Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Historic City of Melaka, Malaysia

The Historic Cities of Melaka and George Town are two most extensive
historic port settlements in Malaysia. Their urban fabrics, dating from the
16th century for Melaka and 18th century for George Town, together with
the monumental facades and the urban pattern, largely are still intact,
constitute a cultural property of interest for mankind.

For the Historic City of Melaka, the property for the inclusion on World
Heritage List, comprises of two major protected areas within the
conservation zone of the city, and is demarcated by the historic Melaka
River. First is the St. Paul’s Hill Civic Zone and another is the Historic
Residential and Commercial Zone. Whilst, for the Heritage City of George
Town, the property includes the inner city at the northern tip of the
Penang Island. The property of each city comprises of core and buffer

Throughout the urban history of both cities of Melaka and George Town,
the myriad cultures which both traded with and settled in the cities
brought architectural styles from all over the world. The early
architecture of both cities forms from culture values, ideas, tradition and
memories of the immigrants and indigenous Malay builders. It adapted
according to the availability of materials, transport and the needs to live
comfortably in a tropical climate.

As the important hubs of both regional and global trade in the Southeast
Asia from 16th to 19th century, the cities of Melaka and George Town still
maintain their architectural heritage including various types of heritage
buildings as follows:
􀂃 Traditional Malay houses
􀂃 Traditional shophouses
􀂃 Terrace houses
􀂃 Malay Mosques
􀂃 Churches
􀂃 Chinese temples
􀂃 Hindu temples
􀂃 Colonial buildings from the periods of Portuguese, Dutch and

Apart from heritage buildings, the cities of Melaka and George Town
also retain some of their existing old roads, streets, river, open spaces
and town squares.

The Characteristics
The character of the Historic City of Melaka is strengthened by the
unique townscape qualities of the streets and the buildings that shaped
the quality of space created by these streets. In comparison to other
towns in Malaysia, Melaka's townscape is quite distinctive in character
because of its sense of enclosure and mixture of houses, shops and
places of worship. Along the narrow streets of Melaka, align on both
sides are rows of shophouses, mainly one and two storey height. From
simple two storey height with plan facades to more elaborate three
storey height in different styles and influences. The street scape of these
shophouses are punctuated by a number of religious buildings, mainly
the Malay mosques, Chinese and Indian temples.

There is a strong element of surprises created by narrow and deflected
streets that entice a person to wander through the alleys endlessly. The
skyline is broken by tiny intrusive structures on the roofs to form an
interesting silhouette. Added to that is the unique blend of façade,
creating a sense of variety within uniformity – with each building along
the streets being different than the others, yet giving a sense of unity.
The townscape of Melaka is reminiscent of the medieval European cities
which were designed to fit a society that was ruled by feudal lords,
where streets were designed to confuse the enemy. This makes Melaka
unique to the world as an example of a medieval townscape in this part
of the region. The naming of the streets according to the various
artisans that lived here such as goldsmiths, blacksmiths, temple etc
accentuates the character of medieval cities that tend to locate
craftsmen and traders according to their guilds.

The Historical Buildings and Monuments
St. Paul’s Hill Civic Zone has always been the seat of the governing
bodies from the time Melaka was founded to very recently. The
establishment of a kingdom at the locality was due to its commanding
position facing the river mouth and the Straits of Malacca and protected
from the interior by a vast swampy area. Known as Bukit Melaka during
the Malay Sultanate era, it’s been a royal abode as well as the seat of
power of the Sultans. The Portuguese simply called the area as ‘Oiteiro’
or Hill. They built a fortress around this hill, which was completed in 1548
and stayed within the walls. On top of it, they also built among other
things a church. The Dutch, who took over the church, turned it into a
Protestant church and named it St. Paul’s Church. The hill was renamed
St. Paul’s Hill and remained so ever since. The hill also continued to be
the seat of power of the British-Melaka government and the state
government of independent Melaka.

