Day 1 (1 of 1).
Almost all foreign visitors coming to Sri Lanka would stop by Negombo, a seaside town less than 10km from Bandaranaike International Airport. Since many incoming international flights arrive at night, staying the night in nearby Negombo before heading elsewhere is not uncommon. That’s exactly what we have done, flying in just after midnight and staying the night at Icebear Guesthouse in Negombo.
Situated at the mouth of Negombo Lagoon, Negombo is an important commercial and fishing hub in the west coast of Sri Lanka. In the 1500’s, Negombo became a Portuguese port for cinnamon trade. Later came the Dutch who took over the town’s control, and then lastly the British arrived in the 19th century. The majority of Negombo’s population had converted to Roman Catholic ever since the Portuguese era. Today, two thirds of Negombo residents still consider themselves Roman Catholics. With its high concentration of churches, Negombo is sometimes referred to as “Little Rome.”
Unfortunately, St. Sebastian Church in Negombo was under terrorist bombing during Easter service in 2019. Innocent lives were lost and the town’s tourism was devastated. The negative impact on tourism and other related business could still be strongly felt when we visited in December. The only souvenir vendor we met on Negombo beach expressed his discontent and anxiety when we politely rejected his offer. Negombo’s deserted beach, vacant hotels and desperate souvenir vendor reminded me of Dahab in Sinai Peninsula back in 2006 when I visited the famous diving paradise two months after a terrorist bombing that killed 23 people. Back then, rows after rows of empty beach chaise lounges lined up on the silky sand along the Gulf of Aqaba. Desperate hotel and restaurant owners waited outside the bus station and approached any foreigner with dirt cheap deals. Today, there are a whole lot of places around the world solely rely on tourism to generate jobs and sustain the local economy. Any terrorist attack or natural disaster causing a sudden disruption to tourism would lead to terrible suffering for the locals. This economic vulnerability may spell unpredictable trouble for any resort town, but can also cause a painful impact for any tourist city like Paris or New York. Resilience, versatility, social unity and a persisted sense of hope would be vital for recovery and regeneration for any town or city after such mishap. First came the 26-year civil war and then the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004, and now the Easter Bombing of 2019, Negombo is once again on its path of gradual recovery.
All foreign visitors coming to Sri Lanka have to fill out an arrival card upon landing.
Our flight arrived at midnight. The airport passenger concourse was surprisingly busy. We went through customs, bought some Sri Lankan rupees, and purchased two local mobile SIM cards.
We stayed our first night at the northern strip of Negombo where dozens of hotels and guesthouses dotted the shore of Laccadive Sea.
Before breakfast at Icebear Guesthouse, we went for a short walk along the beach behind the guesthouse.
On the wall of Icebear Guesthouse we could still see markings from the Boxing Day Tsunami 15 years ago.
With the country’s largest concentration of Roman Catholic population, churches and Christian shrines can be seen all over Negombo .
Looks like another new church is under construction by the beach.
Not the most exotic beach in Sri Lanka, Negombo’s beach nonetheless provided us a place for a relaxing stroll before moving on to our Sri Lankan journey.
The beach is popular with locals coming for morning exercises.
Dogs also take the beach as their playground.
After the Easter’s bombing, Negombo’s tourism has taken a heavy toll. There were hardly any tourists on the beach except a few Western couples.
A traditional fishing sailboat was the most eye-catching feature on the beach, though we had no idea how Tirol related to Sri Lanka.
A local man stood by the boat waiting for any tourist interested to take a selfie on the boat by paying him a small tip.
Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit Central Negombo and any of its churches, maybe next time.
After Ueno Park, we still have time to visit another place before our 18:30 dinner reservation back in Shibuya. West from Ueno, we took the metro to the residential neighborhood of Sekiguchi in Bunkyo District. We stepped into the peaceful residential streets of Sekiguchi, and used Google Map to find our way to St. Mary’s Cathedral, the seat of Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Tokyo. Apart from its religious significance, the cathedral building is also a masterpiece of modernist architecture designed by renowned Japanese architect Kenzo Tange (丹下健三). The cathedral was completed in 1964, about the same time as Kenzo Tange’s Yoyogi National Gymnasium for the 1964 Olympics.
The peaceful residential streets of Sekiguchi led us toward’s St. Mary’s Cathedral.
Cladded with stainless steel, Kenzo Tange’s St. Mary’s Cathedral replaces its Gothic and wooden predecessor that was destroyed during the Second World War.
Kenzo Tange’s version of the cathedral was much simpler than a traditional Gothic church. The essence of the building is expressed through the combination of geometry, lines, shades, and reflections.
On a plan in the form of a cross, Kenzo Tange extruded eight hyperbolic parabolas upwards to form this unique piece of architecture.
When seen from above, the cathedral and its skylights would appear exactly in the shape of the cross.
Reaching 61.68m, the bell tower is separated from the main church building.
The interior of St. Mary’s Cathedral should be a huge surprise for any first time visitors. The concrete structural shell is fully exposed, providing a minimalist interior where light and shades play the role to create a spiritual atmosphere.
Benches inside St. Mary’s Cathedral face toward the main altar, behind which stands the tall window extending all the way to the ceiling, then runs across the ceiling to the opposite end of the building.
The spiral stair behind the seating is a neat feature that goes up the largest organ in Japan.
The large organ was manufactured by Italian company Mascioni. We were lucky to experience its beautiful sound when staff were practicing the organ when we were there.
After a fantastic architectural treat at St. Mary’s Cathedral, we made a short walk in the neighborhood to Zoshigaya Metro Station (雑司が谷駅) for the Fukutoshin Metro back to Shibuya.
On our way, we passed through the peaceful residential neighborhood of Mejirodai (目白台).
The afternoon sunlight of the early summer day was brilliant. The half-hour walk was pleasant and we hardly saw other tourists along the way.