Sri Lanka is an island well known to merchants and seafarers of the ancient world as it was located on one of the main sea routes traversed in those days. The direct trade between the West and Ceylon commenced towards the end of the first century and developed rapidly thereafter.
Numerous first-hand accounts of the country and its peoples became available to Greek and Roman geographers and this information formed the basis of the remarkably descriptive account of the island by the geographer and cartographer Ptolemy in the middle of the second century.
The island is mentioned in almost all the literature written by travellers from the Mediterranean world who were in search of the unknown and undiscovered East and its treasures. Famed travellers from the west who later recorded descriptions of their travels like Marco Polo, Ibn Batuta, Marignolli and others all wrote about this fabulous land of wealth and beauty.
Many centuries later, Sir Emerson Tennent writing about Ceylon in 1859 exclaimed that “there is no island in the world, Great Britain itself not excepted, that has attracted the attention of authors in so many distant ages and so many different countries.”
The most poignant tribute paid to the island was by a papal legate about six centuries ago who said “from Ceylon to Paradise, according to native tradition is forty miles; there, may be heard the fountains of Paradise!”