and inside the church. However, the most venerated statue of the saint can be seen on the side altar. Brought from Goa in India by a member of the church’s congregation in 1822, the statue is thought to have miraculous properties. Religious Buildings
The church is particularly busy on Tuesdays when people from all over the country, both Catholic and non-Catholic, come to pray to St Anthony, who was buried on a Tuesday in 1263. The church is especially worth visiting on St Anthony’s Feast Day, when it is decorated with brightly colored lights reminiscent of Catholic celebrations around the world.
Beira Lake and Seema Malaka
Located in the heart of Colombo, the placid Beira Lake attracts a variety of water birds such as pelicans, egrets and cormorants. Visitors can hire a swan-shaped pedal boat to take a trip around the lake. On the southern side of Beira Lake site Seema Malaka, a meditation temple used as an inauguration hall for monks from the nearby Gangaramaya Temple. It was financed by a Muslim businessman who, having been ostracized by his community, dedicated to invest money in a Buddhist venture.
The temple was built to a design by Geoffrey Bawa and is made up of a series of three platforms that are connected to each other and to the shore by walkways. Religious Buildings
A short walk southeast from Beira Lake lies the Gangaramaya Temple, one of Colombo’s most important Buddhist shrines as well as the focus of the Navam Perahera festival. The temple was established during Sri Lanka’s 19th century Buddhist revival, and comprises an usual mix of Minimalist and modern Indian architectural styles. The temple complex is made up of a group of buildings clustered around the main courtyard with a dagobaat the centre and a bo tree growing out of a raised platform. This is also where the temple elephant can be seen.
Located across the courtyard is the main image house – home to a large orange-robed Buddha in meditation pose, flanked by elephant tusks and surrounded by devotees. Although the statue is brightly colored and overpowering, the effect is nonetheless impressive. It is also worth looking around to appreciate the carvings on the walls and along the base of the image house.
The wooden pavilion opposite the image house is the library, where piles of antique ola-leaf manuscripts are flanked by Buddha statues from abroad. The upper floor can be accessed via the bo tree terrace, and a walk along the adjacent balcony affords a good overview of the complex. Just off the courtyard, the temple museum contains an extraordinary collection of gifts accumulated over the years – ranging from Buddha statues to cameras. The 1930s Mercedes Benz parked outside was also presented to the temple and is a popular photo opportunities.
Visitors must take their shoes off inside the temple. Note, however, that the floor here can get very hot from the sun, so it is advisable to bring a pair of socks.
Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya
Located to the northeast of Colombo is the Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara, a venerated Sri Lankan Buddhist shrine considered second only to the temple of the Tooth in importance. Earlier shrines on this spot were destroyed by Indian invaders and later by the Portuguese colonialists; the present-day structure dates from around the 18th and 19th centuries.
A fairly plain dagoba marks the spot where the Buddha is said to have preached during one of his three visits to Sri Lanka, but this is upstaged by the elaborate image house. Made of yellow-orange colored stone, the eye-catching exterior boasts detailed decoration with ornate door knockers and pillars; look out for the elephants flanking the entrance. The interior is covered with paintings, the most striking of which are the 20th century murals by Solias Mendis, a renowned artist, depicting the Buddha’s visits to Sri Lanka. Religious Buildings
The three-shaded temple grounds are home to a large bo tree, an impressive bell tower, two large statues and a small museum. Raja Maha Vihara is also the focus of the Durudhu Perahera festival.
Hindu temples in Pettah and Kotahena
Hinduism was brought to Sri Lanka by the Tamil kings are their followers in the 3rd century. The religion’s influence was particularly strong in Sri Lanka during the 5th century when it underwent a period of resurgence in south India. Today kovilscan be found all over Colombo. Many are situated in the Pettah and Kotahena, which retain a strong Tamil presence. Located on Sea Street, the New Kathiresan and Old Kathiresan kovil sare hard to miss, with intricately carved statuary of Hindu deities adoring their gopuram. The two temples are dedicated to Murugan or Skanda, the Hindu god of war and son of Lord Shiva. During the annual AadiVel Festival, these temples serves as the starting point for the colorful chariot procession. Religious Buildings
Another kovil worth visiting is Sri PonnambalamVanesar in Kotahena. This temple was built I the mid-19th century from granite believed to have been imported from south India. It is simpler in appearance than the majority of Hindu Temples; the grey-stoned gopuram here stands in contrast to the richly painted ones seen elsewhere in Sri Lanka. more