Colombo is the largest city of Sri Lanka. It is also the commercial capital of the country. The name Colombo is derived from Sinhala name ‘Kola-amba-thota' which means, "harbour with leafy mango trees". The Portuguese reached the city in the 16th century and built a fort after driving out its Muslim inhabitants. In 1656, Dutch captured the city and it was made the capital of the Maritime Provinces. In 1802, British turned Colombo into the capital of their crown colony of Ceylon. The city developed much and area known as pettah became the commercial hub of Sri Lanka. All this collapsed when the conflict between the Government of Sri Lanka and Tamil Tiger rebels in the northeast began in the country affecting its entire economic strength. In 1980s, the city lost its status as the capital of Sri Lanka and Sri Jayawardenepura has been awarded with this status. Still, it is the hub of all major offices of the country. It is a charter city, with a Mayor Council form of government.
History of Colombo - Colombo had its beginnings in the 5th century AD, as a small port town, eventually developing into one of the capitals of Anuradhapura – a major Sinhalese kingdom. The original inhabitants of this island country were known as Veddahs and most likely came from the Indian sub-continent, while the Singhalese arrived later in the 5th or 6th century BC.
By the 8th century, Arab traders had arrived in Colombo and remained until the 10th century, by which time attacks by southern Indian, Chinese and Malays had become commonplace. These invasions continued until the early 16th century, when the Portuguese arrived.
The Portuguese began colonising the coastal area north and south of Colombo, and came to monopolise trade. Local residents tried to enlist aid from the Dutch to drive out the Portuguese, with the result being domination by the Dutch for more than 140 years.
By the end of the 18th century, British forces overthrew the Dutch and expanded their hold to control the entire island. During the period of British rule, the Fort area was created in Colombo and Tamils from the southern regions of India were brought to Sri Lanka, in large numbers, to work on coffee plantations across the island. It was during this time that Colombo became the country's capital.
In 1948, the country won independence from Britain, and shortly thereafter tensions developed between the Sinhalese and the Tamils, particularly after the introduction of Sinhalese as the nation's official language and of laws preventing Tamils from enjoying equal rights to education.
By the 1970s, the tensions escalated to violence and the government imposed its first state of emergency. In the late 1980s, India intervened to restore peace, an act that proved to be unsuccessful. Indian peacekeepers withdrew in 1990 and warfare continued as peace talks failed to relieve tensions.
Today, tensions remain, and the conflict between the government and Tamil Tiger separatists occasional re-emerges although fighting is largely confined to the northern and eastern regions of the country. Colombo is usually unaffected, although terrorist acts have been perpetrated in the city. In spite of the unstable situation, Colombo attracts large numbers of tourists, who use the city as a base for exploration of this fascinating island.