Ratnapura meaning City of Gems in Sinhalese is the main source of precious and semiprecious stones (including rubies, sapphires, and cat’s-eyes) mined in the valleys by River “Kalu Ganga” and is located 103 km from Colombo in the Sabaragamuwa district belonging to the Wet Zone of Sri Lanka.
Ratnapura can be reached via the A4 Highway which connects the capital Colombo to Kalmunai in the Eastern Province. The A8 Highway connects the town with Panadura which is along the western coast of Sri Lanka.
Ratnapura’s Climate, Terrain and Vegetation
A higher annual rainfall in Ratnapura (4000 – 5000 mm) has resulted in rich vegetation and an environment of greenery interspersed with streams and waterfalls. Ratnapura affords grand views of the surrounding countryside, in particular the famous and revered mountain, Adam’s Peak (Sri Pada). The most visited waterfalls at Ratnapura are Bopath Ella Falls in the village of Kuruvita and Katugas Ella Falls in the village of Mahawelawatta and also the Kirindi Ella Falls.
Ratnapura is one of the most beautifully situated towns in Ceylon, except for its climate, which is aptly compared to a Turkish bath. Still, it is this hot moist temperature which makes all leafs and blossoms more luxuriant in Ratnapura than anywhere else in the island.
Gem Mining at Ratnapura
Mining of gems in Sri Lanka, (the island is also known by the name of Ratna Deepa) (Sinhala: The Island of Gems) in the ancient times, is woven in to the history of the island and goes back to at least 2000 years. The Mahavamsa, the ancient chronicle of Sri Lanka too mentioned about gems and jewellery on several occasions. A sizeable community at Ratnapura
is engaged in the Gem Trade. Mechanized gem mining being banned in Sri Lanka, unearthing gemstones at Ratnapura
is an unsophisticated and smallscale affair done using traditional methods.
Besides the villages surrounding Ratnapura and Pelmadulla towns, other areas that had become famous for their gem mines include the villages surrounding the towns of Kuruvita, Opanayake, Rakwana, Kahawatte and Eheliyagoda, all in Ratnapura district. One of the villages in Pelmadulla where gem mining is highly concentrated is Ganegama.
Ratnapura district has produced an incredible variety of gemstones, many of them outstanding in comparison with stones from other regions. Sapphire occurs in all hues of blue, as well as yellow, violet, green, pink, and the remarkable pinkish-orange “padparadsha.”
Other gemstones include topaz in bright yellow with a reddish tinge; brownish yellow to cinnamoncoloured grossularite; orange-yellow spessartine; blood-red pyrope; red to brownish red almandine; the world’s finest zircon in a broad spectrum including brown, yellow, orange, green, and colourless (known locally as ‘Matara diamond’—a misnomer); green, yellow, and brown tourmaline; yellow, green, and brown chrysoberyl; yellow chrysoberyl cat’s-eye; the unique white translucent variety of microcline with a blue sheen known as moonstone; and great quantities of spinel in brown, green, blue, purple, violet, yellow, pink, and red. Unusual and rare stones from the same area include sillimanite, andalusite, scapolite, enstatite, kornerupine and diopside.
Ratnapura is the source of some of the priceless gemstones in the world: Blue Giant of Orient (466 cts), Logan Blue Sapphire (423 cts), Blue Belle of Asia (400 cts), Rossar Reeves Star Ruby (138.7 cts), Star of Lanka (393 cts) and the Ray of Treasure (105 cts Cat’s Eye). The Star of Lanka and Ray of Treasure are the proud possessions of the National Gem & Jewellery Authority of Sri Lanka.
Trading Precious Gems in the Streets of Ratnapura
Saviya Mawatha at the heart of the town of Ratnapura, 150 m east of the clock tower is the location the local traders haggle over uncut precious and semi precious gems. The street is lined with shops of small dealers. Located by the clock tower and main street are traditional jewellery shops.
Ratnapura is a village thriving in agriculture. Many delicious fruits like mango and papaya along with vegetables are grown as market products. The town’s agricultural industry is also well developed: large plantations of tea and rubber surround the town.
Ratnapura’s Tourism Industry
Ratnapura being a nature attraction that serves a myriad of trekking opportunities caters to a wellestablished tourism industry. Ratnapura is a convenient transit base to explore some of the popular attractions in the area including the Sinharaja Rain Forest, Uda Walawe National Park, Kitulgala, and Sri Pada.
Ratnapura National Museum
The Ratnapura National Museum is set up at the renovated building called “Ehelepola Walauwa” which once belonged to a minister by the name of “Ehelepola” of the last king of Sri Lanka. The beautiful building located along the Ratnapura – Colombo road was opened for the public as a museum in 1988. Among the exhibits are prehistoric archaeological inventions, geological, anthropological and zoological artefacts and models related to the Sabaragamuwa Province. Portrayal of the folk life of the region including various forms of dresses, ornamentation, weaponry, musical instruments is an important aspect of the museum.
The weaponry on display include Sinhala swords of the late medieval era including a rare sword said to have belonged to Ehelepola himself; a fine collection of old guns including a Vicker machine gun used during the first World War.
The cooking utensils of the region include a tripod pan with three moulds for preparing those delectable cakes known as kiri roti made of rice flour, grated coconut and coconut milk and often consumed with treacle. Traditional Kandyan jewellery includes necklaces, bangles, anklets and earrings.
Ratnapura Gemmological Museum
The Gemmological Museum at Ratnapura houses an array of fabulous samples of precious and semiprecious gems: rubies; sapphires; amethyst. Among the other exhibits are the images, artefacts and tools that elaborate the history and the processes of the industry. The museum features a souvenir shop and a restaurant.
Ratnapura Maha Saman Devale
Maha Saman Devale is a shrine dedicated to God Saman – the tutelary deity of Adam’s Peak constructed on the site of a Portuguese church and fort after the area was recaptured by the Kandyan Kingdom from the Portuguese.
“The Maha Saman Devale in Ratnapura is very impressive—the grandest in size and setting of all the devales I have seen. Approached up long stone steps flanked by dug out boats on either side (ready for the annual goods) one senses at once that one is entering a place of myths and legends and of fine style and historic Importance. Here a king at war must have been a king indeed and the palatial walauwas in the province seem a right and proper architectural support to the central place of worship of its people. The devale compound is bound by a low, tiled and windowed, wall within which its space is ordered and emphasized by pavilion roofs, culminating in a three tiered tower at one point, with two other deeply eaved shrine roofs for balance on the vast flat quadrangle. The impression is of triangular weight airborne on carved pillars on a flat sandy expanse, glimpsed through ever changing frames as one walks through the cloisters.”—Barbara Sansoni.