All the spicy and historic of cinnamon under one roof | Print edition

By Yomal Senerath-Yapa


The island’s first cinnamon museum (filling a major gap as Sri Lanka alone offers the world the best and most authentic of this polished spice) opened earlier this month at Mirissa Hills in Mirissa. After traversing the rainforest-like terrain (dark and shrouded in mist), the cheerful yellow-ochre-orange building glows in the early morning light, custom-built to celebrate the spice that put Ceylon on the map.

Mirissa Hills is an active cinnamon estate and had two rentable buildings: a large walauwwa called the Bungalow and a stylish new house called Mount Cinnamon.

Located on a hill below Mount Cinnamon, the new Cinnamon Museum is built around a large central courtyard and the top floor is devoted to an elegantly curated exhibition of all things cinnamon, admirably done in accordance with international standards.

Guests at the museum’s soft opening on April 6. Photo by Priyanka Samaraweera

The project was conceived by advertising guru and chairman of Mirissa Hills, Miles Young, who welcomed us with cinnamon rolls – ‘specially made by the German bakery’ – and cinnamon tea, while Johann Peiris and the Ceylon Quartet serenaded the gathering on the veranda of Mount Cinnamon.

Later that morning, the museum was softly opened by Tourism Minister Harin Fernando.

Mirissa Hills is the Lunuganga of architect C. Anjalendran (although owned by Miles). He originally designed the house overlooking the lake and gardens that wind within and now the museum.

The Anjalendran touch is everywhere: a massive Laki Senanayake sculpture of a phoenix, the soothing benches in the corridors, the soft but warm colors and the art including Ena de Silva batiks.

The museum is a pure joy to explore. As you climb the stairs you pass cinnamon maps from the days of Europe’s maritime search for spices – the kind of quaint vintage maps where dragons breathe fire on the sea and gray, prehistoric-looking pachyderms have two trunks.

Mirissa Hills owner Miles Young with Tourism Minister Harin Fernando and veteran tea planter Herman Gunaratne

The main gallery, dwarfed by the central hybrid phoenix, traces the history of the spice from Egyptian times when cinnamon was a ‘class marker’ for blue-eyed ladies (and also for embalming mummies) to the 15th century.e Century in which Columbus encountered the New World in search of India and the ‘Queen of Spices’ and beyond.

The phoenix is ​​connected to the legend of cinnamon, as it is said that this bird builds its nest with cinnamon. Below is a Chinese sculpture of a Cinnamologus, another mythical European medieval bird that also made its nest with cinnamon.

This visitor center was put together by Young himself, while the design was by Byung Kim of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Half of it is dedicated to the mystical magic of cinnamon. There is a poetry wall – where among the writings you will also find Cinnamon Peeler’s Wife by Michael Ondaatje.

Tool of the trade: The cinnamon peeler hook

Miles says, “Cinnamon (is)… associated with romance from Cleopatra to Barbara Cartland” (the queen of romance peppered her richly pink cookbook, Romance of Food with spices).

Cinnamon is also associated with magic, both black and white. Miles says of one terrifying display: “It is an extraordinary experience to go to a witches’ supermarket, such as the large one in the port of Hamburg, where cinnamon was imported, to see the different cinnamon products available to witches and warlocks. ”

Part of the museum is dedicated to the role of real cinnamon in its native country. It shows how the traditional Salagama caste of peelers cultivated, chopped and prepared cinnamon, a wild plant, until the Europeans arrived with their insatiable trade. Essential to Ayurveda medicine, the exhibits also highlight how cinnamon has been used since the time of King Ravana.

Highlight of the poetry wall: The Cinnamon Peeler’s Wife by Michael Ondaatje

Fun, exciting and engaging, the tour delves deep into how Rome or China handled cinnamon and fun facts such as Princess Diana’s favorite dessert: poached pears with cinnamon ice cream – all beautifully illustrated.

There is also a restaurant and kitchen with a rustic touch in the museum, where you can mainly enjoy local Southern cuisine, but also some Western favorites (including cinnamon ice cream).

The restaurant’s chairs have a rough charm and there are two enormous tapestries; one a beautiful medieval French arras from a manuscript, depicting the Cinnamologus or ‘cinnamon bird’, the other a majestic Ena de Silva phoenix in emerald green and red hues burning in its orange nest fire.

For the visitor to the South, the museum offers several fascinating hours (depending on how thorough you are) exploring the universe of Cinnamomum zeylanicumprobably the most iconic of all species – fauna or flowers – native to our homeland.

The museum is now open to the public from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm. The entry costs Rs 4,500 per person.

Painting of an age-old profession

The phoenix batik by Ena de Silva

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