pettah

Immediately inland from Fort are the bustling streets of Pettah, one of the oldest districts in Colombo. The city's busiest marketplace, you can pick up a wide range of items from jewellery and gold to children's toys, fabric material, electronics, and even a bite to eat. It definitely warrants a visit. 

Pettah, a derivation of 'pita' (Sinhala) and 'pettai' (Tamil), means outside, i.e.outside the Fort. The area was created in the 16th century, when the Portuguese, and later the Dutch, built their residences to the east of Fort; and merchants soon added warehouses. Similar to Fort, the streets of Pettah form a grid formation : the widest being Main Street, which is traversed from west to east by First, Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Cross Streets. Each street is allocated a specific trade, such as gold (Sea Street), ayurvedi medicine (Gabo's Lane), Jewellery stores (2nd Cross Street), fruits and vegetable dealers (the end of Main Street), and electronics (Olcott Mawatha).

If shops are not your thing, Pettah also boasts some open air markets - World Market, at the entrance to Pettah, on Olcott Mawatha next to the Fort Railway Station. The stalls provide you ample opportunities to browse through all the items on display rather than wander into each shop. 

Aside from the diverse shops and open air markets, Pettah is also home to many religious buildings. Half way along Main Street on the left hand side after 2nd Cross Street is the Jami-ud-Alfar Mosque with its interesting white and red brick facade. At the end of Ratnajoth Saravana Mawatha (Once named Wolfendhal Street) is the Dutch Wolfendhal Church. To the north-east is Santa Lucia, the Roman Catholic Cathedral, and to the north-west is the Christ Church. To the south, on New Moor Street, is the Grand Mosque. There are three Hindu temples located in the area, including the Sri Kathirvelayutha Swami Kovil (1st Cross Street).

There are a few other sites of interest that should not be missed :

Khan Clock Tower : Often considered the gateway to Pettah, the Clock Tower is located on Main and York Streets. Built by the Framjee Bhikhajee Khan family from Bombay, the tower is four stories high and once had a functioning water fountain! There is an inscription, which reads : This clock tower and fountain were erected to the memory of late Framjee Bhikhajee Khan by his sons Bhikhajee and Munchersaw Framjee Khan as a token of affectionate gratitude and dedicated through the Municipal Council to the citizens of Colombo on the fourth day of January 1923, the 45th anniversary of his death."

Kayman's Gate : This Portuguese belfry is also located on Main Street, towards the east end. What is seen now is all that remains of Kayman's Gate, which was once located overlooking Beira Lake. The lake was apparently once inhabited by crocodiles, and according to stories, the Portuguese would throw their prisoners to the crocodiles! The Dutch, in the 18th century, later transferred the belfry to its present position. Kayman is Dutch for crocodile, hence the name Kayman's Gate. 

Old Town Hall : Built by the British in the 19th Century, the Old Town Hall is located further east of Main Street. In 1984, it was converted into a museum. One of the more interesting displays is the example of early public transport displayed at the rear of the building.

Most visitors find the general hustle and bustle of Pettah's narrow streets more memorable than the buildings. However, if you want to bypass the crowds, visit on a poya (full moon) day, when most people are at home - but again, many of the shops may be closed. 


Look or try..

  1. Drinking from a King Coconut/Thambili (Rs.25). Don't forget to have the vendor cut open the coconut when you are finished with it so you can try some of the delicious edible coconut inside. 
  2. Walk into the sari shops and browse through the beautiful material, whether for yourself, a family member, or a friend. Not sure how you would look in it? Ask them to drape the sari on you!
  3. Check out the men on the street sharpening their knives... that's still how it is done!
  4. Watch out for the men on the road dragging a cart. They are called "Natami" workers. They bring cargo/products/items from the warehouses to the shops in Pettah all day... It really is a hard day's job! They tend to call out when you are in the way, so move out quick so as not to interrupt their stride!
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