Museums in Sri Lanka

This list of museums in Sri Lanka contains lists of museums that collect and care for objects of cultural, artistic, scientific, or historical interest and make their collections or related exhibits available for public viewing.

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1. Colombo National Museum

The Colombo Museum as it was called at the beginning was established on 1st January 1877. Its founder was Sir William Henry Gregory, the British Governor of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) at the time.

The Royal Asiatic Society (CB) was instrumental in bringing to the notice of Gregory on his appointment as Governor in 1872 the need for a public museum with much difficulty the approval of the legislative council was obtained within a year. The Architect of the Public Works Department, J.G. Smither was able to prepare the plans for a new structure in Italian architectural style. The construction was completed in 1876 and the Museum commenced its functions in the following year.

The Authorities of the museum took various steps to display the cultural and natural heritage of the country for this purpose.

With the development of the museum to an international level, it earned the status of a national museum during the period of Dr P. E. P. Deraniyagala. He was able to open up branch museums in Jaffna, Kandy and Ratnapura and a full-fledged Department of National Museums were established in 1942 under act No. 31. The extension of the number of branch museums has now increased to nine and in addition, a school science programme and a mobile museum service are also in operation.

This process has further been improved by the arrangement of the galleries of the ground floor in a historical sequence and those of the upper galleries on a thematic basis.

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2. National Museum of Natural History

National Museum of Natural History which reflects the Natural heritage was established on 23 rd of September 1986. This museum is situated same premises as the Colombo National Museum facing Ananda Coomaraswamy Mawatha, Colombo 07. Even though there is a considerable number of museums in Sri Lanka, this is the only one representing solely the Natural Heritage. The special feature is that plants and Animal specimens which are endemic to Sri Lanka, rare and threatened with extinction are displayed in this museum. There is a large collection of specimens such as Mammals, Birds, Reptiles, Insects, Fish, Amphibians of various kinds of Plants and Geological Rocks. The Leopard of Punani can be introduced as a special specimen displayed in the Natural science Museum. This leopard which was caught at Punani in Batticaloa District on 16 th August 1924 had killed about 13 people. The Skull of Megacerus giganteus (elk) which has huge horns which are displayed in the Geological section of the museum is a specimen that creates curiosity among the visitors. This skull which belonged to an extinct species of the stag was gifted by Lord Eniskilen in 1950.

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3. Dutch Museum

This two-storied large building reflecting the features of a 17th century Dutch Urban house was built by Thomas Van Rhee, The Dutch Governor of Sri Lanka from 1692- 1697 as his official residence. During the British period in 1796, this building was used as an arms store of army hospital, police training centre, Pettah post office and telecommunication centre. This building was preserved by a special preservation committee with the assistance of the Netherlands government in 1977 and opened for the public as a Dutch museum by the Department of National Museums. It has displayed over 3000 museum objects related to the Dutch who ruled coastal areas of Sri Lanka. (1658-1796)

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4. National Museum, Kandy

This building established during the Sri Wickrama Rajasingha era was then known as “Palle Vahala” This was used as the palace where the Queens of the king lived. This building has been built according to the architectural features of the Kandy period. This pallevahala building was used to deposit the various items of historical value made by the Kandy Art Association established in 1832 and technicians of the Matale district. This was opened for the public as a museum in 1942.

This museum has over 5000 museum objects which are depicting various aspects of historical and cultural events of the Kandyan period. (17-19 century A.D.)

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5. National Museum Ratnapura

The beautiful building known as “Ehelepola Walauva” located at Ratnapura – Colombo road was opened for the public as a museum on 13th May 1988. It has exhibition rooms that contain prehistoric archaeological inventions, natural heritage, geological, anthropological, zoological artifacts and models related to the Sabaragamuva Province.

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6. Galle National Museum

The Galle National Museum is established in the oldest Dutch building of the Galle fort, constructed in 1656.
To aware, the public of the traditional cultural heritage of Southern Sri Lanka, the Department of National Museums developed this museum and opened it to the public on 31st March 1986. Galle National Museum displays a wide range of archaeological and anthropological objects inherited in the Southern region. Collection of traditional masks used in various rituals, collection of ornamental objects made up of turtle shells, ancient wooden carvings and a Beeralu collection are important visitor attractive exhibits in the museum. The influence of the Dutch is depicted by the equipment used in Dutch ships that came to the Galle harbour. Large water vessels, V.O.C. porcelain objects and arms and weapons used by the Dutch soldiers are among the exposition.
The Galle National Museum plays an important role as a centre of education in the Southern region.

