Negombo –Sri Lanka’s Little Rome
An Ideal Tourist Location with Urban and Rural Setting
‘Meegamuwa’ in Sinhala language, and ‘Neercolumbu’ in Tamil –is a town on the Northern outskirts of the Capital City of Colombo.
It is located on the mouth of the Negombo lagoon and at a distance of approximately 07 Kilometers from the Bandaranaike International Airport at Katunayake. Tourism is its main source of income; whilst Fishing, Ceramics and Brassware too are the other lifelines of the economy of the town. It was, at one time, a trading port. The majority of the lagoon fishermen of Negombo live in abject poverty in small palm-leaf thatched huts on the edge of the lagoon –depending to a great extent on their ‘catch’ from the lagoon and use out-rigger canoes and nylon fishing nets during the fishing season from September to April.
Their fishing boats are of two categories – the ‘Oruva’ which is a type of sailing canoe, and the ‘Paruwa’, which is a large, man-powered catamaran fitted with kurlon dividers –belived to have originated in the coasts of Mozambique, and brought to Sri Lanka in the 17th century by the Portuguese traders.
As time went by, the Lagoon’s output of fish, crabs, shrimp and other forms of sea food dwindled; and the people were compelled to look to other means of earning their livelihood, to avoid incurring greater expense in the chartering process. Of late, the villagers supplement their income by collecting TODDY – the sap of the coconut palm for brewing Arrack.
Negombo is an ideal tourist location, as it is within easy access to the International Airport. It also has the remains of an old Dutch Fort dating back to the year 1672 and also several centuries old Dutch and Portuguese houses, churches and administrative buildings. Negombo can also boast of the second largest Fish Market in the country –the Llelama at the northern end of the lagoon.
The Muthurajawela Marshlands –which are protected marshland which is 6000 Hectares in extent and home to over 190 species of wildlife. The Muthurajewela Marsh is a unique wetland habitat –off the Negombo lagoon; and it is the largest marsh in the country.
Negombo can boast of some of the better beaches in the country; and tourists in transit do not fail to be drawn to them. Some beaches are maintained by Tourist Hotels in the area. Water sports –like Diving and Swimming are popular. A half-century old –but well preserved –shipwreck (Kudapaduwa) also serves as an artificial reef and home for many varieties of fish. The sale of local handicrafts also is a thriving business on the beaches and in the town.
Roman Catholics form the majority of the town’s populace. Buddhist, Hindus and Muslims follow in that order. Due to its Catholic majority the city has been dubbed ‘Little Rome’ mainly due to the ornate Portuguese era churches with in the town, via: the Katuwapitiya church and the Grand Street Church. The Agurukaramulla Pansala is a famous Buddhist temple in Negombo that attracts Buddhists in their numbers annually. The gate of the old Dutch Fort built in 1672 now forms part of the Negombo prisons. The roads along the beach come to life at dusk. Large stretches of the beach are maintained by Tourist Hotels.
The present building of the Negombo prison was once a fort, built by the Portuguese, and reconstructed by the Dutch, in the year 1640 and then by the English, in 1796. All-in-all, Negombo is a town with a varied History and providing rich material for study.