Within the St. Paul’s Hill Civic Zone there are many historical buildings
and monuments around the Hill and urban square established and built
either by the Portuguese, the Dutch or the British that have been
preserved and remain unchanged. Mainly located on Kota Road (Jalan
Kota), Laxamana Road (Jalan Laksamana), on St. Paul’s Hill or around
the Town Square, these buildings are fine evidence of long established
colonial powers in Melaka.

The more important buildings in the St. Paul’s Hill Civic Zone are:
􀂃 A’Farmosa, Jalan Kota
􀂃 Bastion House, Jalan Kota
􀂃 1963 Building, Jalan Kota
􀂃 Department of Museum and Antiquity, Jalan Kota
􀂃 Islamic Museum, Jalan Kota
􀂃 St. Francis Institution, Jalan Kota
􀂃 Banda Hilir Primary School, Jalan Kota
􀂃 Sacred Heart Canossian Convent, Jalan Kota
􀂃 Literature Museum, Jalan Kota
􀂃 Architecture Museum, Jalan Kota
􀂃 Democratic Museum, Jalan Kota
􀂃 Governor’s Museum, St. Paul’s Hill
􀂃 Ruin of St. Paul’s Church, St. Paul’s Hill
􀂃 Replica of Malay Sultanate Palaca, St. Paul’s Hill
􀂃 Stadthuys, Town Square
􀂃 Christ Church, Town Square
􀂃 Clock Tower, Town Square
􀂃 Fountain, Town Square
􀂃 St. Francis Xavier’s Church, Jalan Laksamana
􀂃 Several shophouses, Jalan Laksamana

The Town Square or locally referred to as the Dutch Square used to be
the hub of the town since its earliest foundation. It housed the key
buildings during the Dutch period in the form of the Stadthuys and the
Christ Church with a fountain and clock tower at the center. The strategic
location of the town square with its adjacent important public buildings
such as Stadthuys, relects the significance of this area as the centre of
the town. Since the beginning, the town started at the river mouth due
to its port activities. Therefore, the hub of the town centre was at the
site of the square due to its close proximity to the river mouth. This
square has not been altered since the Dutch period except for the
resurfacing of its roads. The composition of the buildings in the square
reflects the character of the townscape typical of a European town,
where the civic ambience of the place was heightened by the presence of
major civic buildings.

Leading to the Town Square is a parallel street to the river known as
Jalan Laksamana. This narrow street creates a strong sense of
enclosure, with many of the buildings consisting of the traditional shop
houses. The historical building located on the street is St. Francis Xavier
Church, which is designed to resemble a Portuguese Church. The
presence of a large church in the strategic part of the town center
suggests the strong influence of the colonial rulers in the development of
the city in the past.

The nearby Tan Kim Seng Bridge across the Melaka River marks the site
of the original 14th century timber bridge, which was attacked and
occupied by the Portuguese before they conquered the palace ground.
The bridge was also the original location of the Portuguese' bridge, the
Dutch drawbridge and the British cast iron bridge before it was replaced
by the present concrete bridge. The view from the bridge towards the
city resembles that of a fishing village with the buildings built close to the
water's edge. This bridge symbolized the link between the two sides of
the city that brought together the citizens and the rulers. This is
reminiscent of the humble beginnings of Melaka as a fishing village prior
to the Melaka Sultanate rule and way before its peak as a major trading
port in the world. The buildings along the river were built close to the
water's edge and in the past the buildings used to front the river when
the river was a lifeline to the city.

