Dutch Period Museum
Sri Lanka is the only country in the
world which commemorates the Dutch interval in her history (1656-1796) by
founding a Dutch Period Museum.
higher officials of the VOC ( the Dutch East-India Company) resided in the
Fort, which was also called Castle ( Casteel). The rest of the personnel and Burghers who had
settled down as traders, lived in the old part of the city (Oude Stad),
nowadays called Pettah. The typical shady, wide avenues are no longer
there. It was compulsory for house owners to plant trees and to water them.
Trangressors were fined.
English medical doctor Ives, who visited Colombo in 1757, wrote: “The streets are
very wide with a row of beautiful trees. On each side btween them and the
houses is a very smooth and regular pavement. The whole is so elegantly
disposed that we could not help admiring the wisdom and the genius of the
Pettah now is an untidy bazaar with narrow
streets, where traffic passes with great difficulty. Some streets still carry there old names:
Maliban, Leynbaan, Keizer-, Dam- and Princestreet. In the last mentioned street, named by the
VOC after the son of King Raja
Sinha, an imposing building with eight columns is completely out of tune.
This former residence of Governor Van Rhee (1692 - 1697) is typical for
Dutch colonial architecture: high
rooms with a gallery of columns for the sake of coolness. Over the
centuries the building had been used for different purposes. From 1696 till
1796 it was a training institute for clergyman and schoolmasters. This is
indicated by an inscription above the entrance,quoting Psalm 127: Nisi
Juehova aedificet domum, frustra laborant aedificatores (unless God
builds the house, the workers toil in vain).
The orphanage of Colombo was probably housed in this
building. It functioned under the supervision of deacons and was partly
financed by the VOC and partly by private donations. Combats of the English
with Kandy in 1803 caused many victims and created a
demand for hospitals. The building in Prince Street lost its eductional destination
and served as a hospital. In the second half of the 19th century
it was used as a barrack and in 1900 the Burgher Altendorf established here
his police training school. Since 1932 Pettah post-office had been housed
here. During the monsoon rains in 1971 one of the sidewalls collapsed and
the building had to be evacuated. The question arose what to do with the
premises. There was a suggestion to demolish it and to replace it by a
business building. The Royal Asiatic Society and the DBU ( Dutch Burgher
Union) had already suggested that the former orphanage should be restored
as a museum for the Dutch Period. The government at the time was not
unwilling. It took, however, another 40 years before the renovation could
start. The Ceylonese government had to give priority to more urgent matters
than to the restoration of a building from the Dutch Period.
a committee was appointed, composed of representatives of the Ceylon
Tourist Board and of the Archeological Department, of which Roland Silva –
who later was awarded a doctorate by the University of Leiden – was the Director. The NAAL
(Netherlands Alumni Association) and
the National Archives too joined the committee. The Counsel-General of The
Netherlands in Sri Lanka, Mallory Wijesinghe, who looked after Dutch interests
in the absence of an embassy and in that
function contributed much to good relations between the two
countries, was also a Committee member. Ashley de Vos declared himself
willing to serve as the Hon. Architect. Click here
for the proposed layout of the Dutch Period Museum.
was established at the initiative of
NUFFIC (Netherlands Universities Foundation For International
Co-operation). NAAL proved to be interested in cultural projects including
the DPM restauration. The restauration committee in Colombo aqpproached the pioneer of
Netherlands Alumni Associations, Evert Jongens at NUFFIC in The Hague for financial support. The
official opening of the Dutch Period Museum took place on 10 July 1982. At the initiative of Evert
Jongens in 1976 the Netherlands-Sri Lanka Foundation was established in
order to raise funds for the restauration project. It was not an easy task.
Thirty years ago interest in the VOC
in The Netherlands was very small indeed. Many Dutchmen did not wish to be
reminded of their colonial past. How different was the situation in 2002 !
On the 20th of March, exactly the day on which 400 years ago the
VOC was founded, a solemn session
was held in the Ridderzaal (Hall of Knights) at The Hague. The ceremony, attended by members of the
Royal Family, the Presidents of the House of Representatives and Senate,
the Prime Minister, several other Ministers and Members of Parliament, was
It is a
pity that so few tourists during
their stay in Colombo make an effort to visit the
interesting Dutch Period Museum. From the Fort Railway Station
it is less than 10 minutes walking to the busy Princestreet, where at
number 96 the DPM is open for visitors, daily, except on Fridays. Click here
for a map.
information on the museum and on the Dutch period in Ceylon can be found in the booklet Het Nederlands Ceylonese erfgoed. Vierhonderd jaar betrekkingen tussen Nederland
en Ceylon/Sri Lanka (64 blz.). Click here to order and for more
information on this booklet.
Welcome to the Dutch Period Museum Colombo
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