Colombo National Museum’s magnificent Italianate architecture houses a wealth of cultural and natural history

The building of Sri Lanka’s magnificent national museum in Colombo began under British rule in 1872 and was finally completed and open in all its glory to the public in 1877.

A beautiful 9th-century stone Buddha dominates the entrance with its presence, seemingly inviting you to view the collection of antique demon masks and 19th-century reproductions of English paintings of Sri Lanka.

But the real powerhouse displays are in rooms two through five, including depictions of Kandy and other ancient cities—and the magnificent royal throne made for King Wimaladharmasuriya II in 1693 and the pair of 9th-century bronze Bodhisattva Sandals.

Tributes to the ancient cities of Kandy and Anuradhapura

This is easily Sri Lanka’s biggest and most impressive museum, and the grandeur of its Italianate colonial-style architecture underlines the fact that what it houses in its many galleries is also pretty amazing.

The tributes to the historic ancient cities of Kandy and Anuradhapura include relics gifted to Sri Lanka by Chinese ambassadors as far back as the 11th century.

A display of decorative royal swords, knives and jewellery that once adorned the women of Sri Lanka’s royal families and favoured courtiers also give an intimate glimpse of Sri Lanka’s colourful history.

Realistic depictions of life in rural Sri Lanka going back centuries

As you progress deeper into the museum, you will come across relics from Polannaruwa, another of our historic ancient cities, statues of the Buddha himself, and 5th Century paintings from the famed Sigiriya Lion Rock fortress.

Elsewhere are realistic depictions of life in rural Sri Lanka going back centuries, including farming implements and the textiles and traditional clothing woven on hand looms.

Another highlight are displays showing how the ancient Sri Lankan civilizations mastered the art and science of water management and irrigation, both of which were—and still are—essential for rice production, the cornerstone of our agriculture.

Showing Sri Lankans and visitors alike the depth and breadth of our history

Natural history is not forgotten, and elephant and whale skeletons are appropriate reminders that the world’s two biggest mammals have been part of Sri Lankan history and culture for thousands of years.

Thus the Colombo National Museum does a great job in showing Sri Lankans and foreign visitors alike the depth and breadth of our history and the cultural influences that make us what we are today.

The museum is also a unique and welcoming public space for those of us who like to get away from the hustle, bustle and noise of a capital city that is growing and developing at such a prodigious rate.

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