It is perhaps Sri Lanka’s most exemplary piece of Indo-Saracenic architecture. The candy-striped red and white brickwork and pomegranate-shaped domes of Jami-Ul-Alfar Mosque are distinctive against the Colombo skyline. Its crimson colour gives it the moniker – the Red Mosque. Located in Pettah, the heart of trade on the island and downtown Colombo, the mosque attracts nearly 5000 worshippers for Jummah prayers. It is one of the oldest mosques on the island and gathers one of the largest congregations for religious prayer.
A glimpse into its history
Although hard to imagine, the Jami-Ul-Alfar isn’t a creation by a qualified architect. Habibu Saibu Labbe, who designed it, didn’t have the necessary credentials. However, that didn’t interfere with it becoming a masterpiece in its own right. The interior is as ornate as the exterior, adorned with Iranian marble, plush Turkish carpets and elaborate chandeliers.
Commenced in 1908 and completed in 1909, the Indian Muslim trading community of Sri Lanka at the time commissioned it as a central location for worship.
Some claim that before other constructions took place in Colombo, this became a landmark that signalled to sailors that they were approaching Colombo. In 1975, an expansion of the mosque took place to accommodate 10,000 devotees at a time. The current capacity is at 12,000.
When can you visit the mosque?
The mosque is open to male worshippers between 4 am to 10 pm. Female worshippers have access to the ladies’ prayer hall between 9.00 am to 7.00 pm from Saturday to Thursday. However, restrictions apply to visitors.
Tourists can visit the Red Mosque through gate no.3 between 9.30 am to 5.30 pm from Saturday to Monday. Friday is a busy day at the mosque and closed for visitors in the morning and noon. Visiting hours are between 3.00 pm and 5.30 pm.
Early mornings are usually a good time to beat the crowds and heat. Avoid peak prayer hours as it gets immensely crowded, and sometimes restrictions may apply. Prayers take place five times daily. Entrance is free, but you need a guide at the mosque to accompany you at all times (free of charge).
What to wear when visiting
Islamic dress code applies to all. Men must wear full pants and sleeved shirts. Women must wear a headscarf and cover their arms and legs.
Is photography allowed inside?
Yes, you can take pictures inside the mosque, where visitors are allowed for sightseeing.
What else to know
- You have to drop off your luggage at the counter and can only carry small handbags.
- Remove your footwear and place them at the dedicated stand before entering.
- Always ensure you have a mosque guide to accompany you. Visitors are not allowed inside unaccompanied by a guide.
What to do after?
Pettah is a bazaar town and a melting pot of multi-ethnicity. You can find everything from fruit to flowers and fabrics to trinkets. It’s a bargain hunters’ paradise, with even gold going for cheap.
Dotted along the streets and alleyways are South Indian eateries and halal coffee shops. These make great spots for sampling rustic food. Explore this colourful maze with our trusty guide. Occasionally, you may need to make way for a nattamus carrying loads on their backs or carts.
Nearby places of interest
Colombo still retains impressive colonial buildings that preserve old-world architecture. The Dutch Hospital of Colombo Fort, Cargills building, The Wolvendaal Church, The Grand Oriental Hotel, St. Peter’s Church, and the Galle Face Hotel are a few examples of the grandiosity of colonial-era architecture.
The Floating Market, Port City promenade, the Lotus Tower, One Galle Face, and Colombo City Centre are modern additions to the city that offer another dimension of experiences.
Don’t forget to stop off at Gangarama temple, Sri Kailawasanathan Swami Devasthanam Kovil, Independence Square, Colombo National Museum, and the Galle Face Green. High tea at the Galle Face Hotel overlooking the promenade and ocean can transport you back to exotic times of British Ceylon.
What to keep in mind when sightseeing in Colombo
- Stay hydrated! Colombo can get very hot very quickly. Carry plenty of bottled water with you. When grabbing a bite at eateries and cafes, choose bottled drinking water.
- Choose a breathable material like cotton for your outfit.
- Wear sunscreen and sunglasses.
- When visiting mosques and temples, it is customary to remove footwear.
- Check permission to take photos when at a religious site.
- Trust your guide when choosing places to eat, drink and shop.
Visit the Red Mosque and other attractions in Colombo with Blue Lanka Tours
Our tailor-made holidays are for everyone. Whether you want to go deep into the wilderness, explore the remnants of a past civilisation, relive the charm of a bygone era, travel through the hills cloaked in tea, immerse yourself in local culture, seek clues for the legends and myths, or do it all, we make dream adventures come true. While Colombo is often a stopover in Sri Lankan travel, we bring you its hidden gems with deeper insights. Experience Colombo like you never have with Blue Lanka city tours. Discover the vibrancy, past and present of this city of contrasts. Which site in Colombo intrigues you?