Monday, March 05, 2007

Malacca Built Heritage

CD PROCEEDINGS: THIRD ANNUAL CONFERENCE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY IN ARCHAEOLOGY AND CONSERVATION, 7-11 DECEMBER 2004, JORDAN

Organised by: QIRTH Queen Rania Institute Of Tourism And Heritage, The Hashemite University, Jordan

Kamarul Syahril Kamal1 and Lilawati Ab Wahab2
12University Technology MARA, Malaysia

SUMMARY

Heritage encompasses people, places, practices and artifacts of enduring significance, beauty and value. Historic buildings are parts of built heritage. They are the product of much thought, philosophy, architectural, aesthetics and culture of the people. Malaysia has a rich legacy of buildings and monuments with outstanding craftsmanship and architecture quality. Together they form an impressive historic features and heritage of the past work of builders who are talented and skilled. Malacca is Malaysia’s Historical City. Culturally and socially, Malacca boast a history of port settlement and the result of some 600 years history has made Malacca (and Malaysia) a multicultural society and their presence is still very visible through the building heritage that are still standing. It is here in Malacca that one can still find buildings and monuments of historical significance where a very large number of splendid buildings and monuments demonstrating traditional Eastern and Western mixed architectural styles were built within the city wall. This paper intends merely to focus on Malacca Built Heritage which is part of the tangible cultural heritage. It will also look on some preservation issues that may arise from its conservation projects. While heritage has now been generally recognized by society as important, the actual preservation and conservation processes pose a very real challenge. It is important to conserve and preserve historic buildings and monuments because it provides a sense of identity and continuity in a fast changing world for future generations.

Keywords: Heritage, Malacca, Historic Buildings, Monuments, Conservation.

INTRODUCTION

Approaching the city of Malacca today, people would think that it is a new city like many other cities in Malaysia with modern buildings, big government offices, shopping complexes and large hotels now dominate the cityscape. But Malacca is truly historical, and many of the historic buildings are still around to be admired and preserved for posterity. Najib Ariffin expressed that, “You only need to go to the right places to find these gems of old times nestled in their own timeless quarters”. Most of these buildings are in fact within walking distance of each other, especially around the Bandar Hilir area. This paper would like to highlight all the historic section of old Malacca, guiding readers through its centuries of history, the rulers and the marks they have left behind.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF MALACCA

As every Malaysian knows, the great Malay kingdom and empire of Malacca was founded in 1403, by a refugee prince from Sumatra, Parameswara, establishes a new state on the west coast of the Peninsula known as the Malacca Sultanate to challenge the pre-eminence of Srivijaya. Parameswara was believed to have first landed in the area along the riverbank facing the Stadthuys. He decided to name the place after the Malacca tree he was sitting under. Then the state embraces Islam and attracts large numbers of Indian Muslim merchants. It was later become an important center of culture and art and statecraft. The settlement at the mouth of the Malacca River grows rapidly as the most convenient collecting point in the Malay Archipelago for the valuable spices produced in the Spice Island or “The Moluccas” of the eastern archipelago. It develops into a vast, cosmopolitan trading center in which Tamils, Arabs, Chinese, Persians, Javanese and other live, each in their own quarter of the town. The rise of Malacca as a new maritime power based on control of international trade routes followed the traditional pattern of regional history, but it also led to two new developments of the greatest historical important. For nearly 150 years, Malacca remains the pivot around which the east and west trade revolves. The wooden palaces, watch towers and palisades on the hill was built by Sultan Mansur Shah to commands a strategic position overlooking the Malacca River and Straits. This Malacca Palace represents what was in fact part of much larger compounds around the hill housing the Malaccan Malay ruling class. (See Figure 1). The city’s main mosque was also built in the area and one of the most famous remaining was the Grand Tranquerah Mosque. (See Figure 2). The Malay Annals describes the 15th century wooden palaces was later destroyed by fire before the Portuguese arrival. However, much of the rest of the imperial Malaccan buildings, include the mosque, were destroyed in the aftermath of the invasion of 1511. In the countryside, the houses of Malays are raised off the ground on tree trunks or bamboo posts. Meanwhile immigrants and traders bring their house building techniques and forms, particularly the curved roof. Chinese settlers introduce traditional elements such as courtyards and masonry staircase. Malacca’s political domination is short lived. It attracts the attention of Portuguese who are seeking alternative routes to the Spice Islands following the closure of the traditional overland trade routes in the aftermath of the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks. In 1511, the city port falls to the Portuguese and becomes the center of their eastern trading empire.

THE COLONIAL HERITAGE IN MALACCA

Malacca is unique in being the only town in Malaysia to have been ruled by three Western colonial powers. Already a wealthy port and an important center of trade by the early 16th century, it attracted Westerners who came to the East to set up trading posts. In1511, a fleet led by Alphonso d’Alburquere, the Portuguese Viceroy of India, conquered Malacca, thus establishing a long period of colonial rule which began with the Portuguese, followed by the Dutch, then the British, that lasted for almost 450 years. The most tangible legacy of the colonial period are a number of buildings which exhibit the architectural styles of the colonists.

