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Treasures from colonial days


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It’s encouraging see the Philatelic Bureau using a bit of imagination. Over the past few months, there has been a distinct change in the policy on stamp issues. We have had a few issues on environment, nature, wildlife and so on. There was a time when we were saddled with faces of the so-called ‘distinguished personalities.’  We wondered how some of them came to be in that category.

Even at this late hour, it’s good that someone is doing a little bit of thinking about what the country’s stamps should depict. Makes one wonder whether the Ministry of Postal Services Secretary is a stamp collector and guides the officials on the right path.

Last week, four stamps were released on the theme ‘colonial buildings.’ It was a commemorative Issue. Each was of Rs. 15 denomination.  Designer Vasantha Perera has done a good job in keeping the designs simple and neat.

We have gotten used to seeing these buildings around for a long time. Some of them have been in existence from the early days of the British rule. The Galle Face Hotel, for example, is 148 years old. Considered the oldest purpose-built hotel east of Suez Canal, it originally catered to the guests of the then Colonial Governor. The Galle Face green added an ideal setting for the hotel. That was how the hotel got the name.

Three British businessmen established the hotel in February 1864.Over the years, the 160-room hotel has had distinguished visitors. World leaders and celebrities have stayed there over the years. Arthur C. Clarke was a regular occupant. He had spoken of the hotel as being “ideal” to write his books.

Though the hotel has been refurnished several times, the old look remains. Its colonial architecture and character has not changed. That’s its attraction. The sea front makes it a perfect place to relax.

The Colombo National Museum has been in existence since 1 January 1877.

Following a request by the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Governor William Gregory, being a man of erudition and scholarship, proposed a motion to the Legislative Council to include Rs. 50,000 for a museum. That was in September 1872. The two-storied building was designed and constructed by the Public Works Department (PWD).

The designer was James G. Smith of the PWD and he based it on Italian architecture. Open verandas, arches and pillars were key features. At the entrance is a porch with a balcony. It’s on a seven-acre land at Albert Crescent tin Cinnamon Gardens.

Construction work had started in 1874 and was completed two years later at a cost of Rs. 119,993.93, to be exact. The building contractors were W. Marikkar and S. M. Perera. The original building exists to this day.

The old Parliament building presently houses the Presidential Secretariat. It was the home of the people’s representatives – firstly the Legislative Council in the 1930s followed by the State Council (1931-47), the House of Representatives (1947-72), the National State Assembly (1972-78) and the Parliament of Sri Lanka (1978 – 82) until it was shifted to Sri Jayawardenapura.

The project was initiated by Governor Sir Henry MaCallum in 1912 who selected a reclaimed land site at the northern end of Galle Face between the military barracks and the Beira lake.

Based on the Ionic style, it resembles the Parthenon, the chief temple of the Greek goddess, Athena, on the hill of the Acropolis at Athens. Special precautions were taken in laying the foundation due to the nature of the soil and the entire structure is set on heavy reinforced concrete piles. The building has been arranged so as to have an open view and to have the benefit of cross breezes.

The Town Hall – the home of the Colombo Town Hall – is relatively new compared to the others. In a competition, the design submitted by S. J. Edwards won. Construction began in 1924 by A. A. Gammon & Co. and was completed in 1928. 354 feet in length and 168 feet wide, the building was regarded as the best building of its kind in the east at the time. The total height equals its width.

Incidentally, the Postal Department deserves praise for using a special seal for the First Day Cover. The seal depicting the Fort clock tower has been used carefully without disturbing the stamp designs. Well done!


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