Beire Lake is one of Colombo ’s most famous landmarks. It lies right in the middle of the capital and is one of the few places of relaxation and beauty within the city limits. As such the area on and around it has many attractions; not to mention the history of the lake itself.
Beire Lake started out as a much bigger lake of occupying a area of 410 acres over a century ago. But with the rapid commercialization of the area it has since been reduced to approximately 160 acres.
Beira was created by the invading Portuguese in the 1500s, in order to serve as a moat that protected their base in Colombo from the hostile locals. They added many hidden dangers within the lake, such as large crocodiles and etc.
Beira proved to be a huge roadblock to local sovereigns such as Mayadunne of Sitawaka, when they attempted to free the region from foreign rule. It was Mayadunne’s son, Rajasingha I, who succeeded in draining the lake in 1587, hence coming close to recovering the area from the Portuguese. He cut off the canals that fed the lake; but was unable to deal with the additional reinforcements that the Portuguese brought in from India.
After the Dutch laid siege and captured the lake; it was expanded and several islands were formed on it artificially. Some of them, such as Slave Island, were large enough to have a village and/or coconut plantations. People started inhabiting the islands and traffic over the water increased. However it mostly used for political prisoners, as was the case in Slave Island, or agriculture; mainly due to the crocodiles that still infested the lake.
After the British took control they removed the crocodiles and developed the area surrounding the lake. The now grassy banks became popular for parties; and even hosted a grand ball that was held in celebration of of Britain’s victory in the battle of Waterloo. Beira lake became famous for a number of recreational activities, such as rowing and yachting.. Slave Island was cleared of its prison fixings; and Ceylon’s first botanical garden, the Kew Gardens, was opened there in 1810. The seedlings were provided by the Royal Botanic Gardens in London. By the 19th century land reclamation for development began and the land area of the lake was reduced, pollution also began to increase.