Restoring the old charm and splendor of Grand Oriental Hotel

Grand Oriental Hotel, Colombo’s oldest hotel which has recently seen a change of management is planning to restore its colonial charm. This popular hotel, a landmark in the metropolis, which can look back on nearly two centuries of history, has been at the pulse of Colombo’s urban development.

After 1963 the hotel went through many management changes and refurbishments which changed the style of the interior. Furniture was replaced and many facilitates were modernized. The hotel’s name was changed to Taprobane, but in 1989 it reverted to its original corporate image Grand Oriental Hotel.

"I have plans to visually bring the hotel back to what it was in 1837," says General Manager Nihal Jayawardena. Newly appointed Chairman Rohan Jayasinghe and Jayawardena, a veteran in the hospitality industry, are determined to restore the old charm and splendor of this grand tourist destination.

In 1837, the yet unnamed building, which was previously inhabited by a Dutch Governor, was converted into barracks by the British due to its strategic port location. By 1870, the barracks gradually transformed into a hostelry. It attracted many travelers after the main sea port shifted from Galle to Colombo in 1870.

In 1875, it was officially opened as a luxury hotel and received its name "Grand Oriental Hotel". By the end of the 19th century the hotel became known as a "grand luxurious hotel in the east" bolstering an array of modern facilities such as an elevator and electric lighting.

Over the years, the hotel has handled catering at royal functions, hosted events of the elite and housed prominent politicians and artistes. When the Queen of England visited Sri Lanka in 1952, the staff of the Grand Oriental Hotel catered to the prestigious grand dinner at the Queen’s House.

Famous Russian novelist Anton Chekov started writing his novel "Gusev" while living at the Grand Oriental Hotel. In honour of his visit, the hotel subsequently named the room that had been occupied by him the "Anton Chekov Suite". Dr. Jose Mercado Rizal Y Alonza, a national hero of the Philippines, who stayed at the hotel on four different visits to Sri Lanka had remarked: "Colombo is more beautiful, smart and elegant than Singapore, Point Galle and Manila".

Up to this day the Grand Oriental Hotel has remained a popular location for wedding receptions as well as for business meetings. The "Lotus Room" which is the main ballroom in the hotel can accommodate up to 600 guests.

From "The Harbor Room", the hotel’s restaurant with an exclusive view over the Colombo port, visitors and hotel guests alike can let their gaze roam over the docks where boats are loaded and unloaded and cruise ships pull in from around the world. The restaurant sports a variety of a la carte meals as well as a sumptuous buffet. Other amenities of the hotel include a flower shop, a business center, a tap bar, a spa and a popular basement nightclub named "Blue Leopard".

A mini museum of hotel relics chronicles the nearly two centuries of GOH’s history. Exhibition pieces include a collection of photographs, artifacts such as watches, a cash register and two brass statues of Rama and Sita that had been found while the hotel was being constructed.

Walking through Colombo Fort where the Grand Oriental Hotel is located is like traveling back in time to 19th century Colombo. The majority of the buildings from the Dutch and British colonial eras have externally remained unchanged. Museums, ancient temples and evening entertainment are all in close proximity.

With its prime waterfront location, a sprinkle of history and its Sri Lankan hospitality a visit to the Grand Oriental Hotel will surely inspire your imagination.

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