The area known as “China Fort” in Sri Lanka’s southern costal town of Beruwala is renowned worldwide as a gem trade centre .China fort’s gem merchants and the miners of Ratnapura the Gem City in the Sabaragamuwa Province have been together in the business for centuries. Almost the entire neighbourhood of China Fort has been in the gem trade for generations . Much of the gem world’s coloured precious stones are traded through these merchants .
Beruwala’s gem trade dates back to the era when Berber’s from North Africa’s Barbary States-Algeria, Libiya, Morocco and Tunisia, dominated the seas from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean. Berber merchant ships called at Beruwela (Perhaps named after the Berbers -Moors). The place where their vessels anchored came to be known in later years as Berberyn Harbour from where the Berbers crossed the length and breadth of Sri Lanka in search of spices and precious stones. They also went on pilgrimmage to “Adam’s Peak” known to Buddhist’s as Sri Pada- helped by guides from Beruwela.
Their descendants in this island came to be known as Ceylon Moors who carried on the gem trade with much dedication . In fact they are the ancestors of the majority of present day Sri Lankan Muslims.
In the early days Sri Lanka’s natives called the Moors “Mukkara” and their descendants “Morokalae” from which “Marakkala” – The Sinhala term for this community -originated. Even today a gem cut in the traditional style is called “Mukkarage” cutting.
Pathea (China Fort Gem Market) Gem Trade Fair
On a daily basis the bazaar is active from 10:00am to 2:30 pm, with thousands of people coming to Pathea gem market which is centrally located in the hill top of China Fort .Gems are brought from all round the country and also from other parts of the world such as Madagascar, Tanzania, India, Burma , Mozambique and Malawi in the rough form . Buyers from all parts of Sri Lanka as well as USA ,India, Japan, UK, Germany, France, China ,Indonesia and Thailand come here to make their purchases .