Like all good real estate propositions, Melaka is all about, location, location, location. The Straits of Malacca have been and still are one of the busiest waterways in the world and due to several longwinded reasons (mostly the trade winds), Melaka became the epicentre of regional trade, with sailing vessels loading and offloading their merchandise here. Like all great port cities around the globe, Melaka attracted a wonderful assortment of global traders plying their trade, setting up shop, establishing their roots and introducing something from their homeland. Sumatran princes came as did Chinese admirals, Arab traders, Portuguese sailors, Dutch merchants and English entrepreneurs. They have all left their mark in this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
1. Christ Church
Terracotta red was obviously the colour of the day back in the 17th century, and the church and its surroundings are all the more imposing for it. Built between 1741 and 1753 to replace an earlier Portuguese church (dating back to 1641), Christ Church is now Malaysia’s oldest Protestant church. Its red bricks (which have been painted over) were imported from Zeeland in Holland. There is a lot of interesting architectural detail inside including the original wooden pews and ceiling beams hewn from single tree trunks of up to 15m in length. Sacramental silverware is also engraved with the Dutch coat-of-arms.
Photo credit: Capella “Pia” Boltiador, Flickr
Immediately adjacent to the church is the Stadthuys, former residence of the Dutch governors. Built in 1660, it is reportedly the oldest surviving Dutch building in Asia. Being the Governor’s residence, it is a rather grand building with delightful shaded arches. It now serves as a historic museum with maps, prints and details of the historic evolution of Melaka.
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3. Dutch Square
Photo credit: Tomoaki INABA, Flickr
The centre of the old town is the Town Square which includes two afore mentioned buildings in Christ Church and the Stadthuys.This has become somewhat of a focal point for tours, meeting people and generally gawking at the assorted tourism attractions that congregate here such as snake charmers and colourful trishaws. Rising above the din, movement and mayhem is the Tang Beng Swee Clock Tower, erected by a wealthy Chinese family in 1886.
4. St Paul’s
Perched on a hillock behind the Dutch Square are the ruins of St Paul’s Church built on the site of the last Melakan sultan’s residence. The original chapel dates to 1521 but defense against one’s enemies became more important than one’s god and the site was converted to a fortress between 1567 and 1596. The body of St Francis Xavier, one of the region’s most acclaimed Jesuit missionaries, was briefly interred here enroute from China to Portugal in 1552. St Paul’s was badly damaged when the Dutch seized control but they rebuilt it and changed the name the Portuguese had given it to St Paul’s. It was a Protestant church up until Christ Church was completed in 1753. There are some rather interesting old headstones lining the remaining walls of the ruins as well as imposing views across the heritage city.
5. Sultanate Palace
The truly local architectural statement near the city centre is the actual replica of the istana or palace of the last Sultan of Malacca (as it was then known). Sultan Mansur Shah ruled the seaside port of Malacca from 1456 to 1477 before the Portuguese arrived to spoil his reign. The replica was built from plans in the annals of the sultan and the wooden structure is a grand affair extending over three storeys, built without using a single nail! There are eight chambers and three galleries containing artifacts, historic documents and gifts given by foreign emissaries, in what is now a cultural museum. The museum is closed Mondays.
Homepage highlight photo credit: Tomoaki INABA, Flickr
Source: Senses of Malaysia March/April 2014
- Melaka: A Journey Through Time
- The Fascinating History of Melaka and Georgetown
- The People and Events that Shaped Melaka’s Architecture
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