About an hour and a half’s drive from Malaysia’s capital city, Kuala Lumpur, the historical state of Malacca is well-known for its rich and colourful cultural and historical past – which earns it the nickname `Negeri Bersejarah’ (Historical State) – evidence of which can still be found around town and on its streets.
The Legend that is Malacca
The origins of Malacca came about in the late 14th century when a young Srivijayan prince from Sumatra named Parameswara witnessed a mousedeer pushing one of his dogs into the river in self-defense. Impressed by the courage of the seemingly-gentle mousedeer against the ferocious dog, and inspired by its significance of `the weak overcoming the great’, he decided to build an empire right there and then, naming it `Melaka’ (Malacca), after the Melaka tree he was resting under when he witnessed the event.
Under the administration of Parameswara, what was initially a small, sleepy fishing town became the most important port of trade and commerce in the whole Asian region, thanks to its strategic location. Traders from all over the world especially from Java, India, Arabia and China flock to Malacca to trade their goods such as tobacco, gemstones and silk.
Malacca continued to prosper throughout the years, and became the most powerful region in Asia – much envied and sought-after by neighbouring regions. The Siamese’s attempt to invade Malacca was hampered with the help of Malacca’s biggest trade partner, China, and Malacca’s relationship with China was further strengthened by the marriage of their princess, Princess Hang Li Poh, to the Sultan, Sultan Mansur Shah, which gave rise to one of the most ancient lineages of Malacca, the Peranakan line, to which the `Baba-Nyonya’ community belongs.
Malacca was eventually conquered by the Portuguese in 1511, under the leadership of Alfonso de Albuquerqe, who made it a strategic base for Portuguese expansion in the East Indies. The Sultan at the moment, who was also the last Sultan of Malacca, Sultan Mahmud Shah, fled to Sumatra. In 1641, the Dutch defeated the Portuguese and took over, who then handed it over to the British in exchange for a region in Sumatra. Many of the influences from the era of the Western invasion can still be seen around Malacca today, such as the A’ Famosa fort and the red Stadthuys buildings.
Malacca is also home to the legend of Hang Tuah, the greatest warrior in Malay history.
Historical Attractions of Malacca
There are many relics still standing all over the state of Malacca – symbols of Malacca’s rich historical past:
The Stadthuys Building
Built in the 17th century, The Stadthuys Building was the official residence of the Dutch Governer and his deputy, and is a fine example of Dutch architecture. It is now home to the Museum of History and Ethnography, which houses traditional wedding costumes and historical artefacts. The Christ Church is located nearby, housing hand-crafted church benches, jointless ceiling skylights and a replica of `The Last Supper’.
Fort A’ Famosa
An important relic from the Portuguese era, Fort A’ Famosa was built in the 16th century and had suffered a sizeable damage to its original structure during the Dutch invasion. The fort was saved from complete destruction – there were plans for absolute demolition of the fort by the British colony – by the intervention of Sir Stamford Raffles, who decided that it should be preserved.
Also known as `Mini Lisbon’, Portuguese Square represents the Portuguese culture in its full splendour. It is located within the Portuguese settlement of Malacca, and during Fiesta San Pedro, this area comes to life with Portuguese-style entertainment and celebrations. Portuguese restaurants selling authentic Portuguese dishes can also be found here.
Jonker’s Street, otherwise known as `Jalan Hang Jebat’, is filled with buildings and settlements that reflect the Baba-Nyonya rich cultural heritage, with immaculately-constructed façade and elaborately-carved pillars and panels. This street is also famous for its antique shops, and is the perfect shopping spot for visitors wanting to bring home a piece of Malacca with them.
Bukit China or China Hill was the original settlement for the Chinese migrants who came with Princess Hang Li Poh’s entourage, where the Sultan of Malacca had built a palace for himself and his new bride on top of the hill. Nowadays, the hill is home to an extensive Chinese graveyard, some dating back as far as the Ming Dynasty.
There are many other interesting historical sites around Malacca such as the Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum on Jalan Tun Cheng Lock, St. John’s Fort, St. Paul’s Church, Sam Po Kong Temple, Cheng Hoon Teng Temple and Kampung Keling Mosque, as well as a replica of the Sultan of Malacca’s palace at the foot of St. Pauls’ Hill, of which design was based on the description of the palace taken from the 16th-century Sejarah Melayu (The Malay Annals), providing a glimpse of the ancient royal kingdom that had once resided in Malacca.
Malacca is best experienced on foot or via the many cheap and cheerful rickshaws available all over town.