Forgotten museum in old Dutch spice warehouse waiting to be discovered
This is one of Colombo's lesser-known attractions, but your chance for a real throwback in time. The Maritime Museum is housed in an old spice warehouse with high ceilings and a typical Dutch ‘barrel roof’. The collection itself may be a bit dusty and dated - it opened during the war years (2003) in what was then a ‘high-security zone’ - but has some pretty cool displays and artefacts within its dusty confines. A nice little quirky adventure for the historically and culturally curious.
What to see?
The highlights are on the ground level which still has some of its original floor tiles. We like the exhibit of the mythical arrival of Prince Vijaya, including a ship with a lion head painted on it. You’ll be surprised how many folks came to Sri Lanka’s coast looking for fame and fortune: the daughter of the Indian emperor Asoka, a Chinese monk, the Portuguese, Dutch and last, but certainly not least British. These exhibits recall some of the country’s most important historical events in its international relations - both cordial and hostile.
Large panoramic murals give an impression of what life was like as do the shipwrecks, coins, ceramics and other goods on display. Don’t miss the massive model of a deep-sea diver and we also love the old paintings and maps from the Colombo Fort and Port.
The warehouse was part of the original Dutch Fort. At the front, it linked to the gun batteries and at the back, it connected to the jetty. There was a good reason for this strategic and protected location: the warehouse stocked the colony’s most prized commodities: cinnamon ready to be shipped to Amsterdam and barrels of arrack for Batavia (nowadays Jakarta). Not just that, it was also the store room for the all-important imported foods needed to maintain the morale of the soldiers: cured meat, butter, cheese and gin.