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The Red Mosque Colombo

Pettah, one of the busiest and oldest cities in Sri Lanka, contains the biggest, most functional market space. If you have ever been there no wonder you have seen a giant, fancy minaret for sure, which is visible from almost every street, towering over the hustle and bustle of the busy neighborhood streets. Yes! That’s the Jami Ul-Alfar Masjid or the Red Mosque Colombo, which is one of the architectural wonders of the world. Also known as the Rathu Palliya in Sinhala and Samman Kottu palli in Tamil.

The port of Colombo, which situated in pettah used to be a marketplace even back in 1908’s. So the sailors used to approach the port Colombo and it is said that they used the Red Mosque as a landmark for the destination. Thus the architectural styles prove the opinion, with the mosque’s distinct red and white patterns.

Ceylon was a hub for trade and was right in the middle of the spice and silk routes, so the traders had to maintain a constant presence to Sri Lanka by either migrating or intermarrying with the locals ever since the Arabs arrived for the first time for trade in the 7th century AD. Most of the Islamic communities settled near the main ports for trading purposes like Colombo and Galle. With time, their community increased drastically in the Colombo area, but the problem was not having enough religious places to worship as they are more towards their religion.

So by satisfying that requirement, the Jami Ul-Alfar majid was built in 1908 in pettah to cater to the growing community.

The design and construction were done by Habibu Labbe Saibu Labbe an unknown architect of the time. He used Indo-Saracenic structural images, given to him by the South Indian traders who commissioned him, as his base; but also mixed in elements of his own. One of the most notable architectural changes is that the dome-shaped spires on top of the mosque are not of the typical onion shape. Instead its shape follows that of a pomegranate; while its walls are painted the same shade of red as the innards of that fruit, along with pale yellow horizontal stripes. This red tone is why the mosque gained its nickname.

The construction was completed in 1909 and the mosque could hold a capacity of 1500 people, though only about 500 attended regularly there at that time. However the numbers grew swiftly and in 1975 the Haji Omar Trust took control of the surrounding properties and began the work of expanding the mosque. In 2007, there was a new four-storied wing built, allowing the mosque to increase its capacity to 10,000. Today the mosque continues to update and refurbish its facilities.

The bright red and pale yellow stripes of its walls make the mosque stand out in the crowded street with all its shops and buildings of trade and business. The tiles of the inner part of the mosque have been replaced with those that have an early 20th century Period design, which gives the entire area a beautifully aged aura. The four teak support columns are still there in pristine condition. The mosque doesn’t skimp on modern-day facilities though and was most recently having an escalator facility built for elderly and infirm visitors.

Anyways without considering any religious concerns, the giant minaret standing in, with mesmerizing architectural beauty will take your breath away for sure!

Credit – Lakapura, Atlas Obscura, The Archives

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