About Malaka City
When people think history and great historical attractions that symbolise a city and it’s past, it’s common to think of any number of countries in Europe – England, Italy, Austria and Germany to name just a few of the countries in Europe that have extensive and well-preserved historic areas to explore. For example, the old town areas of: Frankfurt, Germany; Tallinn, Estonia and Ljubljana, Slovenia immediately come to mind in this regard.
However, dare I say it, the more I explore Asia, the more I realise that Asia is more than food and shopping, and a history buff like myself can be more than satisfied in many cities throughout Asia.
I discovered this in Manila back in May, but a particularly excellent example of Asia’s history can be explored in Melaka City, the capital of the state of Melaka, which sits on the west coast of the Malaysian peninsula, or west Malaysia as it is sometimes known, facing the Strait of Melaka.
Melaka City is where my grandmother is from, so it was fascinating to also delve into my Peranakan cultural heritage by immersing myself in this UNESCO World Heritage listed city.
Melaka or Malacca
Before going further, I want to point out that as of 3 May 2017, “Malacca” is no longer a valid variant of the name when referring to the city and state. On that day, the State Executive Council of the state government of Melaka officially ceased use of the English anglicisation “Malacca” in favour of the original Malay “Melaka”.
Knowing my interest in history, people had been telling me for years that Melaka City was a must-visit destination for me and honestly I thought, how could that be, it’s in Asia and surely can’t hold such historic significance. How wrong I was! …especially when I discovered that that Melaka City is a UNESCO World Heritage listed city, and has been so since 2008.
From a practical point of view, getting to Melaka City is particularly convenient, being 100 minutes (off-peak travel time) and 136 from KLIA by well-maintained and wide tolled freeway – an easy day or even half day trip from the national capital.
The History of Melaka
The history of Melaka can be traced back to 1396 when Parameswara, the last raja of the kingdom of Singapura established the Sultanate of Melaka in that year. Rise of the economic importance of Melaka led, in 1511, to the city, being conquered by the Portuguese.
Subsequent rule by the Dutch from 1641 to 1795 and 1818 to 1825 (1795 to 1818 was when Dutch Melaka was under British occupation during the Napoleonic War), then the British from 1826 to 1946 (apart from three years of Japanese occupation from 1942 to 1945 during World War II) as part of their Straits Settlements territories in South East Asia before the Malayan Union from 1946 to 1948, the Federation of Malaya from 1948, with independence in 1957.
Melaka’s oldest building is the 508 year old ruins of the gatehouse (Porta de Santiago) of the fortress (A Famosa) built by the Portuguese in 1511. Over the period of British residence (1795 to 1818) in Melaka during the Napoleonic War, the British all but demolished the fortress, in 1807, with only the gatehouse spared due to a chance visit by Sir Stamford Raffles.
The gatehouse is easily and freely accessible, with it being possible to walk all around and in the ruined building. Behind the gatehouse, sitting atop a hill are the remains of St Paul’s church, built in 1521.
A decent amount of steps need to be completed to get you to the top, but the building is certainly worth it, plus there are so tourist-orientated stalls around the old church, which might be of interest to some. There are also nice views on top of this hill.
Close by to the Porta de Santiago is the Proclamation of Independence Memorial. It is a stunningly beautiful building built in 1912, that is in fabulous condition. It used to be home to the “Malacca Club”, the British social centre of the city, but in 1985, became a museum outlining the independence of Malaysia.
The Peranakan People
One of the cities richest in Peranakan history is Melaka City. Peranakan is the name given to the ethnic group from the area around the Strait of Melaka that arose in the 1600 to 1800s. A unique cultural mix that originated from the Han ethnic group of China that combined their Chinese background and colonial European influences.
Apart from the word Peranakan, two other related words that are commonly encountered are Nyona, which refers to Peranakan women and Baba which refers to Peranakan men. The best way to delve into Peranakan culture is at the Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum, which opened in 1985.
It is housed in a beautifully restored home built in 1861. Showcased in the museum are the lives of four generations of Peranakan families who lived in the house. Guided and self-guided tours are held, but only self-guided were available on the day of our visit.
The Museums of Melaka
Wandering the extensive double story residence at our own pace was an excellent option because of their well-prepared detailed guide. The museum covered two aspects; the everyday life of a 19th and early 20th century Peranakan family, which included aspects like what they would eat and how they would prepare food with examples of actual cooking “appliances” and equipment.
Other interesting aspects were the the types of crockery sets used for different meals or occasions.
Something I’ve never seen before was a lockable staircase cover, used at the top of the stairs as a home security measure. The air wells were another fascinating aspects of house design, and this home featured three. They are square parts of the house open to the outside, allowing sun and rain directly into the house, typically measuring about four metres square. Apart from everyday living, life milestones were also showcased, such as wedding and funeral traditions.
Many cities in Malaysia are not short of holy houses, with Melaka City, due to its long history, having some particularly old temples that are still operating to this day after hundreds of years.
A couple especially worthy of note; The Chinese Cheng Hoon Teng temple is a Buddhist and Taoist holy house built in 1645 and is the oldest such temple in Malaysia that is still operating.
The Sri Poyatha Moorthi, built in 1781, is Malaysia’s oldest Hindu temple. These are just some of the historical attractions worth exploring in the UNESCO World Heritage listed Melaka City.
They give a feel for the early colonial period of Melaka City and the ensuing cultural uniqueness that developed in this key part of the world. I certainly, was not disappointed, so the historic city core comes highly recommended from myself.
Visit Melaka City and immerse yourself in the amazing history this city has to offer!
Article title: Historic Melaka City
By: Philip Button from When in Roma Travel @wheninromatravel
Philip is a food microbiologist by profession, but at heart, a global adventure-seeking, travel blogger and Instagram photography who loves local culture, local experiences and getting into touch with local people and local living through food, history and social experiences.