Sri Lanka’s Red Mosque, or Jami Ul-Alfar Masjid, also known as Rathu Palliya in Sinhala, and Samman Kottu Palli in Tamil, is a magnificent architectural wonder. Situated in the lively Pettah district, one of the oldest parts of the city of Colombo, its tall towers can be seen from almost every street, towering over the hustle and bustle of the busy neighborhood streets.
The colorful white and red candy striped Mosque can be found in Pettah, north of the Colombo Fort Railway station at the end of 2nd Cross Street near the junction with Bankshall Street. It is worth the trip as it is architecturally very distinctive.
Red and white contrasting bricks have been used to create a variety of patterns on the flat outside walls or on the columns. It is very near the Dutch Museum (adjoining the Kingsbury Colombo Hotel) and the Hindu temples of 1st Cross Street and Sea Street. Pettah is a very busy, always jammed, narrow street . The edges of alleys are messy shopping areas, clogged with bikes, cars and tuk-tuks. The exterior of the Mosque is well maintained although the street in which it was is not very neat and tidy.
It is said that the Red Mosque has been a landmark for sailors approaching the port of Colombo ever since it was built in 1908, and upon looking at it you can easily imagine that being true. The mosque’s distinct red-and-white pattern, whether swirling or spiraling or alternating, is quite mesmerizing. The domes are built in the shape of pomegranate (unlike the traditional onion shape), and the colorful brick patterns are meant to convey the same image.
Words cannot describe how exciting it is to see the mosque’s tall towers and domes from the streets of Pettah, with its busy markets, shops, and bazaars. Pettah has for centuries been a trading base. Pettah is a strange place, a curiosity, with narrow streets and shops overflowing with anything you can think of. People of different cultures, nationalities, of different social standings roam these streets. But nothing compares with seeing this magnificent structure rising above it all.
It’s possible for women to enter and look around as tourists, but ladies will need to cover their hair and cover arms and legs. Be respectful of religious customs if you plan to enter and enjoy this architectural wonder.