Matara, Sri Lanka

Coordinates: 5°57′N 80°32′E / 5.950°N 80.533°E / 5.950; 80.533
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Matara Foreshore
Matara Foreshore
Matara is located in Sri Lanka
Coordinates: 5°57′N 80°32′E / 5.950°N 80.533°E / 5.950; 80.533
CountrySri Lanka
 • TypeMunicipal Council
 • MayorRanjith Yasarathna
 • Urban
13 km2 (5 sq mi)
2 m (7 ft)
 • City74,193
 • Density5,841/km2 (15,130/sq mi)
Time zoneUTC+5:30 (Sri Lanka Standard Time Zone)
Postal code
Area codes041
Star Fort in Matara
Star Fort in Matara

Matara (Sinhala: මාතර, romanized: Māthara) is a major city in Sri Lanka, on the southern coast of Southern Province. It is the second largest city in Southern Province. It is 160 km (99 mi) from Colombo. It is a major commercial hub, and it is the administrative capital and largest city of Matara District.


Consist of two elements, the term Matara gives its meaning as the Great Ferry,[1] that may be the meaning "great seaport" or "great fortress".[2][need quotation to verify] It is also thought as being derived from the mispronunciation of the word 'Matora' by the Portuguese who called it 'Mature' or Maturai in 1672.[3][4] The native word 'Matora' might also derived from 'Maha Tera' meaning the place where the Great River was crossed.[3]

It was also called 'Maha Tota' (Malo Tota) or Maha- pattana, the great ferry.Maha Ethara meaning "great ford".[4][need quotation to verify] Today, the Nilwala River runs through Matara and it is said that there was a wide area where ferries used to cross. In 1673, the Dutch minister Philippus Baldaeus had called it 'Mature', in 1681, Robert Knox named it as 'Matura' and in 1744, Heydt called it 'Maderon'.[3]


Matara historically belongs to the area that was called the Kingdom of Ruhuna, which was one of the three kingdoms in Sri Lanka (Thun Sinhalaya තුන් සිංහලය). According to Thotagamuwe Sri Rahula Thera's Paravi Sndesaya King Weerabamapanam made Matara as his capital and named it "Mapatuna". The temple in the middle of the town is also built by ancient kings, and now it is a very popular sacred place among the Buddhists in the area.

In the 16th and 18th centuries, Matara was ruled by the Portuguese and the Dutch respectively.

In 1756, the Dutch captured the Maritime Province and divided it into four administrative areas — Sabaragamuwa, Sath Korle, Sathara Korele and Matara. Out of these, Matara District covered the largest area (essentially the whole of the Southern Province up to the Kalu River). In the deed given by King Dharmapala to the Dutch, it mentioned that the area of Matara District extended from Kotte to the Walawe River.

In 1760, the fort was successfully attacked by forces from the Kingdom of Kandy. Matara maintained in the hands of the Sinhalese for almost one year. In 1762, the Dutch recaptured Matara Fort, without any significant resistance. Matara was the second most important fort, behind Galle fort, for the southern maritime provinces of the Dutch and a commanding base for some inland forts.

In 1796, the fort was ceremoniously handed over to the British. The Dutch and English culture and architecture can still be seen throughout the area. The lighthouse at Dondra Head was built by the Dutch, and it is considered one of the oldest lighthouses in Sri Lanka. The two fortresses, the Matara fort and the Star fort, that were built by the Dutch can be found in the city. Other important Colonial works are the St Mary's Church and the marketplace at Nupe Junction.

Weherahena temple

The most famous thinkers who lived in the area are Kumaratunga Munidasa and Gajaman Nona. The ethnic majority of Matara is Sinhalese; during the 16th and 17th centuries Moors arrived in the area as traders from Arabia. Today their descendants coexist with Sinhalese peacefully as an ethnic minority.


Parevi Dupatha in Matara
Wewurukannala Viharaya, Sri Lanka
Devinuwara Sri Vishnu Maha Devalaya

Matara is a busy, booming and sprawling commercial town. Matara's main attractions are its ramparts, Dutch architecture, a well-preserved fort and its street life.

  • Parey Dewa (Rock in Water) or Paravi Dupatha temple is a relatively modern Buddhist temple on Pigeon Island (a small offshore island) in front of the city. It is reached by an elegant cable-stayed footbridge, which was erected in 2008 (replacing an earlier bridge, which was washed away in the 2004 tsunami). The temple is set in attractive gardens and houses numerous statues of Buddha and a replica of the alleged footprint found on Adam's Peak.
  • Weragampita Rajamaha Viharaya Temple
  • Matara Bodhiya, a Buddhist temple, which is the site of a sacred fig tree.
  • Matara fort/ramparts: The Matara fort was built in 1560 by the Portuguese and was substantially re-built by the Dutch in 1640, following the capture of Galle. The fort, which consists of a large stone rampart, occupies the promontory, which separates the Niwala River lagoon and the ocean.[5]
  • Dutch Reformed Church, Matara was constructed within Matara fort by the Dutch in 1706. It was extensively remodeled in 1767, following the recapture of the fort in 1762.[6]
  • Star Fort is on the western or landward side of the Nawali River. The fort was constructed by the Dutch following the Matara rebellion in 1761, to protect the main fort from attacks originating from the river. Construction of the unique star-shaped fort was completed in 1765.
  • Old Nupe Market was constructed in 1784 by the Dutch, about 3.2 kilometres (2.0 mi) from Matara fort.[7]
  • St Mary's Church is on Beach Road. The date on the doorway (1769) refers to the reconstruction following the 1762 Matara Rebellion.




Economy and infrastructure[edit]



The Matara railway station, was the terminus of Sri Lanka Railways' Coastal Line, until an extension to Beliatta was opened in April 2019.


Matara is a major transport hub in the country. It is served by the A2 highway, which runs through the city. It is also the southern terminus of stage 2 of the southern expressway E01 expressway (Sri Lanka) since March 2014.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kulasuriya, A. S. (1995). "Place Name study in Sri Lanka some Issues and perspectives". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka. 40: 131–154.
  2. ^ Nayagam, Xavier S. Thani (1964). Tamil Culture. Academy of Tamil Culture. p. 180.
  3. ^ a b c Franciscus, S.D. (1983). Faith of our fathers: history of the Dutch Reformed Church in Sri Lanka (Ceylon). Pragna Publishers. p. 41.
  4. ^ a b Everett-Heath, John (2018-09-13). The Concise Dictionary of World Place-Names. Oxford University Press. p. 1125. ISBN 978-0-19-256243-2.
  5. ^ "Matara Fort". Retrieved 2020-06-28.
  6. ^ "The Matara Church". Wolvendaal Foundation. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
  7. ^ Punchihewa, Gamini G. (24 March 2002). "The historic tale of Matara". Sunday Observer. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 15 August 2014.

External links[edit]