What would the old Buddhist monastery of Ritigala have in common with Habarana’s Cinnamon Lodge? The concept of the reservoir which in this case is the ancient Habarana Tank? The abundance of over 2,000 trees that cascade shade over the multiple stone pathways maybe?
Cinnamon Lodge does lie on the banks of the eighty hectare Habarana Tank built in the 6th Century and continues to be an important cog in the irrigation network of the dry zone; and it does have an extraordinary collection of trees, most of which are endangered or endemic to the country spreading a leafy canopy over the 37-acre resort, giving refuge to a coterie of birds, monkeys and other assorted small wildlife. But it is architectural concepts and detail imbuing Cinnamon Lodge that echoes that of the 6th Century BC monastery.
The three primary features upon which the Cinnamon Lodge architecture evolved upon was water, the network of pathways and the raised podiums. The reservoir named Banda Pokuna in Ritigala, constructed by King Pandukabhaya, is believed to have been used for ritual bathing and cleansing, sits at the entrance to monastery.
While the Habarana Tank surrounds a significant portion of the property, architects Ismeth Raheem and Pheroze Choksy decided to create an artificial lake adjacent to the entrance, by damming the water course leading to the reservoir.
The swimming pool is set by this lake, creating a panoramic view from the public spaces of the hotel including the restaurant, bar and upper floor lounge, which overlook both bodies of water.
As David Robson opines in his book ‘Beyond Bawa,’ which features Cinnamon Lodge within its pages, “An obvious strategy would have been to concentrate as many of the main buildings as possible along the edge of the tank, giving direct lake views to a maximum number of rooms. Instead, the architects proposed to dam a small tributary stream to create a mini-tank of their own and used this for the focus....” Hence the Villa Pavilions are hidden among the trees, but nevertheless still afford a picture postcard vista of salubrious green, exotic bird life and water-scaped views.
Radiating from this water garden, sits the next inspiring feature – the axially-placed brick paved pathways that link the individual chalets meandering as it does into the trees, similar to the stone pathways that connect the major buildings of the monastery to the individual monastic cells which sit within thick forest.
The pathways at Ritigala were ingenious feats which sat under the overhanging branches of the mighty trees and burbling streams, testifying to superior craftsmanship seen via beautifully laid interlocking slabs of hewn stone, edged with proportionate curbstones.
Choksy and Raheem used their imaginative prowess and introduced a similar network of walkways, complete with interlocking brickwork along the sheltered shady path. The tranquility that ensues from the peaceful surrounds which inspired days of meditation within the monastery is easily echoed at Cinnamon Lodge, with the quietude and calming canvas of shady trees and tracts of water lending itself to days of serene reflection and relaxation.
Having intensely studied the architectural lineaments at Ritigala, the architects introduced the raised podiums, which were used to define and separate the pathways from the special structures. Archaeologists believe this raised element in Ritigala had religious significance but as Raheem points out, “At the Lodge, the podiums had more prosaic and practical use. Both at Ritigala and at Lodge, the smooth vertical surface stemming from the brick-lined pathways keeps away reptiles.”
The ingenious architectural feature which served our ancient forefathers well was introduced to the more contemporary five star milieu with Cinnamon Lodge Habarana. Most of the 137 suites also retain the element of the raised bed podium, once again reflecting a similar element found within the sleeping cells of the monastery.
Robson in his book also commends other architectural features that make Cinnamon Lodge extremely unique. “The main reception buildings are disposed around a spine corridor on two levels, which connects the entrance porch via a courtyard of shops to the main restaurant and bar. The restaurant building has two floors under a vast tiled roof and employs neither doors nor windows. The remarkable section encourages constant air movement while fending off all but the very worst monsoon showers and creates wonderfully subdued natural lighting enlivened by thin shafts of sunlight.”
To this Raheem adds that Cinnamon Lodge, which pioneered the concept of ‘suite hotels’ and retains this title to date, remains the only property that even in modern Sri Lanka is devoid of doors and windows in its two-storeyed 200-foot colonnaded public space.
“Instead of providing our client with a standard hotel plan with a row of successive rooms, we substituted the idea with a series of individual chalets which could be classed as grand suites – each with its own lounge, bedroom, toilet and generous verandah to accommodate family, friends or simply to sit out and enjoy some peace and quiet.”
While the interiors continue to imbue the architects’ artistic eyes, the pen and ink drawings dotting the property, the glass sand blasted designs in the ‘Desserterie’ and bathrooms as well as the bronze sculpture in the Ehela Restaurant are Ismeth Raheem’s masterpieces.
Cinnamon Lodge artfully blends the esoteric features of ancient architecture and eco concepts that present the infinite wonders of a natural habitat with contemporary elegance, while seamlessly infusing five star luxuries into its product and service offerings.
It is truly an unassuming retreat, set within beautiful parkland and forest, imbuing a sense of being one with nature, whether in dining at multiple locations sampling gastronomic delights that include organic cuisine, luxuriating in the comfort of spacious suites, unwinding under healing hands at the Azmaara Spa or simply creating one’s own space to ponder, wonder and wander!