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7. Maritime Museum Galle

Maritime Museum is the only museum that aware the public of marine biological and anthropological aspects of the Southern coastal area. It is located in the old Dutch warehouse of the fort of Galle, built in 1671. The museum was open to the public on 9th May 1992.

In the aftermath of the Tsunami on 26th December 2004, the museum was completely destroyed and all the expositions were damaged. Under Sri Lanka – Netherlands Cultural Co-operation Program, the Royal Government of the Netherlands provided financial assistance for the reconstruction of the Maritime Museum. After 3 years period of reconstruction, now the Maritime Museum has opened to the public.

The first gallery depicts the types of watercraft used in passenger transport and maritime trading in Southern Sri Lanka. The traditional lifestyle of fishing communities and such fishing techniques are displayed with attractive models and replicas. The second Gallery is focused on marine ecosystems and their flora and fauna. Models of mangroves, seashore plants, turtles, sea birds and marine mammals are displayed with their taxonomic details. Specimens of corals, marine shells and some invertebrates can be observed in the exhibition while a large skeleton of a Whale mounted on the roof giving you a wonderful experience.

The Maritime Museum is serving as a centre of education for various groups of visitors and researchers of the Southern region.

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8. Anuradhapura Folk Museum

Anuradhapura Folk Museum was established on 22nd August 1971 as a provincial Museum under the Department of National Museums. The aim of this museum is to collect, conserve and exhibit the cultural and religious objects used by the folk community in Nuwara-Kalaviya area.

In 12-13 A.D. the kingdom was shifted to the South-west because of the foreign invasions. Several families remained and they lived in a little hamlet surrounded by the thick forest. They were unable to communicate with the outer world and had to produce all the things needed in their day- to day life. The objects they used in daily life illustrate their traditional knowledge. Anuradhapura Folk Museum has a good collection of traditional objects used by the folk community in Nuwara Kalaviya.

Several live size models related to folk culture has been created in the museum premises.

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9. Independence Memorial Museum

From the beginning of Sri Lankan civilization till the present times for about 25 centuries, the service rendered by the Sri Lankans to uplift and sustain their political, economical, social, cultural and human freedom is immense. The challenges they bravely faced on such occasions provide an example and pride to future generation

The aims and objectives of this exhibition constitute the rekindling of our pride and reminding of the great efforts taken over the centuries until 1972 when we regained in gain independence, by our national heroes and their bio-sketches, for the benefit of the future generations.

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10. Magampura Ruhuna Heritage Museum

This museum which belongs to the department of National Museums establish in a special historic building were situated in the “Magama” kingdom. In ancient Sri Lanka, there were thri Sinhala divisions such as Ruhunu-Maya-Pihity. In that period ‘Rohanaratta’  – ‘Rohanaya’- Ruhuna’ area, Kingdome Magama was the ruling centre of the capital of the division.

According to chronicles, the name ‘Rohana’ happened in the early days of the Anuradhapura era. King Paanduwasudewa who ruled in Anuradhapura was get married prince Bhaddakachchayana from Bharath (ancient India) as his chief consort. And her brother prince Rohana came from Anuradhapura and settled somewhere in Sri Lanka. Later that area was called ‘Rohanaya’. It was situated south of River Mahaweli and South of River Benthara and also limited south and west shores. It limits in the north, goes up to Trincomalee, in the middle up to Kandy, in the west up to Bentota and ended with south and west shores.

Magampura was a kingdom of Magampura which was built by prince ‘Mahanama’ a brother of Dewanapathis who came from Anuradhapura. Evidence has been founded regarding this city was the modern city of Thissamaharamaya. This museum was established in the ancient building complex of kachcheri in Kingdome Magampura currently named Hambanthota.

British administrator Leonard Woolf (1880-1969) was the Assistant Government Agent of the Hambanthota District. The Building in which the Magampura  Ruhuna Heritage Museum is established represents the secretariat of Leonard Woolf. Later his predecessors have used this old kachcheri building as it is.

