Colombo Pettah crowded shopping streets in Sri Lanka

Pettah is an area of Colombo in Sri Lanka just north of the Colombo Fort Railway Station. It is always buzzing with shoppers, merchants and vehicles in its narrow congested scruffy streets. I did not find it a pleasant experience.

Colombo Pettah

Crowded shopping streets in the area called Pettah just north of Colombo Fort Railway Station

It was hot, smelly and most of what was on sale was third rate or fake. Why would you include Pettah on your tourist list of things to see? The answer is the Old Dutch Museum at 95 Prince Street, the Hindu temples in 1st Cross Street and Sea Street and the red and white candy stripped Mosque in 2nd Cross Street.

In the old days the area was very different. Because it was near the port rich merchants built grand family houses and warehouse on wide shade giving tree lined streets that boasted clean smooth pavements. With the increase in trade there was a demand for land.

The density of construction increased as large plots were sold so that multi-occupancy units could be constructed and bring in a higher rental income for Landlords. The goods that were imported needed a street frontage shop to display and sell these items. The docks needed a labour force so more housing was built.

Colombo Pettah

Banana transportation in Pettah just north of Colombo Fort Railway Station

The local residents needed nearby shops to buy food, clothing and household items so more shops appeared to serve the residential population of Pettah. A busy Bazaar was born. The population is a mix of Sinhalese and Tamils. Because of the port there is a large community of Muslims that date back to the early Arab traders.

Colombo Pettah

Wedding Saree shop in Pettah just north of Colombo Fort Railway Station

In Europe the area of Pettah would have been classified as a zone of ex-mural development. Buildings that have been built outside the protective walls of a fortress. Pettah comes from the Tamil word pettai which means outer skirt. Fortified town walls are often referred to as 'skirt walls' so this Tamil word fits.

As you walk around the streets you find some very strange sights. Overloading bikes, scooters, Tuk-tuks and hand drawn carts is very common. Pettah is famous for its shops that serve the wedding industry, You will see many colourful wedding sarees on display in windows or hanging up. All the necessary items needed for a large wedding are also on sale including lots of gold jewellery.

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