July 10, 2018

Sri Lanka: New tour app brings heritage in Colombo to life

Dutch heritage professionals work together with locals in Colombo for a new tour app that makes shared and Sri Lankan heritage accessible.

The iDiscover Colombo team hitting the streets to find the city’s hidden gems.

Cultural tourism to preserve heritage
Colombo is the newest addition to the iDiscover APPXMAP series. iDiscover is a non-profit initiative to promote historic neighbourhoods in Asia as attractive cultural destinations. They work in places like Yangon, Jakarta, Manila and Chiang Mai where heritage is at risk. Which is much needed, as old buildings are being demolished right before our eyes, and the intangible heritage – memories, stories and collective identity – might disappear along with the buildings.

Working with locals
For the Colombo project, iDiscover teamed up with Heritage Hands-On from Amsterdam and the newly established Colombo Heritage Collective, a joint initiative of locals from PWA ArchitectsCantaloupe Hotels and Agency RED. In developing this app, the team collected and integrated stories of local inhabitants about the historical city – which still has traces of the Dutch presence in the past. Below, Ester van Steekelenburg and Hasti Tarekat from Heritage Hands-On tell how they kickstarted the project:

“In March we spent a week hunting down traces of the Dutch East India Company in Colombo’s Fort district and getting lost in the alleys of the Pettah Market. We jumped in a tuk-tuk to criss-cross the streets of Kotahena, the city's religious hot-spot, and learned about the little-known Malay heritage on Slave Island. We were lucky to meet so many interesting people on our way and invited them for ‘tea’ in the iconic Grand Oriental Hotel in Fort. Much to our delight, over 50 curious locals came to the workshop. We talked about the spirit of a place, shared stories of the past and mapped their favourite places from the present.”

Further steps
The team will continue to work with local professionals to create illustrated maps and stories for three neighbourhoods. iDiscover Colombo is planned to launch this summer.

This project was supported by the Shared Cultural Heritage Matching Fund.