Although gems are found in many places in Sri Lanka, the best locations are in the river valleys at the foot of Adam’s Peak (Sri Pada), near the town of Ratnapura. No surprise, then, that Ratnapura became the country’s gem centre. As mechanized gem-mining is banned in Sri Lanka, the extraction of gemstones is an unsophisticated and small-scale affair, which has the advantage that the traditional methods employed are observable.
Ratnapura is the capital of the province of Sabaragamuwa and the capital of the gem-mining industry in Sri Lanka. In fact the name means “City of Gems.” A pleasant but bustling place, very humid and rainy most of the year, it does however exhibit an extraordinary verdancy and afford grand views of the surrounding countryside, in particular the famous and revered mountain, Adam’s Peak (Sri Pada).
Bella Woolf writes in her influential early 20th century guidebook, How to See Ceylon (1914): “Ratnapura is one of the most beautifully situated towns in Ceylon, except for its climate, which is aptly compared to a Turkish bath. Still it is this hot moist temperature which makes all leaf and blossom more luxuriant in Ratnapura than anywhere else. Alone the scarlet shoe-flowers seem double as large and glow brighter here than anywhere else.”