This museum reflects the culture and natural heritage in the region of Ruhuna. The collection of artifacts and models, pictures, paintings reflects pre-historic, historic, art and archaeology situations in southern Lanka. And there is a collection of information about the European activities and changes happen in down south. As well as after independence, until the present time, a large number of pioneers of divers, disciplines such as social, political, scientific and artistic facets existed in the Rohanapura. The portrait busts of pioneers in modern Rohanapura are in this museum. This museum can be used as a research centre from a  schoolchild to the highest level of scholars.

The very special feature of this museum is; it is using modern technology for sensors to reduce expenditure, videos, able to access information through mobile phone apps/soft wears and also free Wi-Fi for the public and could consider this as a modern museum.

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11. Hoods Tower Museum Trincomalee

 

This is a naval museum located at Fort Ostenburg in the Trincomalee peninsula derived its name from the Hoods tower which is an observation tower named after the Vice-President Admiral Sir Samuel Hood, Commander of the East Indies Station. It is located on a high hill overlooking the entrance which leads to the inner harbour of Trincomalee within the SLN Dockyard. The location of this place derived from the small fort named Ostenburg built at the entrance of the inner harbour of Trincomalee. The museum houses a wide variety of weapons, equipment and weapon systems that are used by the navy. Also, the captured Sea Tiger attack, crafts, suicide crafts and LITE weapons are showcased inside the museum.


12. Army Museum

The open-air Museum, perhaps the first-ever largest of the kind in the country brings refreshing memories to life as this architectural marvel, situated atop the popular, ‘Orr’s Hill’ overlooking picturesque and soothing Trincomalee harbour which provides a breath-taking view of the sunset, is an exceptional exhibition site, lying on a rare natural wealth, surrounded by the blue seas.

Specific separate exhibition areas, segmented as Infantry weapons, Armoured vehicles, Artillery guns and a resource person-manned audio-visual room, offer the visitors a wholesome picture of the exhibits, some of which have relevance even to the colonial times. Similarly, the exhibits on display at the location were mostly the weapons that were used against terrorists during the peak of the humanitarian operations before May 2009.


13. Abhayagiriya Museum

The Abhayagiriya Museum is located within the ancient monastery complex of Abhayagiriya in Anuradhapura. It was opened for a public exhibition on 13th June 1992.  The museum, which was designed in the ancient Panchavasa monastery plan was constructed by the Central Cultural Fund under financial aid from the People’s Republic of China. The Abhayagiriya Museum is named as ‘Mahatissa-Faxian Cultural Complex’ in order to commemorate Ven. Kupikkala Mahatissa, the first incumbent of the Abhayagiri Maha Vihara, and Ven. Fa-Xian, the Chinese Buddhist monk who studied Buddhism at the Abhayagiri Maha Vihara from 411 to 412 AD. It centres upon the Abhayagiriya archaeological complex.

The main purpose of this museum is to manifest through artifacts that were recovered from Abhayagiriya that Sri Lanka was a prosperous country that flourished through international relations, and a country where arts and technology harmonized remarkably.

Artefacts at display at this museum exhibit a wealth of information on ancient metallurgy, writing, religious customs, sculpture and art, ancient architecture, art techniques, hygiene, environmental conservation methods, hydrological technology, monastic administration, and time management that existed at the ancient   Abhayagiri Vihara from 1st century BC to 11th century AD.


14. National Railway Museum at Kadugannawa

Sri Lanka Railways Declared to open National Railway Museum at Kadugannawa on 27th December 2014 to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the first train run. The first Train of the Ceylon Railway operated from Colombo Terminus station to Ambepussa conveying the Duke of Brabant of Belgium on 27th December 1864,  This Museum Opening was held with the presence of a Gathering of Special Guests and the Public. A Memorial Stamp, Memorial First Day Cover, Souvenir for the 150th celebration, a coffee table book and DVD was also issued in this occasion A Replica Steam Train was also operated from Colombo fort to Kadugannawa conveying special invitees memorizing the first train run which held 150 years ago. Many old locomotives, carriages, Machinery, and Equipment have been exhibited at Railway Museum and the public can now visit it.

