Like many capital cities, Colombo is a melting-pot of cultures. As well as the traditions that live on from Sri Lanka’s fascinating ancient history, European influences are wide-spread across the country, which were infused into Sri Lankan culture from the early 16th century when the Portuguese settled on the island. Sri Lanka was colonised by the Portuguese (1505), the Dutch (1640) and the British (1815) respectively, and each nationality left behind a legacy which permanently altered Sri Lankan culture.
Nowhere in the city is the cultural diversity more apparent than Slave Island, which is the focus of this walking tour. Slave Island, named by the somewhat unimaginative British, was once the port where the Dutch and Portuguese brought African slaves. This section of Colombo is now regarded as a multicultural hotspot and is home to people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, including Moors, Malays and Burghers, reflecting the many different nationalities that have made Sri Lanka their home over the years. The varied religious beliefs, languages, food and clothing of everyone in this community mingle together to create a culture that is now wholeheartedly Sri Lankan.
As you walk through the jumbled streets, your engaging host will uncover the history of Slave Island and describe how it became the diverse area it is today, pointing out the tell-tale pieces of historical architecture and religious buildings which reflect Sri Lanka’s modern-day confusion of cultures. Within five minutes you will pass an English railway station, houses with Persian and Dutch architecture, an iconic mosque and a Hindu temple, located on a road named after Kew Gardens in London: it is a landscape which cannot help but impress upon you the impact each separate culture had on shaping present-day Sri Lanka.
The full tour takes you from the historic Galle Face Hotel, one of the first hotels to be built in Asia, to Beira Lake, and lasts approximately two hours. En route you will visit a tea stall, where you can pause in the shade and sample several types of Sri Lankan tea. There is an optional extension to visit Gangaramaya Temple at the end if you should wish to, one of Colombo’s most famous attractions.