Matara, located at the southern coastal belt where the River Nilawala flows into the Indian Ocean, has been a famous port town with a teeming population and resplendent beauty.
Historical chronicles have it that Matara served the dual role of a port and a resting place for weary travelers who invariably have to cross the river Nilawala at Mahathota on their way to Giruwapattuwa from Colombo along the road running along the southern littoral. Matara also became famous among travelers, local and foreign, for its elephant krall of yore where wild elephants captured from jungles of Giruwa and Magampattu were herded before being put to auction. The venerable Thotagamuwe Rahula thero in his epic poems known as ‘Sandeshayas’, have depicted in beautiful verse, the scenes of elephants bathing at Mahathota port.
Matara was also one out of the four regions the country was divided into by the Portuguese following their capture of the country’s coastal areas and was treated it as one of the most important as well as largest areas under their control. The historical deed given to the Portuguese says that the large swathes of lands stretching from Kotte to the river Walawe belonged to Matara region.
However Matara was not a part of the three regions to which the country was divided into by the Dutch, but was administered as Matara Disawa under a separate government agent and came under the purview of the revenue division of Galle. Forts and buildings erected by the Dutch as a defence can be seen in Matara even today. The current Rest House of Matara is located in close proximity to the Dutch Fort in Matara.
During the reign of the British, the Matara district was reported to have been bordered by Giriwapattua West, the Galle District, the Sabaragamuwa province and the Indian Ocean.
According to Tolemy, the Greek academic who landed in Lanka in 150 B.C, Matara was an area dominated by the Nagas, a tribe of people inhabited mountainous areas of the region. This explains many village names beginning with ‘Na’ in Matara even today. Nayimana, Nayimbala and Nakulugamuwa are just a few examples.
Matara, with a history dating back to many centuries, has become a household name due to the legend of Kalidasa-Kumaradasa during the reign of Sinhala kings, the celebrated king Dapulusen who constructed many a temple in and around his kingdom of Devinuwara, King Parakramabahu the 2nd who built a massive sea port to ensure protection of maritime provinces of the country and King Parakramabahu the 6th , a colossal literary figure.
In more recent times too, the Matara district which was home to some of the greatest Buddhist monks, scholars, authors, poets, administrators is replete with scenic and natural beauty, thriving townships and suburbs, villages and hamlets with a well-connected road network and fertile land yielding plentiful harvests.