Fort is said to be the first landing site of the Portuguese in the early 16th century. It was during this era that it became a trading post and later developed into a fortified base and harbour. In 1656, the Fort was conquered by the Dutch.
Today, the Fort area is the commercial center of Colombo. It is the site of the World Trade Center, banks, the Colombo Stock Exchange and other major business houses, such as Cargills and Millers. It is also the location for several colonial buildings, such as the Presidential Secretariat (the Old Parliament House), the President's House, the Grand Oriental Hotel and the Lighthouse Clock Tower.
Its streets are laid out in a grid pattern, making it easy to navigate within. From the south, Fort is heralded by the Ceylon Intercontinental Hotel, a convenient starting point for an exploration of the middle of town. In the late 19th century it became fashionable to paint the bricks of Colombo's buildings in red-and-white candy stripes, which still exists today (check out : Cargill's).
The Colombo harbour is also located in Fort - the white Samobdhi Chaitiya (dagoba/stupa) is perched about 20m (65.5ft) off the ground on stilts in the harbour - a landmark for sea travelers. Another good landmark is the Lighthouse Clock Tower at the junction of Chatham Street and Janadhipathi Mawatha (once Queen St), which was originally a light house. This clock tower is used to measure the distance from Colombo to the other cities in Sri Lanka. A bronze monument of Sir Edward Barnes, Governor of Ceylon from 1824-1831, stands at the north entrance.
Things to see...
Chatham Street Clock Tower : Designed by the wife of Sir Henry Ward, Governor of Ceylon in 1855-60, the ClockTower, on Chatham Street, was originally built in 1857 as a lighthouse. The structure was always meant to have a clock face; however, it was only 50 years later that the clock was installed. However by the mid-1950s, tall buildings were obstructing the view for mariners, and so it ceased functioning as a Lighthouse. The Galle Buck Lighthouse was erected on Marine Drive as its replacement.
Steuart House : Founded in 1835, the Steuart House is the headquarters of the George Steuart Travel Company. The building retains much of its Regency style and Classical Greek frieze.
Post Office : North of the Clock Tower, on the right-hand side of Janadhipathi Mawatha is the Post Office. It was built in 1895. Its architect, H.F.Tomalin, employed Greek themes throughout, with Ionic pilasters to the ground floor, twin sets of Corinthian columns and pilasters to the first floor. The main hall is reminiscent of the old booking halls in railway stations.
Standard Chartered Bank : Distinguished by its elephant head frieze, the Standard Chartered Bank, adjacent to the Post Office, opened in 1880. The site was once occupied by a Portuguese monastic establishment. Most of the present building dates from the 1930s.
President's House : The President's House is located opposite the Post Office. Built in the 18th century, the house became the British Governor's Residence, and was known either as King's or Queen's House. Visitors are not allowed inside and no pedestrians or vehicles may pass the west side of the road.
Gordon Gardens : Located north of the President's House, facing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Gordon Gardens was laid out as a public park in 1889 by Governor Arthur Gordon. Its presence commemorates Queen Victoria's Silver Jubilee, which was 2 years earlier. There was a statue of Queen Victoria and a stone bearing the Portuguese Coat of Arms. The area is now restricted and off-limits to visitors.
Galle Buck Lighthouse : The Galle Buck Lighthouse was built in 1954 when tall buildings began to obscure the view from the Clock Tower. It was completed with statues of guarding lions encircling the structure at its base.
Panoramic View of Colombo Harbour : Check out a panoramic view of Colombo Harbour from the 4th floor Harbour Room/Harbour Bar of the Grand Oriental Hotel (2 York Street, Colombo 1).
Colombo Harbour : Prince Edward VII laid the foundaton stone for the Colombo Harbour, which the British began to construct in 1875.
Cargill's and Millers : Located on the south corner of York Street, is Sri Lanka's most famous store. Cargill's was founded in 1844, originally accommodated in an ancient Dutch-built house. An attractive feature of the store is its shady arcades beneath which vendors sell their crafts.