The Bogambara area of central Kandy is home to a new bus station, a long-standing sports stadium and, oldest of all, the Bogambara prison. Opened in 1876 and closed in 2013 the huge complex was designed to mimic the Bastille in Paris. Odd as it may seem for a prison, this is a beautiful building, a fact which has been generally recognised. But what to do with a former prison, especially one which lies at the heart of a major city? The extensive building and its grounds have lain empty for several years but now, following a couple of false starts, work has started to create the “Bogambara Cultural Park”. Phase 1, the remodelled entrance area and new public gardens, was opened late last month by the Prime Minister, Ranil Wikremasinghe.
The Cultural Park is a big part of a scheme to make Kandy into a tourist hub and the intention is that it will include, when complete, a Cultural Centre, Tourist Information Centre, open air theatre, arts and crafts studios, a museum, shops and “multi-recreational areas”. How much of this will happen is of course anyone’s guess. Plans are the easy part. There are plans for a cablecar up to the Hanthana mountains but we mountain residents aren’t getting too excited about that just yet!
Given the stated tourist importance of the project, then, it came as a surprise to see that all the signage for the project is in Sinhala only. Surely something of this significance should be explained also in English so that tourists can appreciate what is happening and when? The Cultural Park does not (yet?) have a dedicated website either. It would also be useful to know how broad or narrow is the definition of “culture” here. If the Cultural Park is only going to display traditional Sri Lankan Buddhist culture, which is heavily focused on already in Kandy, then it may keep the authorities and the monks happy but it will not bring in many new tourists. Kandy urgently needs a more modern and inclusive cultural offer. We hope the new Cultural Park will provide it. As we find out more, we will update via this blog and social media. But the garden entrance area is lovely so, for now, let’s be thankful for an excellent start on bringing an important and difficult site back into use.