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Updated by Joanna James on May 02, 2024
Joanna James Joanna James
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Must visit historical places in Colombo - Discover the stories behind the buildings

Several buildings around Colombo hold special meaning to its residents and offer an insight into the city's history. Explore these sites to understand the city a little better.


Colombo National Museum

First stop on the historical tour is definitely the Colombo Museum. The oldest and largest museum in the country, it was founded by Sir William Henry Gregory, a British Governor, and is located inside an enormous Italian-styled white mansion surrounded by sprawling lawns and massive trees. The museum houses a library with a large collection of rare books and chronicles, along with 10,000 historical treasures and antiques dating back to Sri Lanka's ancient kingdoms.


Old Colombo Lighthouse

The middle of a busy road in the heart of the city is the last place you'll expect to find a lighthouse, but that is exactly where you'll see the old Colombo lighthouse. Originally established as a clock tower in 1860, the tower, which was the tallest building in Colombo at the time, was subsequently turned into a lighthouse when a lantern was added at the top. The old lighthouse was eventually decommissioned in the 1950s after its light was obscured by now taller buildings that were built around it. A historical monument, the lighthouse continues to function as a clock tower to this day.


Independence Commemoration Hall (Independence Square)

A symbol of the country's independence, this monument is an idyllic place where tourist and locals alike come to simply unwind. Located at Independence Square, the massive audience hall was designed to resemble architecture seen in the country's ancient cities. A main feature is the rows of stone lions around the edge which act as guards. Detailed carvings on the walls are an intriguing and beautiful sight, and depict the country's history and ancient civilizations. The monument is surrounded by wide lawns, water features and quiet walking paths.


St Anthony's Church, Kochchikade

Located amid the bustling traffic, noisy markets and many a hotel in Wattala that have sprung up nearby, such as Pegasus Reef Hotel, is St Anthony's Church in Kochchikade. St. Anthony has many devotees and several churches in the country, but this church in particular holds special prominence, not just to Catholics, but other religions as well. The neo-classically designed church, with twin bell towers and a prominent statue of St. Anthony attracts hundreds of pilgrims daily who pray to the saint for favours, make vows or give thanks for blessings. The church is known for many miracles and is home to relics that were gifted from St.Anthony's church in Lisbon.


Slave Island

One of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city, Slave Island received its name during a period when it was nothing more than a small island where slaves were held at night. The slaves and island are long gone, but the many narrow lanes and various communities that make up Slave Island today remain an important feature of the city.