Ratnapura meaning City Gems in Sinhalese, the main source of precious and semiprecious stones (including rubies, sapphires, and cat’s-eyes) mined in the valleys by River Kalu Ganga that flows through the district, is located 103 m from Colombo in the Sabaragamuwa district of wet Zone of Sri Lanka.
Ratnapura can be reached by A4 Highway which connects capital Colombo to Kalmunai in the Eastern Province. The A8 Highway connects the town with Panadura in the western coast of Sri Lanka.
Ratnapura’s Climate, terrain and vegetation
The high rainfall (4,000 to 5,000 mm annually) at Ratnapura district in a valley (21m above sea-level) by the River Kalu Ganga Ratnapura has resulted in rich vegetation, 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 at the village of Kuruvita and Katugas Ella Falls at the village of Mahawelawatta and Kirindi Ella Falls.
Ratnapurais 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 leaf and blossom more luxuriant in Ratnapura than anywhere else.
Gem Mining at Ratnapura
Mining of gems in Sri Lanka, also known by the name of Ratna Deepa (Sinhala: The Island of Gems) in the ancient times, is woven in to the history of Sri Lanka, goes back at least to 2000 years. The Mahavansa, the ancient chronicle of Sri Lanka too mentioned about gems and jewelry 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 small-scale affair done in 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 of 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 cinnamon-colored grossular; 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 colorless (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 (42 3cts), 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 street.
Saviya Mawata 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 the shops of small dealrs. Located at the clock tower and main street are traditional jewelry shops.
Ratnapura is a village set in agriculture. Many delicious fruits like mango and papaya and 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 trekking opportunities caters to a well-established tourism industry. Ratnapura is a convenient transit base to explore the popular attractions of Sinharaja rain forest, Uda Walawe National Park, Kitulgala, and Sri Pada.
Ratnapura National Museum
Ratnapura National Museum is set up at the renovated building called “Ehelepola Walauva” once belonged to a minister Ehelepola of the last king of Sri Lanka. The beautiful building on Ratnapura - Colombo road was opened for the public as a museum in 1988. Among the exhibits are prehistoric archaeological inventions, geological, anthropological, zoological artifacts and models related to the Sabaragamuva Province. Portrayal of the folk life of the region including various forms of dress, ornamentation, weaponry, musical instruments is an important aspect of the museum.
The weaponry on display: Sinhala swords of late medieval era including a rare sword said to have belonged to Ehelepola; a fine collection of old guns including a Vicker machine gun used during the first world war.
The cookery of the region: 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 jewelry: necklaces, bangles, anklets and earings.
Ratnapura Gemological Museum
The gemological Museum at Ratnapura houses an array of fabulous samples of precious and semi-precious 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 the Portuguese church and fort after the area was recaptured by the Kandyan kingdom from the Portuguese.
"The Maha Saman Devale, 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 offine 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
Picture gallery of Ratnapura