The wild cinnamon that grew in the region around Negombo was said to be “the very best in the universe as well as the most abundant” and for centuries attracted a succession of foreign traders and colonial powers. The shallow waters of the Negombo Lagoon provided safe shelter for seafaring vessels and became one of the key ports (along with Kalpitiya, Puttalam, Salavata, Kammala, Colombo, Kalutara, Beruwala and Galle) from which the Singhalese kingdoms conducted external trade.The first Muslim Arabs (the Moors) arrived in Ceylon in the seventh and eighth centuries and eventually dominated the east-west trade routes. Many chose to settle in the coastal areas, and their descendants the Sri Lankan Moors remain the largest minority group in Negombo.The Moors’ long-held monopoly over the cinnamon trade, and the circuitous and largely overland route by which it was transported to Europe and the Mediterranean, added greatly to its cost. It encouraged a Portuguese takeover in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century.Landing in the early 1500s, the Portuguese ousted the Moors, constructed a fort in Negombo and took over the trade of cinnamon to the West. During the Portuguese occupation, the Karawa (traditional fishing clan of Negombo) embraced Catholicism almost without exception. So successfully were they converted that today Negombo is sometimes known as ‘Little Rome’ and nearly two thirds of its population profess the Catholic faith.Throughout the eighteenth century the demand for cinnamon from Ceylon outstripped the supply, and its quality appears to have suffered. Other factors, including the continued hostility from the Kandian government and a rival cinnamon trade from China, led to a 40% decline in the volume of cinnamon exported between 1785 and 1791. Despite attempts to clear land around Negombo and create cinnamon plantations, by the time the British commander Colonel Stuart took over the trade in 1796, it was clear that the industry was in decline. Poor policies put in place by Frederick North the first Governor of British Ceylon exacerbated the problem. By the 1830s commercial interest had moved elsewhere.Following the British takeover of the Kingdom of Kandy in 1815, Negombo lost its strategic value as an outpost of Colombo. However it continued to develop in commercial influence. The Negombo fishery was at the heart of the seafood trade in Ceylon, and many migrant fisherman arrived annually with the profits of their ventures going into the small, prosperous town. In 1907 Negombo was connected to the massive railway project that was linking the island together under British control and encouraging the growth of plantations in coconuts, tea and coffee.