Colombo, Sri Lanka's commercial capital is cosmopolitan and filled with many-starred international hotels, shopping centres and surprisingly westernised; yet with its own unmistakable Sri Lankan character.
As the commercial and political heart of Sri Lanka is a fascinating mix of old and new, with a central cluster of high-rise office blocks and hotels overshadowing red-tiled colonial-era buildings and sprawling street markets which overflow with high piled fruit and vegetables, colourful silks and cottons, and deliciously fragrant spices.
Originally named Kolomtota, Colombo was the main seaport of Kotte, Sri Lanka's 15th- and 16th-century capital. Known to Arab traders as Kalamba, the city attracted the rapacious Portuguese as early as 1505 and became the bastion of their rule for almost 150 years.
The central area of the Colombo is still known as Fort, but the remnants of the colonial battlements have long since been demolished, or incorporated in newer buildings.
There are more mementoes of the British period, including the neo-Classical old parliament building, the Victorian-era President's House (still often called 'Queen's House'), and the grandly mercantile brick facade of Cargill's, a splendid 19th-century department store that has changed little since the 19th-century heyday of Sri Lanka's British tea planters.