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Matara

From Tanglalle to Matara, the road reveals new and unexplained beauty. It skirts the sea shore and for mile upon mile, bay succeeds bay, a curve of yellow sand, dazzling blue water and palm-crowned headlands. At the end of the south coast railway line lies the Matara city of Sri Lanka, the most important settlement on the south coast. The town contains many remnants of Sri Lanka’s colonial past and is divided by the island’s third longest river, the Nilwala Ganga – a beautiful wide expanse of water that splits the old town from the new. Matara was noted as an important destination during the Dutch period due to its strategic position for the trade in of spices, gems and elephants and so the colonists built two forts called the city Mature while many other names – among them Mahatara meaning ‘Great Harbour’ and Maturai meanding meaning ‘Great Fortress’ both used by the Portuguese have been given to the city over the years. There are numerous fascinating places to visit in Matara; to the south is the quieter old colonial district alongside the coast consisting largely of the ancient Matara Fort full of crumbling colonial splendour as well as the modern bus station and St Mary’s Church, home to the famous statue of Our Lady of Matara. Though there are some beaches in Matara town, it is not a beach resort. Matara Fort is positioned on a narrow split of land protected on three sides by water, either the river or sea and on the fourth by a 13 metre thick, five metre high rampart built around 1640. It was actually a Dutch fortification of an existing Portuguese garrison on the site of the original town. The Fort contains governmental administrative buildings such as the Judicial Court and as you head along the streets that run towards the river estuary at the western end, you will notice many beautiful colonial buildings along narrow tree-lined streets that are sadly in various states of disrepair. When you reach the water’s edge itself you can see lots of colourful fishing boats, the confluence of river and sea and a look over the water to Crow Island.

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