1. The Portuguese Heritage

After their conquest in Malacca in 1511, the Portuguese consolidated their position by building a fortress near the mouth of the Malacca River, which they called A Famosa or “The Famous” in Portuguese, in the hope that it would bring the same fame to Malacca as the city had enjoyed during Malay rule. (See Figure 3). The basic fort took five months of labour, and was completed in 1512. Thereafter, more was added to the fort and by 1583 Malacca was a city walled up from the sea front and all around the hill known today as St. Paul’s. There were at least four watchtowers and gates as well as various government buildings and residences within the large fortress. According to Lim Teng Ngoim, “The building activities of the Portuguese converted Malacca into a Christian town characterized by many masonry buildings, among them five churches, a monastery, two hospitals and two palaces”. Much of A Famosa was literally blown up with explosives by William Farquhar during the first period of British control over Malacca at the turn of the 19th century to prevent its use when returned to the Dutch. The event was witnesses and recorded in bittersweet detail by the famous local literarian Munshi Abdullah in his book “Chronicles of Abdullah”. When Stamford Raffles heard of the demolition, he quickly moved to stop it but just a small portion of the fort remained to be saved. Today only the gateway known as Porta De Santiago is clearly visible. Interestingly, above the arch is carved the Dutch coat-of arms added in 1669 after the Dutch conquest. European architecture, in the style of Manueline Gothic or “The last phase of Gothic architecture in Portugal”, named after King Manuel I, is for the first time transplanted to the East. It is characterized by square-shaped, barn-like, structures. Around the town of Malacca three suburbs developed, the largest being Tranqueira, the Portuguese word for “Rampart”, on the northwest side of the fortress consisted of a market, the two parishes of St. Thomas and St. Stephen. A bridge at the mouth of the Malacca river connected Tranqueira with the fortress. The other two suburbs, each with parish church, were Sabac and Ylier or “Bandar Hilir”. On the immediate hilltop behind the gateway was a Portuguese Catholic Chapel dedicated to Nossa Senhora or “Our Lady” and successively enlarged so as to become a church. The church was later renamed St. Paul’s by the Dutch who turned it into a Dutch Reformed Church. The British did not even use the building for worship and instead made it their gunpowder storehouse, and later abandoned it. Today it houses old interestingly inscribed tombstones of mostly Dutch as well as Portuguese officials and family members.

2. The Dutch Heritage

The Dutch seized Malacca after a five-month siege in 1641. By then the city was in ruins with almost every building damaged by bombardments. The Dutch, however, rebuilt the damaged fortifications and cleared the ruined buildings. Churches and monasteries were converted into hospitals and arsenals. The Dutch occupation referring to Laurens Vis, “Extended the range of building types in the town where the Portuguese had concentrated on the construction of fortifications and churches, while the Dutch built comfortable brick houses and a large administrative building, the three-storey Stadthuys or “The Town hall”. (See Figure 4). The architectural style of the Stadthuys is similar to colonial Dutch buildings in South Africa. The Stadthuys is said to be the oldest existing Dutch building in Asia, constructed soon after the Dutch conquest in 1641 and finished by stages up to 1661. It served as the residence of the Dutch governors and later as the administrative center until 1824. Its original colour was brick red, later plastered white, and was painted deeper red in 1820 until today. The Stadhuys covers an area of 49,000 square feet, extending to garden courtyards at the back. This complex of red buildings according to Najib Ariffin is often called “Dutch Square” and is the main physical reminder of Dutch rule. The historical sites in this beautiful square include the long 17th century Stadthuys building, Christ Church, the Post Office, a clock tower and also a fountain. Even the original bakery room is well preserved and restored for public viewing. Today the building houses the History Museum and the Ethnography Museum. The adjacent Christ Church is also a Dutch edifice, dating from 1753 and is the oldest Protestant Church in Malaysia. Just nearby is St. Peter’s Church, the Oldest Roman Catholic church in Malaysia. It was built in 1710 by the local Portuguese community. Its façade and décor have a combination of Western and Eastern architecture with resemblance to the Portuguese style in Goa, India where its bells were cast in 1608. The clock tower in the square is not from the Dutch period but was built in 1886. The original clock was imported from England, but in 1982 the clock was replaced by one made in Japan. Meanwhile the fountain is dated 1904 and is dedicated to Queen Victoria of England on her Golden Jubilee celebrations in 1897. The Dutch architectural style is still highly visible in Malacca. Decorative influences of the Dutch architectural style can still be seen in the trimmings and ornamental details of the façades and windows copings of many of the buildings in most of the streets in Malacca.

