Malacca has often been dubbed Malaysia’s most historically intriguing city. It is a city that at one time possessed the richest and busiest port in Southeast Asia; a city that controlled the spice trade and was home to thousands of transplanted Malays, Sumatrans, Javanese, Chinese and Indians; a city that suffered a complete series of European invasions at the hands of the Portuguese, Dutch and English; and a city that today, offers a unique interracial and multi cultural history as seen through its people and architecture.
Only three and a half-hours by bus from Singapore, Malacca today no longer possesses a busy port and has now transformed into a mystical, peaceful, sleepy, little town. However, when walking through Malacca’s narrow streets, its history literally comes to life. Ancient ruins, Chinese temples, as well as the many architectural traces of its opulent colonial past, flood the city. Today, Malacca only faces the friendly invasion of tourist, the majority of which are school students from Singapore who come to see for themselves what Singapore was like a hundred years ago.
In 1405, the Ming Emperor sent Admiral Cheng Ho to Malacca with the promise that China would protect the city from its archenemies the Siamese. The Chinese then began to settle there in the mid 1400’s. The relations between the two countries was officially sealed when the Sultan of Malacca married the Ming Emperor’s daughter.
She brought with her to Malacca literally hundreds of servants, who established their residence on the side of a hill that was later named Bukit China (“China Hill”). The hill has remained a Chinese domain ever since, and now stands as the largest Chinese graveyard outside of China. Covering over 60 hectares, some of its elaborate graves date back as far as the Ming dynasty.
Another must see and piece of the Chinese historical puzzle in Malacca is the beautiful Cheng Hoon Teng Temple, also known as the “Temple of the Evergreen Clouds” built in 1645. It is exquisitely decorated with intricate woodcarvings, porcelain, and colored glass all imported from China.
European influence in Malacca arrived harshly in 1511 when the Portuguese attacked and took over the city. Although their reign of power lasted less than 150 years, the Portuguese left behind their piece of history. In the early 16th Century, A Formosa was built and became one of the greatest fortresses in the East. Unfortunately, thanks to the British who demolished the fortress in 1807, all that remains today is the Santiago Gate. However, the gate is in good condition and gives one an insight into what A Formosa must have been like under Portuguese rule
From the Santiago gate at the base of Residency Hill, a path leads up behind it to “Our Lady on the Hill” chapel built in 1571. The famous missionary Francis Xavier was a regular visitor of the chapel and after his death, he was buried there for nine months.
In 1641, the Dutch attacked Malacca and immediately changed the name of the chapel to St. Paul’s Church. The Dutch, like the Portuguese before them, only stayed in power for about 150 years. During that period, they added to the Portuguese chapel and today the massive, imposing walls of the church still stand firm overlooking the Straits of Malacca. Scattered around the church are a number of old Dutch tombstones, as well as a statue of St. Francis Xavier that was left surprisingly untouched by the Dutch
Of all the European presence in the city of Malacca, the Dutch must be credited most for their incredibly durable construction of public buildings. The buildings at the center of Dutch Square were definitely built to last forever. The Stadthuys (town hall) was built between 1641 and 1660, is still in use today as government offices. This massive pink building, constructed from bricks imported from Zecland, Holland is considered by many historians as the oldest remaining Dutch building in the East. It is a perfectly preserved example of classic Dutch colonial architecture.
Beside the Stadthuys, at one end of Dutch Square, sits the brilliant, red, Christ Church. The church, which was later converted by the British for Anglican use, is also still used today. Thanks to the insight of Singapore’s founder, Sir Stamford Raffles, the church was spared and left undamaged. The Dutch tombstones buried in the floor of the church are still visible and its enormous 15-metre-long ceiling beams remain as solid and strong as when it was first built.
In 1824, the Dutch handed over Malacca to the British in exchange for the Sumatran port of Bencoolen. For a short time, under British rule, Malacca once again continued to prosper as a trading center. However, although Stamford Raffles saved the city’s colonial past from the destruction of his own troops, he single handedly killed off its trade industry when he developed Singapore as a commercial interest.
With a city so deep in history, it is hard to imagine anyone not being fascinated by beautiful Malacca. It is a city where two days can easily stretch to four and still leave you wondering if you have seen enough.
Visas are not required for citizens of Commonwealth countries (except India and Sri Lanka), most European countries, the United States, Japan and South Korea, provided your stay does not exceed three months. Citizens of Asian countries do not require visas for visits of less than a month. Make sure your passport has at least 6 months validity from the date of your arrival.
In Malaysia the official language is Bahasa Malaysia. However, both English and Chinese are widely-spoken and understood.
Where to Stay:
The Renaissance, Melaka Hotel (Tel. (60) 6 2848888) is located on Jalan Bendahara, 75100 Melaka. It has 300 spacious guestrooms and suites, luxuriously furnished with large beds, IDD telephones, remote control TV sets with in-house video programs. Superior rooms start at US$ 100, Deluxe rooms US$ 150, Jr. Suites US$ 200, and the Presidential Suite will cost you around US$ 1200.
The Emperor Hotel, (Tel. 06-2840777) is located at 123 Jalan Munshi Abdullah, 75100 Melaka. It has 233 guest rooms, a Chinese restaurant, coffee house, and swimming pool. Superior rooms start at US$ 60, Deluxe US$ 80, Jr. Suites US$ 150, Executive Suites US$ 175, and a Luxury Suite will cost you around US$200.
The Puri Hotel, (Tel. 65-368-8190) is located at 118 Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, 75100 Melaka. Originally a private home, the building, has been carefully restored to a 44-room and six suite hotel. The rooms are all air-conditioned and breakfast is included. Standard rooms start at US$35 to US$100 for a family suite.
Things to Buy:
Batik, although originally an Indonesian craft, is extremely popular in Malaysia.
Travel Writer Patrick Mascoe has published in the past a number of travel related articles such as,
“Mount Ophir” (Singapore-American Magazine – March 2001), “Missing Saigon”
(Brave Magazine – Sept/Oct. 1999), “Be Careful Singapore” (Singapore Strait
Times – Feb. 23, 1999), “Japanese Students Learn By Rote” (Ottawa Citizen –
Feb. 24, 1990).