The Colombo Fort Clock Tower doesn’t look it, but it is – in many ways – the heart of the city.
This spot is roughly
for the country.
The distance of all the roads to and from Colombo (like the A1) is measured from the nearby President’s House.
It is also right next to the Central Bank, which you can see at left in the picture above. In 1996, the Central Bank was the site of a terrorist attack which killed 91 people, injured 1,400 and caused tourism to plummet 40%. The clock tower was also damaged and basically stopped ticking. After this the heart of Colombo became a high security zone.
January 22nd 2015, the road was re-opened, about 6 years after the end of the war. Earlier you could see the tower from Chatham Street, but it wasn’t fully public. Now it finally is, and we took the chance to revisit Janadhipathi Mawatha and take some photos.
This is the center of Colombo, but the road has been closed for much of living memory. Janadhipathi Mawatha is actually only a few hundred meters long, but the length of roads has been calculated from the President’s House here since the Kandy Road (A1) was built.
The clock tower itself began service as a lighthouse in 1829 and a clock was installed in 1860. The clock mechanism itself was built by the English clockmakers Dent, who also built Big Ben. As buildings came up around the point, the lighthouse was decommissioned in 1952. If you look you can see that it still has what looks like a beacon on top. The tower and mechanism was severely damaged in the bomb blast but is in working order now.
Visiting the clock tower will actually only take a minute. There isn’t anything to do there and you can’t climb it. You may want to refresh yourself in the neighborhood.
Chatham Street has the lovely
and the quirky
Pagoda Tea Rooms
, where Duran Duran filmed a music video. There is also the
Economic History Museum
(we call it the Money Museum) right on the corner. This is an odd museum where you can find giant 10 Rupee coins and other somewhat kitschy curiosities.
For more conventional dining and shopping, the highly happening Dutch Hospital Shopping Precinct nearby. On your way there, a random place worth checking out is the
jail cell of the last King of Sri Lanka
. It’s in an insurance building parking lot at the opposite end of Janadhipathi Mw. This was the spot where the last king was held before he was deported to India.
is also a nice place to chill, they have a rooftop bar and a good buffet.
The Colombo Fort Clock tower is not especially tall or particularly noteworthy, but it means a lot to us. In many ways, after the Central Bank bombing, the heart of the city was closed – both literally and metaphorically. That’s why it makes us very happy that this spot is fully accessible again. We know it’s not much to look at, but there’s a lot of meaning there if you stop to think.
If you want to see how the place looked now and then, use the sliding image below. The ‘before’ photo is from The Archives. We’re not sure we got the angle right, but it looks OK.