A Walk in Time: A Visit to the National Museum of Sri Lanka

A Walk in Time: A Visit to the National Museum of Sri Lanka

Museums around the world are the key places where some of the world’s most priceless historical artifacts can be seen by the general public. Sri Lanka is no different; the National Museum of Colombo is an amazing location to truly learn about the history of this island nation over the thousands of years with many informative and valuable exhibits on display.

The team from Classic Destinations visited this national establishment with the intention of refreshing their knowledge and experience of the museum.

The Colombo Museum, as it was called at the beginning, was established on 1st January 1877. Its founder was Sir William Henry Gregory, the British Governor of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) at the time.

The Royal Asiatic Society (CB) was instrumental in bringing to the attention of Gregory, on his appointment as Governor in 1872, the need for a public museum. With much difficulty, the approval of the legislative council was obtained within a year. The architect of the Public Works Department, J.G. Smither, was able to prepare the plans for a new structure in Italian architectural style. The construction was completed in 1876, and the museum commenced its functions the following year.

The authorities of the museum took various steps to display the cultural and natural heritage of the country for this purpose.

With the development of the museum to an international level, it earned the status of a national museum during the period of Dr. P. E. P. Deraniyagala. He was able to open up branch museums in Jaffna, Kandy, and Ratnapura, and a full-fledged Department of National Museums was established in 1942 under Act No. 31. The number of branch museums has now increased to nine, and in addition, a school science program and a mobile museum service are also in operation.

This process has been further improved by the arrangement of the galleries on the ground floor in historical order and those on the upper floors on a thematic basis.

Upon entering the great hall, the sequence of galleries and exhibits is clearly marked, beginning with the early civilizations and progressing from the Anuradhapura Period to the Polonnaruwa Period, and so on. Each hall and exhibit are well organized, with detailed, informative placards on each artifact in all three languages (English, Sinhalese, and Tamil). Some valuable historical artifacts can be seen that showcase the detail and intricacy of the Sri Lankans of years gone by.

The Anuradhapura exhibit is particularly interesting given that this was the first civilization in Sri Lanka, with many well-preserved stone, bronze, and gold statues, carvings, and artworks, as well as jewelry, on display.

The museum has further showcased creative exhibits for visitors, whereby they can understand some of the ancient engineering marvels, some of which cannot be replicated with the same accuracy even in the modern day.

Heading upstairs, one comes across many ancient weapons, including swords, spears, bows, and arrows, as well as many colorful tapestries and costumes. A separate exhibit upstairs showcases the many intricate masks worn in many ceremonies and dances on the island.

After completing the main building, one can head to the Natural History Museum, which is located in a separate building in the same compound. This area, though not as new as the main section, contains the iconic skeleton of a blue whale as well as the remains of many other Sri Lankan species, such as the leopard, sloth bear, elephant, and many others.

At the end of this visit, we at Classic Destinations can highly recommend that one pays a visit to this valuable establishment to better understand the rich history and traditions of a vibrant nation. It would be a great start before heading out on a round-trip tour across the island.

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