Borella Cemetery

Elvitigala Road, Colombo 8

This is really a wonderful place for a late afternoon stroll, and it's so busy and well alive with activity that even the most squeamish or superstitious Colombar could hardly be afraid to wander in.

We recently covered the beautiful burial ground at Jawatte and while cemetery reviews might seem like a bit of a morbid turn for the site we aren't judging them on their merits as final resting places but rather as green spaces. In a city with just a single park we need all the greenery we can get and Borella cemetery is pretty green- 50 acres of manicured gardens, dense with graves and mature tress. It's really a wonderful place for a late afternoon stroll, and it's so busy and well alive with activity that even the most squeamish or superstitious Colombar could hardly be afraid to wander in.

Of course in Europe cemeteries are fairly mainstream tourist attractions with millions streaming into the Per La Chaise burial grounds in Paris or the Novodovechiy cemetery in Moscow to lay flowers at, or ogle the graves of Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust, Gogol, Bulgakov etc. As the city and nation's premier burial ground the Borella Kanatta also hosts the graves of several Lankan luminaries. While many of our nation's political leaders have been Buddhist and Hindu - ie cremated, plenty of significant personalities have also been buried, there is a fairly large Buddhist burial section and a smaller Hindu one. The most popular, at least with the general public, graves appear belong to Sinhala actors,actresses and singers but the most prominent contemporary personality interred in the kanatte is world-renowned author and 'futurologist' Arthur C Clarke, whose grave is to the left of the main entrance off Elvitigala Mawatha.

Still it's not for celebrity grave spotting that you'd venture into the Borella cemetery but for a little breathing space,and a real slice of the city's history. Cemeteries, perhaps better than anywhere else, covey the history of the city around you. The Kanatte has served as Colombo's principal cemetery since the 1840's and looking at the tombstones you can chart the evolution of the city. From regular deaths by cholera and various fevers in the 19th century to the ornate tombs built by indigenous merchants at the turn of the 20th century. Just about every Colombar has relatives buried here and you can trace the origins and progress of families through generations. The well maintained commonwealth section, which houses the graves of British, Australian, Indian and other commonwealth servicemen killed during world war one and two gives you an insight into the sheer number of lives cut short by the 'Great Wars.' Of course there are also memorials to those who died in this country's more recent and even more protracted civil war. While a bit of grave-spotting will help you get to grips with the broad curve of the country's history here and there you will also notice quirks- what seem to be the graves of dead from Boer War or the completely baffling section of exclusively French-graves dating from the late 19th century to 1930's(by the exit onto Baudhaloka Mawatha).

Pay a little attention to the headstones and you'll find plenty of food for thought. This is an attractive and though provoking place and while it may not be to everyone's taste if you're looking for an alternative to Viharamahadevi park and do see death only as a natural and inevitable part of life then this might be the morning/afternoon ambling space for you. Entrance, of course, is free.


Wear sombre colours.


Elvitigala Road, Colombo 8


Look for the huge banyan tree junction near the British School building - and the massive cemetery trees nearby will be hard to miss.


Open 6AM to 7PM everyday

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