Malacca Heritage City - George Town's Sister City
Malacca Heritage City (or spelled as Melaka in Malay) has been a hotspot over the centuries. Even though the location, its buildings and also history are totally different from George Town, these two cities share three common criteria that make them be chosen as UNESCO heritage sites.
The history spanned over 600 years. This place became the main trading post for East and West trade way before Singapore or Penang was established.
Legends and stories abound. Be it about the miracles of St. Xavier, the adventures of eunuch Admiral Cheng Ho (or Zheng He) or Malay warrior Hang Tuah and his four sidekicks.
Travelers who passed by Malacca recorded in ancient literatures retelling their accounts of events and description of this place -- the meeting place of two trade winds. The formal story of Malacca began when Parameswara in 15th century, a prince of Palembang, set foot on Temasek and killed Temagi, who was then the Siamese government representative at that time. To save himself from Siam's wrath, he ran off to Muar and then later to Melaka.
Here, he rested under a tree which bore some fruits (buah melaka) and witnessed a strange incident whereby his hunting dogs were kicked by a small deer. Thus, he decided that this place was worthy to settle in because of the courage of this small animal against bigger foes. The place was named Melaka after the tree.
The core heritage zone of Malacca revolves around the hill where the ruin of San Paulo Church is located, as well as the huge complex of Stadhuys, which was built by the Dutch in the 17th century. The area is identified by deep red paint that most buildings have. Rows of shop houses in Jonker Street and Heeren Street are also part of the zone. The Malacca river is now canalized to resemble a canal in Amsterdam with a popular river cruise service which runs along the river.
Malacca heritage city wants to be known as the place with the most number of museums in Malaysia. There are so many museums here, you can argue whether some of the topics are relevant or not to heritage theme, but they do get visitors. Most of these museums are housed in heritage buildings in the city.
The main architecture in the core area seemed to be old Dutch style with huge windows, ceilings, and made of priceless tropical timber and large slabs or granite.
There are shop houses which are pretty similar to the ones available in Penang or other Malaysian and Singaporean towns and we could estimate their age by looking at their facade. This is the only place where we can see Dutch style shop in Malaysia. They are generally lower than newer shop houses and have a simpler facade.
Recently one lot of this style of shop house was restored by Badan Warisan and it is located at No. 8, Heeren Street. The street is very narrow with hardly any space for pedestrians to walk past, in my opinion very dangerous when the cars also speed by with no regards to people who are walking or sightseeing in the area.
Another prominent place would be Bukit China with its Hang Li Po well and rows of ancient Chinese cemetery on its slope. Here, a temple was built and it is now dedicated to Cheng Ho (or Zheng He).
The statue of Cheng Ho is placed outside this temple. It has become a guardian angel over time. Even though he is reportedly to be a Muslim, the Taoist venerate him as a demi-god. There are many legends relating to this prolific seafarer. He supposedly visited Malacca five times over his career.
Melaka never recovered its glory as the main entreport in Asia after Malacca Sultanate fell to the Portuguese in 1511.
The Portuguese and the Dutch failed to maintain its popularity as a main port because they imposed higher taxes. Another reason is, they kept being attacked by hostile local enemies.
Before that, Sultan Mansur Shah together with his smart Prime Minister (Tun Perak) and his famed admiral Laksamana Hang Tuah brought Melaka to its height.
Malacca Empire encompassed as far as Java, Riau and even South of Thailand. We could only imagine the multitude of people who came and went to trade, work and live there.
It was at this time that to show goodwill, the Emperor of China gave his princess (Hang Li Po) as a bride to the Sultan. She came with 500 handmaidens and they settled at Bukit China. This was also the place where the Grand Palace of Malacca Sultan was built.
It is a sad thing that the magnificent palace of Sultan Melaka was demolished by the Portuguese. We could now only imagine what it looks like based on the description in Sejarah Melayu book.
The palace was made of wood without any nails to keep the structure together. At the National Museum, we can see the replica of this palace.
Beside the colonial history, Bandar Hilir Melaka was also the place where Tunku Abdul Rahman set sail to England in 1956 to negotiate Malaya independence. He arrived bearing the good tiding in February 1957.
Now, Malacca is one of the smallest states in Malaysia, after Perlis. Remains of previous powers that used to rule here are abundant in Malacca heritage city core zone. Melaka river is not as deep as it used to be. Land was reclaimed and the formidable fort is no longer right next to the ocean. However, it is still a good place to visit to have a glimpse of how it all began.