The town is largely a middle class and mostly residential suburb that had until now escaped most of the damaging industrialisation of neighbouring cities and urban centres. Famed for its "Golden Mile" of beaches, it has often been a hot spot for tourism and laid back nightlife.
The city's name is built up around the original residence of Sir Thomas Maitland who was the Governor of Ceylon from 1805–1811. At a welcoming party held in his honour on his arrival in the island he saw Lovina, a local mestizo dancer, whose father was the headman of the troupe. Sir Thomas was smitten by her smile and charms and soon found himself obsessed by her and took every measure possible to see more of her.
As it was unconventional for an unmarried British officer to be seen associating with a local dancing girl, Sir Thomas and his lover met in secret. Legend says she was smuggled into his mansion through a secret tunnel that led from her father's well into a wine cellar in the house.
In 1811, social convention and duty to his king, led Sir Thomas Maitland to leave the country for Malta, where he lived and died as a bachelor. The tunnel was eventually sealed in 1920 and the Gypsy village that surrounded the Governor’s mansion developed into a modern bustling city that took its name from the beautiful Lovina. But the governor’s home, which he named "Mount Lavinia House" and his monument to his only love, has been preserved within the walls and high ceilings of what is today the Mount Lavinia Hotel.
The statue of 'Lady' Lavinia, as the girl later became known, is still found in the middle of a water fountain at the entrance of the Mount Lavinia Hotel.
There are other explanations rooted in geography and the natural surroundings, when it comes to the origin of the name Mount Lavinia. The Sinhalese who lived on the coastal belt had for long named the promontory "Lihiniya Kanda" or "Lihiniyagala" meaning the hill of the sea gull or the rock of the sea gull.
The local name for the town today is Galkissa - Kissa being a somewhat obsolete Sinhala word for rock. Legend takes over once again with the story of a large treasure from a shipwreck being hidden among the rocks here.
Whatever the legends, the town came into official recognition when Governor Maitland used the postal address Mt. Lavinia, Ceylon, in 1805, while writing to the British Secretary of State, Lord Castlereagh.
The suburb also boasts Saint Thomas' College, one of Sri Lanka's most prestigious primary and secondary schools.
The governor's house
This historical site situated on a short cliff on the beach of Mount Lavinia, was built around 1805–1811 by Sir Thomas Maitland. Later when the governor's house was moved to the current President's House, Colombo the house was turned into a hotel. During World War II the hotel was used as a military hospital. Some scenes of the film The Bridge on the River Kwai were filmed at the house. In 1947 Mount Lavinia Hotel started operating in this house.
Mount Lavinia Hotel
The Mount Lavinia Hotel, in Mount Lavinia, Sri Lanka, is a 275 room star class 200 year old hotel, situated at 100 Hotel Road. It is recognized to be one of the oldest and most famous hotels in the country. It has been a hotel since 1947, but was the Governors Residence since the 1800s and celebrates its rich history from then on.
When Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) was under British rule, the governor in charge during the period of 1805-1811 was Sir Thomas Maitland. He had acquired land at "Galkissa" (Mount Lavinia) and decided to construct a personal residence there.
During this time, legend has it that he fell in love with a dancing girl named Lovina who had been born to Portuguese and Sinhalese parents. During construction, the governor arranged to build a secret tunnel between Lovina 's house which was located nearby, one end inside her house and the other inside his wine cellar, so that the lovers could meet in secret.
However, Sir Thomas Maitland left Ceylon in 1811 and settled in Malta, where he died a bachelor.
Some time in 1920 the tunnel was sealed up and the Gypsy village that surrounded the mansion was developed into a modern bustling city. Later, the city of "Galkissa" was renamed "Mount Lavinia", keeping her name alive.
During World War II the hotel was used as a military hospital by the British Army. Following the war in 1947, the "Mount Lavinia Hotel" was re-established. Some scenes in the film The Bridge on the River Kwai were filmed at the hotel.
A blue plaque commemorates Sir Thomas Maitland, Sir Robert Brownrigg, Sir Edward Paget and Sir Edward Barnes who resided at the house when it was the Governors residence.