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15. Dhanaja Gem Museum

Ratnapura means the city of Gems where we collected a great number of Gems consists of some rare stones that are invaluable.
DHANAJA GEM MUSEUM is the kingdom to some of the planet’s finest gems, precious stones and mineral specimens including fine Blue sapphires, Rubies, Star Sapphires, Alexandrites and Cat’s Eyes such as Moonstones, Imperial Topaz, Aquamarine, Amethysts, Garnets and fullness of other stones. dhanajagems.com also features educational instruction on some aspects of gems & minerals.
Here you’ll find a lot of rare stones like Andalusite, Axinite, Scheelite, Fibrolite, Ekanite etc.
A huge collection of ancient coins of Sri Lanka started from the 1st century, as well as an Ola Books collection and many kinds of Antiques, You can see here.
All the gemstones and other mineral specimens are also found in Sri Lanka and are available at very reasonable prices.
Dhanaja Gem Museum is licensed by the Ceylon Gem Corporation and is a Sri Lankan Tourist Board approved Gem Museum.

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16. The Ceylon Tea Museum

The Ceylon Tea Museum at Hantane, three kilometres from Kandy city is served by a motorable road that circles the museum, provides easy access and adequate parking facilities for cars and tourist coaches. The museum consists of four floors. The ground floor and the second floor exhibit very old items of machinery and the first floor consist of a library and an auditorium with facilities for audio visual presentations. The third floor is allocated to tea sales outlets, where a selection of Sri Lanka’s fine tea is available. The entire top floor is a tea cafe. A panoramic view of the Kandy town surrounded by the beautiful Hunasgiriya, Knuckles Range and the Matale range of hills can be viewed through a telescope mounted on the fourth floor. The grounds surrounding the Tea Museum are landscaped with different varieties of teas. Kandy is a mandatory stop virtually on every tourist’s itinerary and the location of the Ceylon Tea Museum at Hantane enhances the attraction of the hill country to visitors. Additionally, its proximity to the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens and Loolecondera estate, where tea was first grown commercially in Sri Lanka makes Hantane the perfect location. at Hantane, three kilometres from Kandy city is served by a motorable road that circles the museum, provides easy access and adequate parking facilities for cars and tourist coaches. The museum consists of four floors. The ground floor and the second-floor exhibit very old items of machinery and the first floor consist of a library and an auditorium with facilities for audiovisual presentations. The third floor is allocated to tea sales outlets, where a selection of Sri Lanka’s fine tea is available. The entire top floor is a tea cafe. A panoramic view of the Kandy town surrounded by the beautiful Hunasgiriya, Knuckles Range and the Matale range of hills can be viewed through a telescope mounted on the fourth floor. The grounds surrounding the Tea Museum are landscaped with different varieties of teas. Kandy is a mandatory stop virtually on every tourist’s itinerary and the location of the Ceylon Tea Museum at Hantane enhances the attraction of the hill country to visitors. Additionally, its proximity to the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens and Loolecondera estate, where tea was first grown commercially in Sri Lanka makes Hantane the perfect location.

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17. Sri Lanka Air Force Museum

Sri Lanka Air Force Museum is Sri Lanka’s only national museum dedicated to the field of aviation as well as the history of the Sri Lanka Air Force (S.L.A.F.).

A visit to this establishment is sure to be a unique experience for aviation enthusiasts of all ages. The museum offers a unique insight not only into the history of the S.L.A.F. but also a comprehensive picture of aviation in general including the basics of aviation technology.

Starting from the Royal Air Force (R.A.F.) operations during World War II to the combat operations of the S.L.A.F. in the recent past, the museum offers a detailed depiction of the evolution that has shaped the S.L.A.F. into the highly successful fighting force it is today.

The museum was first established as a fully-fledged formation in 1993 as the Aircraft Preservation and Storage Unit at Air Force Base Ratmalana with the intention of preserving the history of aviation in Sri Lanka in general and the history of S.L.A.F. in particular. Further being located within an operational airbase gives the museum a novel real-life appeal.

The present form of the museum was initiated by Air Chief Marshal WDMRJ Goonetileke, the 12th Commander of the Sri Lanka Air Force, who initiated a special project in 2008 with the intention of modernizing the Museum. Under this project, the Aircraft Preservation and Storage Unit which functioned as the custodian of the invaluable historical artifacts, at that time, was restructured as the Sri Lanka Air Force Museum and New Exhibits and facilities have been added to the Sri Lanka Air Force Museum to make it a very modern museum with up to date facilities.

