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Colombo (kəlŭmˈbō), largest city (2021 est. metro area pop. 619,000) and former capital of Sri Lanka, a port on the Indian Ocean near the mouth of the Kelani River. The original Sinhalese name, Kalantotta (“Kelani ferry”), was corrupted to Kolambu by Arab traders and was changed to Colombo by the Portuguese. The city's major sections are the old area of narrow streets and colorful market stalls; the modern commercial and government area around the 16th-century Portuguese fort; and Cinnamon Gardens, a wealthy residential and recreational area.

Colombo has one of the world's largest artificial harbors. Most of Sri Lanka's foreign trade passes through the port. There are modern facilities for containerized cargo. Gem cutting is a Colombo specialty; other industries include food and tobacco processing, metal fabrication, engineering, and the manufacture of chemicals, textiles, glass, cement, leather goods, furniture, and jewelry. An oil refinery is on the city's outskirts. Colombo is also Sri Lanka's financial center; a major attempt was made during the 1980s to transform it into an offshore banking center.

The area was probably known to Greco-Roman, Arab, and Chinese traders more than 2,000 years ago as an open anchorage for oceangoing ships. Muslims settled there in the 8th cent. A.D. The Portuguese arrived in the 16th cent. and built a fort to protect their spice trade. The Dutch, also coveting this trade, gained control in the 17th cent. In 1796, Colombo passed to the British, who made it the capital of their crown colony of Ceylon in 1802.

In the 1880s, Colombo replaced Galle as Ceylon's chief port and became a major refueling and supply center for merchant ships on the Europe–East Asia route. Colombo served as an Allied naval base in World War II and was made the capital of independent Ceylon in 1948. The Colombo Plan, an international program to aid the economic development of Asian nations, was launched at a conference there in 1950. Colombo was replaced as Sri Lanka's capital in 1982, when the new parliament building in Sri Jayewardenapura Kotte was inaugurated.

Two faculties of the Univ. of Sri Lanka, several colleges and research institutes, an observatory, a national museum, Independence Hall (1948), and numerous churches, mosques, and Buddhist and Hindu temples are in Colombo; on the outskirts are two Buddhist universities. About half the city's population is Sinhalese; there are also Tamils, Moors, and small European and Indian communities.

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(in Sinhalese pronunciation, Kolamba), the capital of the Republic of Sri Lanka and its main economic and cultural center.

Colombo is located on the west coast of the island of Sri Lanka, at the mouth of the Kelani River. It is the main port of the nation and is located at the crossroads of important sea routes across the Indian Ocean. The climate is subequatorial and wet (2,400 mm of precipitation a year), characterized by monsoons; maximum precipitation occurs in the summer. The temperature is even year-round, approximately 27°C. Area of the municipal district of Colombo, 36.5 sq km; population, 562,000 (1971 census). An elected municipal council heads the city’s administration; the mayor is elected from its members.

In the Middle Ages, the city was known as Kolontota and was an important trade center in the Indian Ocean. Under Portuguese rule (16th-17th centuries), it was turned into a military fort. The Dutch, who conquered Colombo in the 17th century, reinforced it greatly. In 1796 it was captured by British colonialists. It became the administrative center of the British colony of Ceylon. In 1948 it became the capital of the state of Ceylon (the Republic of Sri Lanka since 1972).

Over half of the nation’s industrial enterprises are concentrated in and around Colombo, chiefly food, ship repair, and rubber processing. There is a steam power plant. With Soviet aid, a tire plant, the rolling shop of a metallurgical plant, and a flour mill with an elevator were built (1967–68). The man-made harbor (250 hectares) has a dry dock, piers, warehouses, and an oil tank farm. The cargo turnover of the port is over 10 million gross registered tons. Colombo is a junction of highways and railroads; the airports are Ratmalana and Katunayaka.

The Fort region is the business center of Colombo and has a planned layout. The section has buildings in European styles from the second half of the 19th and the early 20th century (the government buildings, the central post and telegraph office, and the national bank). Southeast of the Fort are the municipality building, the Vihara Maha Devi Park with a memorial column to the victims of World War I, and a Catholic church. To the east of the Fort is the “old city” of the Pettah, a region of small-scale and wholesale trade, handicrafts, and warehouses. In the northern and eastern regions are narrow streets with single-story buildings and Buddhist temples. In the central part of Colombo are rich private dwellings, gardens, parks, and the vast Galle Face Green by the sea.

Also located in Colombo are the state university, the Vidyalankara University (a Buddhist institution), a technical college, a fine arts college with dance and music departments, the Government Research Departments, the Sri Lanka Institute of Scientific and Industrial Research, medical and other research institutes, the public library, and the Colombo National Museum (ethnographic, geological, and zoological collections) with its library. The Chitra Sena Dance Troupe (founded in 1944; it has its own school) is also based in Colombo.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


the capital and chief port of Sri Lanka, on the W coast, with one of the largest artificial harbours in the world. Pop.: 653 000 (2005 est.)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005