Has Matara once been famous as a major trading place for elephants, now you can’t find anymore elephants in this city, situated on the southern tip of Sri Lanka. Matara during the colonial period was famous for cinnamon and elephant trade. The Indian maharaja’s bought the elephants for their war activities. During the Dutch colonial period it was the second largest city in southern Sri Lanka after Galle. The VOC (the Dutch United East India Company) decided to construct a fortress to protect the town. The original plans were based on building a five star fortress, but that was too expensive, so it ended up in a single rampart on the eastern part of the peninsula; on the other three sides it was protected by the river Nilwala and the Indian Ocean.
In 1760 it was obvious that the protection of the town was insufficient. A revolt by peasants regarding taxes and poverty broke out and with the help of the Kandyan king in 1761 the Dutch lost control on Matara; however it was recaptured one year later, realizing that a better protection was necessary. It was decided to build an additional small 5 star fort on the other side of the river to better protect the town. This fort is known as ‘Redoute van Eyck’ and was finished in 1763. It was the smallest and also the last fort the Dutch built in Sri Lanka.
Today Matara has expanded and developed as an important commercial and educational center in southern Sri Lanka, connected by rail and highway with Galle and Colombo. Apart from many educational institutions the town also houses the southern University of Ruhuna, with medical and engineering faculties in Galle.
Matara is not a typical tourist destination, although the town has some interesting places and great potential. The governance is done quite well, since the town has seen a remarkable upgrading with a variety of shops and interesting temples in and around Matara. The boulevard along the Indian Ocean has been improved and is now a pleasant walking area with a number of restaurants. The sea is quite rough on this spot and therefore not so suitable for bathing. The busstand is also on the seaside. West of the busstand the Dutch fort invites you for a nice stroll and to breath the atmosphere of bygone days. Surprisingly it is not so much visited by tourists, maybe because of the far more commercialized Galle Fort, which is just 45 kilometers away from Matara; so if you prefer to see a less crowded fort area, with immediate access to the beach, the Dutch Fort will be the perfect place to go.
Opposite the bus stand you can find one of the four most interesting temples of Matara, built on a rock just off the shore line, connected by a steel pedestrian bridge, called PareyDuwa Temple. It attracts a lot of worshippers and tourists, especially on poya days (full moon). On the other side of the road near the ‘Redoute van Eyck’ fortress you can find the Matara Bodiya Temple, one of the most visited temples in Matara. Furthermore, outside the town, there are two more temples of great significance, the Weherahena Temple on the Galle Road and the Matara Bodiya Temple in Dondra, a few kilometers east of Matara.