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Located on the edge of the Ashtamudi Lake and surrounded by coconut palms and cashew plantations, Kollam, earlier known as Quilon, is a typical commercial Keralan town. An ancient port dating back to the 9th century AD, Kollam has given its name to the Malayalam era Kollavarsham, which began in 825 AD and is said to be calculated from the date of the founding of this town.

Over the centuries, merchants from all over the world gathered and contributed to the City's reputation as a centre of a flourishing mercantile community. This is borne out by the testimonies of Arab, Chinese, Jewish, and European travellers (Marco Polo, among others). It was also in Kollam that in 1330 AD Friar Jordams was consecrated Bishop of the first Roman Catholic See in India. Kollam's history is interwoven with the trade rivalries between the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English. The town's commercial importance led the Portuguese to set up a factory here in 1502. This passed into the hands of the Dutch in 1661 and later, in 1795, to the British. Today the red-tiled roofs that dot the low skyline of Kollam are a reminder of the architectural influences of the Dutch and British villas. Further, the Chinese fishing nets along the Ashtamudi Lake are testimony to the trade links with China.

It has a flourishing trade in cashewnut, tiles and ceramic products. The delightful backwaters of Kerala begin from this picturesque town.