Ceylon as it was then known, was a important port and trading post in the ancient world; it was frequently visited by merchant ships from the Middle East, Persia, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and other parts of South East Asia. At that time, many merchants from the surrounding area as well as Europe settled here.
In 1505 a Portuguese colonial mission arrived on the island headed by Lourenço de Almeida, son of explorer Francisco de Almeida. This is said to be the first colonial mission to arrive. At that point, the island consisted of three kingdoms, namely Kandy in the central hills, Kotte at the western coast, and Yarlpanam (anglicised Jaffna) in the north. Lorenco de Almeida established a friendly relationship with the king of Kotte and gained the monopoly on the spice and cinnamon trade for Portugal. The country was an important colony for Portugal.
In 1658, the island was colonized by the Dutch, and remained so until 1796. Although much of the island came under the domain of European powers, the interior, hilly region of the island remained independent, with its capital in Kandy.
The British East India Company took control in 1796, and in 1815 the British who managed to conquer the kingdom of Kandy became the first European power that ruled the entire island. With the British, came a network of roads and railways, plantations, communication systems, and wester- style medical services and educational curriculum.
The island gradually began to move towards its independence in the 20th century. On February 4th, 1948, Ceylon was granted its independence. D.S Senanayake was elected as the first Prime Minister. In 1972, Ceylon was renamed the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, and it is now known simply as Sri Lanka.