Puttalam (meaning New Saltpans) is a wind-swept fishing settlement that gives little indication of its history. In the 14th century it was the capital of a Tamil king, Arya Chakravarty, who, although little more than a pirate, possessed a portion of the northwestern coast of the island. It was off Puttalam that Ibn Batuta – an adventurous Moor from Tangier – appeared after a storm and perceived the island of Serendib raised in the air like a column of smoke. Ibn Batuta came ashore and proceeded to Chakravarty’s capital, which he describes as a pretty little place, surrounded by a timber wall and towers.
At that time it was a centre of the regional cinnamon trade, for he writes: All the neighbouring shores were covered with trunks of cinnamon trees, torn up the torrents. The wood was collected on the beach, and formed as it were hillocks. The inhabitants of Coramandel and Malabar take it away without payment, save only that in return for this favor they make a present to the King.