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Historical Description[]

For at least two thousand years, Colombo’s natural harbor and strategic position along Indian Ocean trade routes have made it a commercial hub. The Sri Lankan port was known to the Greeks and Romans and frequented by Arab, Persian, and Chinese merchants. It was not only a convenient stopping point but also an exporter of rare regional commodities like gems and spices, especially cinnamon. When the Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta visited in 1344, he recorded that it was one of the island’s ‘finest and greatest cities.’

Local rulers invited gun-toting sailors from Portugal to establish a trading post at Colombo in 1505 in exchange for defending the coast against raiders. By the end of the century, the Sri Lankans were asking the Netherlands for help ousting the Portuguese. The port became an important center for the Dutch East India Company until it was captured by the British in 1796. Colombo became the first capital of Sri Lanka from independence in 1948 until 1982. Today, it remains the country’s largest city and economic heart.

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