What is the capital of Sri Lanka? It might seem like a simple question, but the answer isn’t quite as clear as it is in most other places. This is due to the fact that Sri Lanka actually has two capitals, as opposed to just one.
What is the Capital of Sri Lanka?
Both Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte and Colombo are considered capitals of Sri Lanka. Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte is the country’s administrative capital, and contains the seat of the national legislature. Colombo, on the other hand, is the largest city in Sri Lanka, and serves as the commercial capital.
Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte
Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte was founded in the 14th century, serving as capital of the Sinhalese Kingdom of Kotte for some 200 years before being occupied by the Portuguese in the 16th century. The Portuguese would struggle to withstand repeated attacks by forces from the nearby Kingdom of Sitawaka, however, and would ultimately abandon the city, eventually settling in Colombo and making it their new capital.
Eventually, the British would come to rule Sri Lanka, which they called Ceylon. Following Sri Lankan independence, which came in 1948, it became clear that government offices had outgrown the country’s capital of Colombo, and a decision was made to relocate the government outside of the city. In 1977, Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte was named capital, and in 1982, a new parliament building was inaugurated. Soon after, other government offices would move to the city.
Today, Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte is a planned urban city with many government offices and residential housing. The city is also home to the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, one of the best institutions of higher learning in the country.
On the west coast of Sri Lanka is the port city of Colombo, the country’s financial center and a popular tourist destination.
Colombo has a long history, known for its strategic location along East-West sea trade routes. Because of its large harbor, it was known to ancient traders as far back as 2,000 years ago. When the island of Sri Lanka was ceded to the British Empire in 1815, Colombo was made capital. It retained this status until 1978, when most governmental institutions were officially moved to Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, and Colombo was proclaimed the commercial capital of Sri Lanka.
Today, Colombo supports many important industries, like gem-cutting, textiles, cement, glass, and food processing. As the commercial heart of the island, Colombo is home to many local and foreign banks, the Insurance Corporation, brokerages houses, and government corporations. Colombo also contains most of the country’s restaurants and entertainment venues, as well as many famous landmarks and tourist attractions, like the National Museum.
Why Does Sri Lanka Have Two Capitals?
Ultimately, there are a few factors that led to the decision to move Sri Lanka’s capital to Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte.
As Colombo continued to grow and urbanize following independence, traffic and population issues would soon arise within the city. To counter this rapid growth, the government decided to find a new capital city. Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte was selected because it is very close to Colombo, and had historic significance as capital of the Sinhalese Kingdom of Kotte.
Furthermore, in 1977, nationalist leader J. R. Jayawardene came to power. He would create a new constitution, and would ultimately be the one to move the national capital. Notice any similarities between his name and Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte? There are some who assert that Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte was made the new capital simply because it presented an opportunity for the former President to share his name with the national capital.
Today, most consider Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte to be the true capital of Sri Lanka, but there is no doubt Colombo plays an important role in the country as well. It is also worth noting that Sri Lanka is not the only country to have multiple capital cities. Given this, as both Colombo and Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte contribute to the country in their own way, it is totally fair to consider both to be capitals.
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Mark Heald is an Associate Product Manager and Sporcle Admin. He enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, and bemoaning the fact the Sonics left Seattle.