3. The British Heritage

A turn in political events in Europe spearheaded the British presence in Malacca. Although the British were expected to occupy Malacca temporarily, their arrival was an important turning point in Malaysia history. In 1824, with the signing of the Anglo-Dutch Treaty, the British exchanged their trading post of Bancoolen in Sumatra for Malacca and consequently Malacca came under British colonial jurisdiction. By the end of the 19th century, the British were involved as a colonial power throughout the Peninsula to protect tin mining and other interests. Sadly for Malacca, as mention previously, the British Governor, William Farquhar, was ordered to demolish the fort that the Dutch had rebuilt after capturing it from the Portuguese. But over the next 162 years of British rule, its administrators did bring about improvements in land and sea transportation. An iron jetty at the harbour was built for steamers in the 1880s to replace the wood one. By 1900, public buildings, with their emphasis on symmetrical planning, harmonious proportions and the use of classic motifs, reached their height during the period of British rule. Just across the river from Dutch Square, most of the row of houses on Jonker Streets were mostly built during the British period. Since they were taxed according to frontage width, most houses are found to be narrow and long, with welcoming open-air courtyard to let in the light. The building are delightfully varied; an eclectic mix of European and Asian styles-some with one of a kind embellishments. (See Figure 5).

THE CONSERVATION ISSUE

Conservation is the action taken to prevent decay, embracing all acts that prolong the life of cultural and natural heritage. Building conservation relates specifically to the process of maintenance, repair and restoration of historic buildings which aim to prolong a building’s life and functions. Like many other countries and cities which are awakening to building conservation needs, Malacca faces several problems in dealing with issues of historic buildings and monuments as highlighted by Prof. Bill Hamilton:
1. The present legislation on conservation is not sufficient and suitable to protect such buildings from being demolished and destroyed. E.g. Under the Antiquities Act 1976 a historic building and monument must be at least 100 years old to be listed or gazette by the Government through the Museum Department to give protection and encouragement for preservation and conservation. However, many important buildings have not yet reached this age, are not protected, been neglected and even destroyed.
2. There are no suitable or proper systems for documenting and recording the historic buildings and monuments. It is important in building conservation to identify, classify and assist the owner and authority in keeping a record on the buildings and monuments for future research, preserve, restored and assess remedial measures when necessary. Recently, The Department of Museums and Antiquities, Malaysia and Melaka Museums Corporation has started to document several conservations projects but the progress of documentation is limited due to shortage of technical skills and manpower.
3. There is lack of conservationist in preserving and restoring historical buildings and monuments. Some of the projects were supervised by people who are lack in conservation knowledge that didn’t really follow the basic principle and ethic of conservation. Meanwhile the skill workers and craftsmen that involve in conservation projects are also very difficult to get and many of them were brought from other countries like India, Vietnam, Indonesia etc. and the labour cost was very expensive.
4. Most of the historic buildings and monuments in Malacca use building materials which are very difficult to get locally. Such building materials like bricks, stones, timber and plaster were imported from other countries depending on the origin or the history of the buildings and monuments itself. The cost of these building materials was very expensive and need some time to get the custom made.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Since the building boom of the 1970s, a few of Malacca historic buildings have been demolished. Recent large scale urban development continues to threat prewar buildings, while other heritage buildings are simply deteriorating due to age and neglect. To lose these buildings, however, is effectively to obliterate historical memories, and there is now increasing pressure from various segments of the community to conserve the nation’s architectural heritage. Chen Voon Fee suggested that:
1. Laws for historic buildings in Malacca should be established through legislation whereby a national inventory or state inventory of historic buildings should includes lists and schedules of old buildings and monuments for protection.
2. Conservation zones can also be created through proper town planning action, with guidelines for redevelopment and the integration of new buildings.
3. Financial incentives should be provided to owners to reuse their historic properties while others could be compensated.

CONCLUSION

Malacca historical buildings deemed worthy of conservation fall into three groups: those buildings with historical significance, architectural significance, and other significant cultural or social values. The father of architectural conservation, Bernard Fielden suggests, “Briefly, an historic building is one that gives us a sense of wonder and makes us want to know more about the people and culture that produced it. It has architectural, aesthetic, historic, documentary, archaeological, economic, social and even political and spiritual or symbolic values, but the first impact is always emotional, for it is a symbol of our cultural identity and continuity – a part of our heritage”. Historic buildings in Malacca as mentioned before include those connected with historical significant events in multi cultural, political, economical, military and social history. Meanwhile historic buildings of architectural significance are those displaying a particular, or an unusual, style or construction technique. They represent an important work of an architect or craftsman, or are particularly rich in details reflective of their time. For hundred of years, people of completely different races, appearances, cultures, languages and religious have settled and mingled and built their homes and places of worship in peace and harmony. Malacca has always been open to ideas and influences from three Western colonial powers. It is thus blessed with an architectural heritage of great diversity, artistry and sophistication, showing many cross-cultural influences. As a conclusion, Malacca built heritage is like a mosaic of mosque, palaces, vernacular houses, monastery, mansions, administrative building, public buildings, post office, hospitals, parishes, churches, market, shop houses, clock towers and state of the art fortress.

REFRENCES

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