Introduction to Colombo National Museum

Have you ever been to the National Museum in Colombo? It is pretty amazing – you get to see a whole load of statues, paintings and artifacts brought from as far back as the 5th century.  This Italian – colonial style building is located in Colombo 7 and has recently been undergoing some renovations at the front and back portion. With renovations almost completed, a new face of the Colombo National Museum is all set to open on the 6th of February 2017; in celebration of Sri Lanka’s 69th Independence Day.

Initially, the national museum was established in 1877 by Sir William Henry Gregory, who was the governor of the country at the time. Upon entering the museum (before renovations took place), you would see a large stone Buddha statue from the 9th century that greets you with a charming smile. This statue depicts the Samadhi meditation pose of Lord Buddha. Furthermore, the building has its own modern antiquities store and nine different galleries display the artifacts around the museum.


When strolling around galleries that were put in place at the time of launching the museum, you will come across several types of art, carvings and statuary from the ancient past of Sri Lanka. In addition to that, you will find swords, guns and other such equipment used in the colonial period. A total of 1200 antiquities and natural history specimens were put in place when the museum was first established. In about 50 years after its opening, the Colombo National Museum became very popular amongst both locals and tourists. By the time the museum celebrated its 125th anniversary, over a hundred thousand antiquities and natural history specimens had been collected.

During your tour of the National Museum, keep an eye out for the stunningly built royal throne of King Wimaladharma in 1693, and also the 9th century Bodhisattva Sandals made from bronze. Incredible 19th century reproductions of certain paintings are also available, along with an amazing collection of antique demon masks.

Brief Guide to Colombo National Museum

Here is a brief guide on what you will find in each of the galleries in Colombo Museum :

  • Gallery 1 : archaeological evidence on human evolution in Sri Lanka. Evidence was collected from caves in Hambantota, Kalutara, Kuruwita, Kegalle, Kitulgala, Ratnapura and Mannar. Some of these towns might sound familiar to you as you may have visited them during your holiday in Sri Lanka.
  • Gallery 2 & 3 : focused on Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa periods. Aspects such as irrigation, agriculture, trade, literature and language, and religions like Buddhism and Hinduism in those eras are highlighted here.
  • Gallery 4 : is the transitional period gallery where you will find historical and archaeological evidence collected during the periods of Gampola, Yapahuwa, Dambadeniya, Kurunegala, and Kotte. Look out for the Pali palm leaf manuscript in this gallery which was written in the 13th century in Sinhala characters. Another highlight here is a trilingual inscription found in 1911 in Galle.
  • Gallery 5 : the Kandy era. Here you will see arts and crafts including the Royal Crown, Royal Seat, Royal jacket and other such accessories.
  • Gallery 6 : stone antiques found in the Anuradhapura to Kandy periods. These are divided into three categories: Hindu, Buddhist and inscriptions. Some interesting objects here are doorways from Buddhist shrines, water filters, moonstones, and statues of Ganesha and Vishnu.

On the first floor of the museum, galleries are categorized subject-wise :

  • Arts and crafts
  • Coins and currency
  • Arms and armaments
  • Standards and banners

In addition to these, the museum has three major sections: Natural science, cultural and library. The natural science section is further divided into four subsections, namely: Entomology, Zoology, Botany and Geology.

  • Entomology: over 95000 dry preserved insect specimens and more than 5000 wet preserved insect specimens. These insect specimens include those that are common worldwide and also popular ones in Sri Lanka.
  • Zoology: faunal diversity, displaying the largest faunal collection in the country.
  • Geology: prehistoric items like mineral soils, fossils and other such things.
  • Botany: over 1500 dried plant collections including flowering plants, mosses, liverworts, ferns and other fungi species gathered from natural forests around Sri Lanka.

Key Information

As Sri Lanka’s premier cultural institution, the Colombo National Museum should be on your list of places to visit in Sri Lanka. Upon re-opening, the museum will be open to public from 9.00a.m. to 5.00p.m from Monday-Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. The museum will be closed on Fridays and on all public holidays. In addition to viewing the hundreds of thousands of artifacts displayed at the museum, the public also has the benefits of obtaining services from the library. Officers and lecturers are also glad to assist the public for any educational guidance purposes.

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