Located along the southern coastal belt, Matara, about a two hours drive from Colombo via the Southern Expressway was once a citadel of the ancient Kingdom of Ruhuna. The town has come a long way from its historic roots where it is now a hub of activity of all of the modern kind. Once a stronghold of the Dutch (and the Portuguese before that) who occupied the country during the 17th and 18th Centuries, the area has quite a few structures built during the Dutch period that reflects the Colonial heritage of the country.
The Matara Dutch Fort, built by the Dutch in 1645 and then handed over to the British in 1796, still stands strong and proud at the centre of the town. The ramparts and the gateway have been constructed using limestone, granite and coral. Small modifications have been done so that the Fort seamlessly integrates with the town. Inside the Fort there is much to see, the main structure being the Dutch Reformatory Church, the oldest building within the fortification with a history spanning over 300 years. Inside the church are gravestones with dates running as far back as the 1600s. You can explore the Fort on foot or by vehicle, and view the many buildings that have gone through various stages of renovation. For those who love to explore the country's Dutch Heritage this a place you must visit.
Star Fort and Mahanama Bridge
Outside the Fort, you will be able to see the Mahanama Bridge across the Nilwala Ganga (river). A little way from the bridge is the Star Fort, which was built after the Matara Rebellion in 1762 (a significant event in the calendar of Ceylon’s bid to freedom), to provide extra protection to the Matara Fort. Built in the shape of a star it now houses the Archaeology Museum of the district.
A place that would take the fancy of any traveller passing through Matara is the magnificent Sri Rohana Uposathagaraya that is situated in the midst of the Pigeons Island, connected to the mainland by only a footbridge. Used as a chapter house, a steady stream of visitors can be seen crossing the bridge at any given point, on their way to see this quaint temple. Built in the year 2000, every May, nearly 100 monks from the Rohana sector receive their higher ordination at this temple. The ritual, which spans three to four days takes place in the Seema Malaka of the temple.
Positioned across the small beach strip where many find a welcome interlude among the waves is the Church of our Lady of Matara, formerly known as St Mary’s Church. Built in 1907, the statue of the Blessed Mary and Child within the church is said to have belonged to the Portuguese era dating back to the 17th Century. The mystery is that no proper record exist as to who really sculpted the statue or which country it came from and many devotees believe that the statue itself is a miracle.
The history of this Bodhi tree is deeply entwined with a tragic tale that tells of a King named Kumara Dharmasena, believed to be the son of King Kasyapa of Sigiriya and a famous poet of old, Kalidasa. The King once saw a bee tangled in the petals of a lotus, and was inspired to write two poetic lines. Unable to complete it, he offered a reward for anyone who could complete the rest of the poem. A courtesan thinking that this would be a good opportunity, took the poem to Kalidasa. Once the poet completed the poem, the courtesan murdered him and presented it to the King. However, the King recognizing the handwriting of his friend discovered this cruel plot. During the funeral of the poet, the King unable to control his grief threw himself into the burning flames of the funeral pyre, upon which five official queens also leaped into the flames after him. Legend tells that seven Bo trees were planted atop their tombs and were called Hath Bodhis. However, it is assumed that only one has survived the long years and that one is the Matara Bodhiya.