A comprehensive Aviation Research Reference Library was opened on 11th March 2013 under the continuous modernizing efforts initiated by Air Marshal HD Abeywickrama which provides the opportunities for any enthusiast to conduct research in the Aviation field. A fully-fledged ‘Craft Lab’ was integrated into the facility on 19th Sep 2014 under the patronage of Air Marshal KA Gunathilake. This ‘Craft Lab’ is specialized in handcrafting the wooden scaled models of aircraft currently operational and also taken out of service.

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18. Mask Meusum Ambalangoda

This museum is designed to introduce the richness of the mask tradition of Ambalangoda and to strengthen this cultural heritage. The museum, the workshop and the small library (containing all available anthropological literature on masks performances) may serve as a centre for traditional arts and crafts and for research as well. The Karava people (fisher community) living in the western and south-western coastal areas of Sri Lanka have developed a great variety of social customs. The southwest coast area, es-specially Ambalangoda is particularly well known for its masks plays and rituals that are performed on different occasions. Among these performances, there are two famous ones, the Kolam Maduwa and the rituals to expel evil demons which cause diseases. For many decades, the famous masks have been highly appreciated by private and museum collectors and other experts. But for economic reasons mainly especially the Kolam Dances fell into disuse during the last 3o to 5o years and were performed only very seldom, on the other side, mask carving has now developed into a cottage industry. Of all the well-known carvers of the area, only the Wijesooriya family is now preserving the elaborated traditional art of carving masks. In order to save the local cultural heritage, the Wijesooriya family has under¬taken the task to carve a complete set of all masks, 12o in number. For lack of space, how¬ever, not all these masks can be exhibited here. To illustrate this revival in traditional car¬ving and mask performances two sets of masks are exhibited here. They belong to the Kolam Maduwa and to the Sanni Yakuma ritual as per¬formed in Batapola and Ambalangoda in 1985 and 1986.

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19. Colombo Port Maritime Museum

 

The Colombo Port Maritime Museum also known as the Sri Lanka Ports Authority Maritime Museum is situated on Chaithya Road in Colombo, adjacent to the Colombo Port. It is operated and maintained by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority. The museum building was formerly a Dutch prison and is the only Dutch period building that exists up to date within the Colombo Port area. It was established in August 2003 and displays various artifacts in connection with the history of the port of the country, the maritime industry and the ocean surrounding the country such as model exhibits of ships and sculptures of significant characters such as King Vijaya.


20. Jaffna Archaeological Museum

The Jaffna Archaeological Museum is located in Nallur, Jaffna. This building was surprisingly not affected by the war. The construction started in 1976 after the land was given by Arumuga Navalar Foundation and was completed about 10 years later. The front section is named Navalar Cultural Hall and the museum houses many ancient artifacts and collections from the Buddhist and Hindu religions which are in various forms of metal, wood and stone. The collections range from the ancient era to the colonial era. You can also see some of the archaeological excavation findings of Kandarodai led by P.E. Pieris in 1917-1919, of which are 15th-century statues of Buddha and 14th century ‘seven-mouthed’ pot and a pair of cannons of the Dutch Fort. There are many ancient coins from different historical periods.
The Museum is open for visitors from 8:00 am to 4:45 pm, except on public holidays and Tuesdays.


21. Ancient Technology Museum – Polonnaruwa

The tool or strategy used to accomplish a certain activity effectively is called ‘Technology’. Technology is of immense use and more practical in any action when principles of nature are applied. From the inception of humanity, technology too was improved to the extent that the human brain developed. The development of technology depended mainly on the needs of human beings. Sri Lanka has a recorded history of over 2500 years. From ancient times, the Sri Lankans used very high-quality tools and strategies to accomplish their activities effectively. When compared with the other ancient civilizations, the technology practised by the Sri Lankans were at very high levels as it was particularly entwined with the local environment, culture and the status of the society. Among them, there are technological features that originated, improved, developed locally and gifted to the world at the peak of their development. The Bisokotuva technology, associated with irrigation ,Sthupa technology , Metal technology, Naval technology are such examples. Meanwhile, certain other features influenced by the neighbouring India developed to suit the local cultural and environmental factors are extant to date. Among them, some excellent features could be identified.

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