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Colombo Fort Clock Tower

Janadhipathi Mw and Chatham Street, Colombo 1

  • Open Roughly daylight hours, it is a somewhat high security area.

This simple clock tower has an emotional attachment for most Sri Lankans. It is also roughly kilometer zero, the distance of all major roads is calculated from the President's House next door.

The Fort Clock Tower down Janadipathi Mawatha is an important part of the city's history and goes all the way back to 1829. After Janadipathi Mawatha was reopened this year, this entire block actually makes for a lovely scenic walk.

As you walk into Janadipathi Mawatha, you'll pass our Last King's Jail Cell on your right (you need to enter the Ceylinco parking lot to visit). As you keep going you get to the clock tower. On left of the clock tower is the Navy base, and on the right is the beautiful Chatham Street headed by the Economy History Museum, a very old colonial beige brick building. Straight ahead after the clock tower is the actual President's House (where he doesn't live) - with towering bank buildings from an old world and plenty of lush greenery.

For more insight into Janadipathi Mawatha check out our previous review by Indi. Here's our photo essay of the block.

This street is mostly banks and white collar folks so it's an interesting to spot detailing on most of the buildings that look like they're from a very old era.

There isn't much to see on your first stretch before reaching clock tower - mostly big concrete blocks, flanked by old style wrought iron railings.

After you pass the clock tower and keep going straight, you enter the neat, green, well maintained street where the President lived. It's a quiet street, meticulous with scarcely frequented tar roads, tall green trees, and charming old, mostly uninhabited buildings.

We visited the place on a weekday and it's a sleepy block. Not a lot for the random visitor to do here besides walk around - you can drop by the Economy History Museum though, open 9 to 5.

Chatham Street is even more interesting than the other paths because, like other old, mostly unaltered parts of Colombo (Slave Island and Pettah), it's trying to decide whether it's old or new. Besides the museum, there's also the Fort Jumma mosque, the De Mel building and a few other charming old structures to make you feel nostalgic, most converted into shops.

The Navy headquarters is on this block, on the left of the clock tower, so the space is frequented by a lot of men in uniform.

This is the reflection of the intimidating World Trade Center towers on a crumbling old glass-panel building on Chatham Street. 

The Economy Museum like the name suggests, has a number of displays related to the economy, like this giant replica of the 10 cent coin we used to use up until the '90s. The museum which was refurbished only about a year ago, is very well maintained and open from 9 to 5.

Janadipathi Mawatha has this pretty cool old banking building at the start, with elephants carved into the walls.

This street is one of the greenest spaces in the city, with a tall fence of trees and flowers hiding what used to be the wide lawns and the house of the President. It's also a relatively high security zone so best to visit during daytime.

Besides the slightly expensive Dutch Hospital nearby, the De Mel Building on Chatham Street - aka Pagoda Tea Rooms - is the only big place to relax at on this entire block. There's also a little pastry shop a little ways from here. It's a beautiful colonial building from 1884, spacious and A/Ced on the inside, with photographs of Old Ceylon the walls.

Pagoda Tea Rooms is run by the same people who started up Green Cabin in Colombo. So you get to enjoy some Green Cabin food here - a great assortment of shorteats and an excellent lamprais.

As you leave Janadipathi Mawatha from the other end that leads to Pettah you'll see it slowly blending in with the environment that is to come - the buildings become gradually more colourful and more '80s. It's an interesting and special block since you get this little glimpse into an old world tucked in an unlikely space between the chaos of Pettah and the Kingsbury roundabout.

Janadipathi Mawatha is the kilometer zero of Sri Lanka - the A1 (Kandy), A2 (Wellawaya, via Galle) and A4 (Batticaloa, via Rathnapura) roads all start here. It's one of those spaces that are in flux - I wonder if the old buildings here, much like the ones in the heart of Pettah and Slave Island, will still be around in twenty years when Colombo becomes more of a big city. There isn't a whole lot to do here, but for all the history and colour tucked into this one small block, it's worth the visit.


The Dutch Hospital and Chatham Street have places to refresh yourself.


Janadhipathi Mw and Chatham Street, Colombo 1


Honestly, all roads lead here. Easiest way is to follow the Galle Road past the Kingsbury and straight down Janadhipathi Mw.

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Open Roughly daylight hours, it is a somewhat high security area.

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