A city rich in history and multicultural heritage, Melaka unsurprisingly offers a number of excellent museums. Here, David Bowden looks at five such repositories of history that give a comprehensive insight into this city’s remarkable and varied history.
Melaka has scores of private and public museums ranging from small, compact establishments on a specific topic to the grand, all-purpose repositories of the city’s heritage. Melaka’s tourism officials set about years ago to distinguish the city from others by establishing a myriad of museums. While most revolve around Melaka’s heritage, others seem to be totally unrelated to history at all. Choosing Melaka’s ‘fab five’ museums isn’t simply a matter of identifying the best, as this is very subjective, so here are five good ones that cover a range of topics.
1. Baba and Nyonya Heritage Museum
While the streets of Melaka are a living museum the Baba and Nyonya Heritage Museum is a celebration and window into the lifestyle of a wealthy nobleman who once lived here in the preserved house located on 48-50 Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock (www.babanyonyamuseum.com) in the city’s UNESCO-protected heritage heartland.The Baba-Nyonyas were descendants of inter-marriages between Chinese immigrants and local Malays and many, especially those along what is known as ‘Millionaire’s Row’, became very successful and wealthy merchants.This museum is a well-preserved home of the era full of ornate furniture and interiors of a bygone period. Guided tours are offered through this privately-owned museum.
2. Malay and Islamic World Museum Melaka
This museum is located in the delightful Bastion House constructed from orange bricks and which was the home for the British company Dunlop Rubber from 1910 to 1986. It is located near the main colonial Dutch buildings and the steps to St. Paul’s Hill.The museum provides details on the adoption of Islam around the world, famous Muslim figures, important Islamic buildings around the globe, traditional dress, and Islamic artifacts.
3. Maritime Museum Melaka
Melaka’s maritime history is documented in the Maritime Museum situated next to a huge replica of Flora de la Mar (which makes it easy to locate), a Portuguese vessel that sank in the Straits of Malacca. Maritime trade was very important in establishing the port during its golden era and the well-documented displays record the times from when Melaka was a Malay sultanate to a colonial outpost of the Portuguese, Dutch and English. The replica of the Portuguese Flora de la Mar which sank in 1511 is at the entrance and is historically important as it is considered ‘the richest vessel ever lost at sea’. It supposedly lies on the seabed in the Straits of Malacca with its cargo of precious gems intact but with its ownership being disputed.
4. Museum of Enduring Beauty
Perhaps the city’s most unusual museum is situated above the Muzium Rakyat. The Museum of Enduring Beauty explores how people around the world beautify themselves. Such things as tattooing, body scarring, foot binding, cosmetic surgery and piercing make for an unusual and fascinating display.
5. Muzium Budaya
The Cultural Museum is housed within a large wooden replica of a Melaka sultan’s palace that is situated at the base of St. Paul’s Hill. Its design is based upon the palace of the time of Sultan Mansur Syrah (1456-1477).The displays provide information on the role of the original palace and its various public and private rooms. There is a display on the traditional and ceremonial costumes worn during the era and a private garden that was the domain of the princesses of the royal house isn’t to be missed.
Source: Senses of Malaysia May/June 2015