Matara is at the mouth of the Nilwala River on further south from Galle. Its name is descriptive of its location-the great ford. Both under Portuguese and Dutch occupation it was an important commercial center.
With sandy beaches, fragrant spice plantations and green paddy fields Matara is a bustling town sandwiched between sandy beaches and the pastoral country side. It has a well preserved Dutch fort facing the Indian Ocean, built by the Dutch in 1645. It is a fortification of a Portuguese garrison. The fort has many structures of the Dutch and British periods. The oldest of the colonial past that still invites attention is the Dutch church. The 40 m high lighthouse built in 1890 to provide guidance to the ships plying the busy sea lane in an age before Radar is 6 km away. Nearby is the historic shrine dedicated to the Hindu deity Vishnu worshipped by Buddhists as the God entrusted with the mission of protecting Buddhism in Sri Lanka.
Polhena beach is situated about 1 k off the A 2 Galle-Matara road. The coral reef provides good snorkeling and swimming. The winds and the waves that offer good surfing prospects make it a Sri Lanka tourist attraction.
Matara Fort (Archaeological Site)
Matar Fort was built was built in 1645 by the Dutch using granite and limestone. The rampart and the main doorway are well preserved. The governor’s office and residence, church, facilities had been in the fort for storing cinnamon and explosive. The well maintained church building was built in 1767. This fort was acquired by the British in 1796.
Star Fort – Matara (Archaeological Site)
The fort situated within Matara city limits was built to a unique shape of a six pointed star with space for 12 large cannons to cover approaches from all directions. It was built by the Dutch to protect the main Matara Fort from attacks during the Matara rebellion. Forces backed by the Kandyan Kingdom took hold of the fort in 1763.
The fort was surrounded by a deep moat and a detachable bridge was built to hold a small garrison, food suppliers and sufficient ammunition. On the arch of the main entrance the year 1765 is embossed (probably the year of construction) along with the VOC emblem and the coat of arms of Governor Van Eck. The British captured this fort in 1796.
A large Buddha statue here is painted with very bright colours. There are hundreds of sceneries painted to show the life of “Buddha”. There are three underground stores and there you can see the shrine room in which the walls are decorated with murals depicting the Buddha’s life.
Just 5 km from Matara town. Dondra Head is the southernmost point of Sri Lanka. the 160 feet high lighthouse is located in a beautiful garden. The “Devundara Devalaya” here is visited by travellers who pass Matara.
This building near the Matara town had been used as a market during the British occupation of Matara. Built to be in the shape of the English letter “T” it was constructed on pillars and tiled with round tiles. A timber portico about 30 ft. broad and 100 ft long is in the middle of the building. The building is about 30 feet in width. The front section is about 200 feet in length while the rear section is about 100 feet in length. A peculiar feature is the three small roofs above the main roof.