Historical Melaka

2021-04-22 18:37:56

Melaka is one of the thirteen states in Malaysia. Melaka became a thriving entrepot during the era of the Melaka Sultanate. Due to its riches, Melaka was colonised by the Portuguese, Dutch, British and Japanese throughout its colourful history.

Melaka is one of the thirteen states in Malaysia. It is located on the southern part of the peninsula and faces the Strait of Melaka. It is bordered by Negeri Sembilan to the north and west, and Johor to the south.

Melaka became a thriving entrepot during the era of the Melaka Sultanate. Due to its riches, Melaka was colonised by the Portuguese, Dutch, British and Japanese throughout its colourful history.

As a result of its fascinating history, Melaka is a melting pot of cultures. The city has various cultural attractions, such as Chinatown, Little India, Dutch Square, Portuguese Settlement as well as Malay villages.

Bandaraya Melaka or the Melaka City is the state’s capital. It was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site together with George Town, Penang in July 2008.  The early stages of Melaka’s history, originating in the 15th-century Malay Sultanate, the Portuguese and Dutch colonisation starting in the early 16th century, contributed significantly to cultural heritage buildings in Melaka - which include fortifications, squares, churches as well as government buildings.

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A Famosa

A Famosa is a Portuguese phrase that literally translates to ‘the famous’.  A Famosa is a fortress in Melaka, built by the Portuguese in the early 16th century around a natural hill near to the sea. It is believed to be the oldest European structure in Southeast Asia.

When the Portuguese conquered Melaka in 1511, they had to suppress the attacks from the Malay Sultanate. As such, they decided to build a fortress and they named it A Famosa.

When completed, A Famosa comprised long ramparts and four major towers. The towers were used to keep ammunitions and essentials as wells to house the captain and officers. Most of the village houses clustered inside the fortress walls. The fort was extended in 1586 to cater to the growing population.

When the Dutch conquered Melaka in 1641, they took control of the fort. The Dutch allowed the British to take control of A Famosa when Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Holland in 1795. In 1807, the British destroyed the A Famosa fortress together with most of the city as well as planned to relocate the residents. Fortunately, Sir Stanford Raffles, who founded Singapore, persuaded them to let the residents remain and prevented the total destruction of the fort.

Today the gate, known as Porta de Santiago; sewage system and defensive walls are preserved while the watchtower was reconstructed. In 2006, a part of A Famosa, believed to be the Middelburg Bastion was unintentionally discovered during the construction of the 110-metre tall revolving tower, Taming Sari Tower.  Middelburg Bastion was one of the nine bastions of A Famosa. The Middelburg Bastion was restored in 2006-2007. 

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St. Paul’s Hill

The St. Paul’s Church, which was built in 1521 is the oldest church building in Malaysia and probably in Southeast Asia too. The church is sited at the summit of St. Paul’s Hill, which used to be called by several other names.

The hill was named Melaka Hill by Parameswara, who founded Melaka in 1402.  It was renamed Mary’s Hill, in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary during Portuguese Melaka.

St.Paul’s Church started as a simple chapel, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was called ‘Our Lady of the Annunciation’. The chapel was built by a Portuguese nobleman. The chapel was enlarged in 1556 by adding a second floor to it. In 1590, a belfry tower was added to it. It was renamed Church of the Mother of God. In 1592, a burial vault was opened and many people of distinction were buried there.

A school was established by St. Francis Xavier at the premises of the chapel and was called St. Paul’s College. When St. Francis Xavier passed away in China in 1552, his body was brought to St. Paul’s Hill to be buried.  However, it was a temporary burial as his final resting place is in Goa.

In 1641, the church was consecrated as St. Paul’s Church or Bovenkerk by the Dutch. The church was in use by the Dutch until the Christ Church was opened in 1753.

The Church of St. Paul at St. Paul’s Hill is now part of the Melaka Museum Complex comprising the A Famosa ruins, the Stadhuys and other historical buildings.

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Christ Church

The Christ Church was constructed by the Dutch from 1741 to 1753. After using the old Portuguese church on top of St. Paul’s Hill for their religious services for a century, the Dutch finally built their own church.

Built from laterite bricks from Holland, this cherry-pink church features the 18th-century Dutch architecture.   It has a rectangle plan (82 feet by 42 feet), massive walls, red granite plinths and Dutch roof tiles. The church also features high ceiling of 40 feet, spanned by wooden beams, each of them cut from a single tree. The floors of the church are paved with granite blocks, which also incorporated tombstones with Portuguese and Armenian inscriptions.

Though the church dates back to the 18th-century, it is the oldest functioning Protestant church in Malaysia. The church is part of the Diocese of West Malaysia.

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The Stadhuys is a historical building in a place called the Red Square in Melaka. Stadhuys or stadhuis means town hall in Dutch. The Stadhuys in Melaka is well known for its red exterior. It matches with the red clock tower nearby.

The Stadhuys was constructed between 1641 and 1660 by the Dutch on the ruins of A Famosa. The purpose of this building was to be the offices of the Governor and Deputy Governor. The Stadhuys features distinct Dutch colonial architecture with massive walls, bulky doors with wrought-iron hinges and louvred windows.

The building was turned into a school during the British rule.  Opened in 1826, the school, called the Melaka Free School was a response to a letter dated April 19, 1825, which called for an English institution of education in Melaka. Free education was provided to the people and the school was eventually renamed Melaka High School in 1871.

In 1982, Stadhuys was converted into a museum, which showcases the customs and traditions in Melaka, the place’s rich history from the time of the Melaka Sultanate to the Portuguese, Dutch and British occupations.

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Sacred Heart Canossian Convent

Back in 1905, a religious community, fondly known as the Canossian Sisters community picked Melaka to be their base in the Malay Peninsular. This religious community was founded by St. Magdalene of Canossa in Italy in 1808. Soon, they spread their wings and began setting up convents, learning centres and religious communities in Kluang in 1950, Segamat in 1956, Jinjang in 1961 and Sungai Siput in 1984.

The history of the Canossian Convent can be traced back to 1884 when the Bishop of the Portuguese Christian Mission invited the Canossian Sisters to establish a convent and a school for the education and needs of girls in Melaka. The Bishop died in 1897 before his wish was fulfilled. By then, the Singapore’s St. Anthony’s Canossian Convent, which was established in 1879, was already planning to send pioneer religious members to Melaka. In May 1905, four Canossian Sisters set sail for Melaka.

The sisters settled in a small house in Bandar Hilir upon arrival at Melaka. They immediately set up and ran a school for both boys and girls, which was the harbinger for the establishment of the Canossian Sacred Heart Convent at Bandar Hilir in 1929.

A new primary school block was constructed in 1952. Subsequently, more blocks were added, which included accommodation for the local Canossian religious community members and orphans. By 1956, the Sacred Heart Convent comprises the kindergarten, primary school and secondary school.

In 2015, the sisters from the Canossian religious community converged in Melaka to celebrate the convent’s 110th anniversary. A Canossian Heritage Gallery was inaugurated in 2015 in conjunction with the celebration.

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