Sun, September 2nd, 2018

the Dutch Hospital in Fort with impressive styles of Dutch architecture was once crumbling and isolated. The building has been restored to its befitting magnificence and stands like a ‘souvenir’ in cosmopolitan Colombo. Re-opened as a shopping precinct in 2011, this heritage building signifies Dutch influence and is today a testament to the country’s rich cultural and social diversity. Surrounded by many modern structures and high rise buildings, such as the World Trade Centre towers and cossetted by a vast built environment of commercial properties and hotels, the Dutch Hospital is quaint – in the most beautiful way. It conjures images of days gone by.

The experience begins on its cobbled entrance. The breeze sweeping from the Indian Ocean in the warmth of the evening is a fine setting to experience a relaxing time. People are usually seated in the front promenade of the Dutch Hospital, literally doing nothing, because the atmosphere provides a relaxed stopover. At the end of a working day the street maybe busy with crowds walking hurriedly to get to the train station, yet, amidst the evening chaos, the Dutch Hospital stands like the granddame; still and surreal. The façade of the Dutch Hospital is simple with large columns along a long veranda and large windows facing the street. The arched entrance leads to a courtyard surrounded by four wings. To imagine that this could have been such a sombre place with doctors, nurses and aides hurrying along the corridor is almost unimaginable when one witnesses today’s animated display of colour and activity inside dormitory styled rooms. Large wooden doors and windows decorate the interior; and the tiled roof is held by thick wooden beams. A smaller courtyard behind, leads to the fifth wing of the building, which had been the residences of the chief surgeon and pharmacist. The solitude that surrounds the courtyard maybe due to thick walls that block out noise and creates the feeling of an enclosed retreat. Today there are restaurants, cafés, spas, souvenir stores and retail spaces that scintillate with music after sunset. The cobblestoned courtyard and heritage architecture is accentuated with contemporary street furniture – concrete tables and cube stools – an interesting contrast where history has been fused with modern minimalism. Blending with the aura of the Dutch Hospital is the Ministry of Crab. The restaurant has become iconic with its signature crab insignia that adorns almost every aspect of the space. Known to serve the best crabs in the country in an array of preparations, it represents the delicious popularity of the much-loved Sri Lankan mud crab. The tables at the restaurant are constantly occupied with diners digging intensely into their food. In this backdrop the evening wears off, with groups in deep conversation over good food or others simply relaxing. Everyone visits the Dutch Hospital to experience a place where history has been re-awakened. As darkness sets-in, the lights in the courtyard add to the blissful musings of those gathered. The Dutch Hospital in the Fort of Colombo has been embraced into the diverse fabric of Sri Lanka’s heritage.