Ratnapura meaning ‘City of Gems’ is the heart of Sri Lanka’s long established Gem industry. Being the central city of the Sabaragamuwa District it is located on the crossroads between the southern plains and Island’s hill country.
The abundant gem bearing deposits in Ratnapura have been a source of countless supply of white, yellow, pink, orange, purple and blue star sapphires. The legendary ‘Blue Belle’ that glitters on the British Crown and the star sapphire named ‘Star of India’ (albeit inappropriately named) on display at the Museum of Natural History in New York are from this natural repository. It is said that the wise King Solomon sent his scouts to Sri Lanka in search of exquisite sapphires for his Queen, Queen Sheba.
Seventeen of the largest blue sapphires in the world have their origins in the Gem City of Sri Lanka, among them are the Star of India, Blue Giant of the Orient, Queen Mary of Romania, Logan Saphire, Blue Belle of Asia and Catherine the Great’s Sapphire. These exquisite gemstones are on display in museums and collections from the Smithsonian to the State Diamond Fund of Moscow. Sri Lanka is also famous for its rubies, garnets, zircon, spinel, alexandrite and citrine stones.
Visitors are welcome to visit the gem mining pits, some 20 meters deep, to experience the rugged life of the miners. The city centre of Ratnapura is a bustling place where you will find a bedlam of traders buying and selling uncut stones.
The places of interest other than the fascinating gem pits and mines are:
- Pothgul Vihare a temple that dates back to 1st century B.C. with intricate cave paintings and a statue of the Reclining Buddha.
- The Gemological Museum, a privately owned museum that provides information and some exhibits that explain the different kinds of stones available in Sri Lanka.
- The Ratnapura Gem Bureau and Museum is another centre for the study of precious and semi-precious stones of Sri Lanka.