Overview

Trading hub

Entering Pettah is like entering the heart of Colombo; here you can feel the pulse of the city. It is the biggest market area in Sri Lanka, the trading hub for wholesalers and retailers in the entire country. Pettah should be seen, smelled and its sounds be taken, in fact it should be experienced. Business people from all corners of the country come here to obtain the supplies for their stores. The streets are organized according to their products, which are stalled inside, as well as outside. You can get all branded articles in Pettah from Rolex to Nike, but everything is fake! Moreover almost anything is for sale here. You can see so called ‘natamis’ (freight carriers) transporting goods to and from the lorries, running through the busy streets, maneuvering among the heavy traffic. Barefoot and with their skinny bodies, dressed in dirty shorts, they carry the freight on their heads or handle it with a wire hook and wooden handle on their backs (sometimes up 80 kilos); others are pulling heavy loaded narrow two-wheel carts skillfully through the busy traffic. Although Pettah has a mixed population, it is mainly Muslims that run this business district.

 

Transportation hub

Pettah is not only the trading hub of Sri Lanka, but also the transportation hub. From Fort Railway Station the capital is connected to all rail lines in Sri Lanka (see header Transportation). Moreover there are two main bus terminals in Pettah for long distance buses, both located east of the Fort Railway Station. The first one on the north side of the OlcottMawathe is the Central Bus Terminal (bus stand) for government buses (red coloured buses); the other one, for private buses, is on the south side of the OlcottMawathe, a bit down the road, called the Bastian Mawatha Bus Terminal. The latter one has been renovated in 2014. Moreover, many buses depart from Pettah to several urban areas within greater Colombo. The best place to catch a Colombo bus is in front of the Fort Railway Station.

Exploring Pettah

The best way to explore Pettah is on foot, as traffic gets congested everywhere and some streets are packed with people and goods. A parking place is difficult to find. The best place to park your vehicle is near the Kahn Clocktower, on the northwest side of Pettah, where there is a parking lot. However the best way to enter the neighbourhood is by train, by bus or 3-wheeler. Get off near the Fort Station. The market area and all important sights are within walking distance. There is neither suitable accommodation available in Pettah, nor are there enough places to have a decent meal safe for foreigners, except for the Floating market behind the Bastian Bus Terminal and some Indian restaurants in Seastreet. However the area is scattered with ‘hotels’. A ‘hotel’ in Sri Lanka is also meant to be ‘a cheap eating place’. However, there are reasonable and clean hotels where you can have your cool drink or tea and some are also okay for foreigners to enjoy their meal (see the restaurant section).  The market section in Pettah is located within the quadrangle OlcottMawatha – Malwatta Road – Main Street – BodhirajaMawatha. Below you will find a specified list of streets and their speciality products. On the west side of the Fort Railway Station there is a garment and footwear market and east of the station (between the OlcottMawatha and Bastian Mawatha) the Manning market (fruits and vegetables). 

History of Pettah

 

The history of Pettah goes back to the period before the Portuguese occupation when it was already inhabited. Chetties from India used to live in this area. Therefore the Dutch called Pettah “Oude Stadt”, which means old city. It used to be a very fashionable neighbourhood for Burghers. The roads were lined by beautiful almond trees, which provided a pleasant protection against the burning hot son during the midday hours. Beautiful mansions were built in Dutch colonial style with its typical verandahs. The oldest example of such a Dutch mansion is the Dutch Period Museum in Prince Street, most probably the oldest building from the Dutch period. The Konings Straat (King’s Street), was the only street which connected the ‘Oude Stadt’ with Fort by a draw bridge. The Portuguese built a barrier between the ocean and Lake Beira with a moat, called St. John’s Canal. In the center of the barrier was the only entrance to the city, called Kayman’s Gate, so called, because the surrounding waters, including Beira Lake were filled with a large number of crocodiles (caymans). The origin of the name Pettah is rooted in the Tamil word Pettai, meaning out of the fort. Apart from the above-mentioned sights, there are several more reminders of the Dutch and British period to be seen in Pettah, such as the Old Town Hall, the Fort Railway Station, Wolvendaal Church, the Khan Clock Tower, the Jumiul Alfar Mosque, the Old and New Kathiresam Hindu Temples in Sea Street and the Sri Bala Selva Vinayagar Moorthy temple, but also of more recent times, like the new Floating Market, the Self Employees Market and the Colombo Gold Center .

 

Pettah - Shopping: where to buy what?

 

Jewelleries

Sea Street, Gold Center

Electronics

1st Cross Street, Prince Street

Toys

Prince Street

Stationary

Maliban Street, 2nd Cross Street

Leather

Front Street, Main Street

Party stuff

China Street

Clothes, Shoes, Bags

Front Street, Main Street, 2nd Cross Street, Olcott Mawatha (West of the Fort Railway Station)

Fruits and vegetables

Manning Market

South of the Old Townhall

5th Cross Street Market

glass, mirrors and electrical items

Prince Street

English, Sinhala and Tamil music cassettes

Malwatta Avenue

Mobile phone

Olcott Mawatha

Mobile phone repair

Olcott Mawatha (opposite Fort Railway Station)

Ayurvedic  medical herbs

Gabo’s Lane

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