Across the bridge is The Historic Residential and Commercial Zone.
This was the most important residential area of the bygone era, which is
located on the northern or left bank of Melaka River. The Bendahara or
Prime Minister’s residence and the famous Melaka Bazaar were both
located in the vicinity during the Malay Sultanate period.
The Portuguese then change the racial composition of the settlement by
locating those who supported them closer to the fortress (Fortaleza de
Malacca). By the same token the Dutch did the same when they came to
power. In addition, the Dutch also built two residential areas for the
Dutch outside the fort, one for the rich and the other for the commoners,
and named them as Heeren Street and Jonker Street respectively. Among
the locals this area was aptly called Kampong Blanda.
Other community quarters namely Kampong Kling (Indian Village),
Kampong Hulu (Arab Village), Kampong Jawa (Javanese Village),
Kampong Serani (Eurasian Village) and Kampong China (Chinese Village),
which were established along racial lines still exist today but no longer
reflect the racial composition of he populace. It is also in this area one
can find a mosque, Indian Temple, Chinese Temple and church located
close to each other representing the harmony of the multi-racial groups.
This Three Temples Street (Jalan Tukang Emas, Jalan Tukang Besi and
Jalan Tokong) is better known as Streets of Harmony.

Within the The Historic Residential and Commercial Zone there are
excellent examples of shophouses on both sides of the narrow streets of
Melaka. Mainly located on both sides of the six main streets as follows:
􀂃 Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock (Heeren Street)
􀂃 Jalan Hang Jebat (Jonker Street)
􀂃 Jalan Tukang Emas (Goldsmith Street)
􀂃 Jalan Tukang Besi (Blacksmith Street)
􀂃 Jalan Tokong (Temple Street)
􀂃 Jalan Pantai (Kampong Pantei Street)

Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock was formerly known as Heeren Street;
was among the earliest streets built by the Dutch to accommodate their
government officers and the upper class groups of the society. The
residential character of the street can still be seen with its narrow
streets, ornate and richly decorated façade. Typical features of the
buildings include footways filled with hand-painted and Wedgewood tiles,
carved front doors surmounted by the family motto in gold calligraphy on
a black lacquered board, Corinthian columns and opulent base with
motifs of bats, phoenix, flowers and dragons. The flamboyant nature of
these town houses reflects the affluence and luxurious life style of the
original occupants. It was even dubbed as the 'millionaire's row' by the

After the Dutch left the country, these houses were occupied by the
affluent Babas or Peranakan (mix breed of English educated Chinese and
local girls' parentage). Their exquisite life style can still be seen today in
the overwhelming ornate interior decoration and furniture used. Among
the typical features of these Baba townhouses are gilded teak staircases,
an ancestral altar embellished with dragons, delicately carved and gold
screen, black wood furniture inlaid with mother-of-pearl and
embroidered silk paintings. There is also an interesting display of
townhouses, which have variations in its façade treatment,
ornamentations and window patterns within one street.

The other unique feature of the townhouses along the street is their
deep plan and narrow frontage. This is quite typical of Dutch architecture
and buildings in most Dutch cities until today. This type of façade
treatment creates an interesting streetscape due to the variety of façade
design that is harmonious to each other. The courtyard is another
common feature in these houses which was designed to allow fresh air
and sunlight to penetrate and brighten the rooms. Another interesting
feature is the way in which the arcaded walkways were blocked unlike
those seen in the traditional shop houses. This gives some privacy and
space to the residents.

Jalan Hang Jebat was once called Jonker Street and is translated as
'Young Noblemen's Street’ in Dutch. This is another street that was once
inhabited by the more affluent group of the society. Many beautiful town
houses still line both sides of this bustling street that is renowned for its
antique shops. The presence of the antique shops that sell many of the
antique goods of the past period reflects the historical significance of the
street. One of the oldest antique outlets in this street belongs to the
Kuthy family, which is one of the prominent Indian families in Melaka.
The late T.J Kuthy, an Indian Muslim from Kerala, started the first Jonker
Street junk shop in 1936. Many Baba families had lost their fortunes
when the price of rubber plummeted during the Great Depression and
were forced to sell their precious heirlooms just to survive. Kuthy bought
their treasures and started the antique business that his descendants still
run today. There is an intimate and homely atmosphere about the street
due to its narrowness which gives a sense of enclosure and rich sensory
experience from the smell of cooking that exudes from the kitchen and
restaurants nearby.

In the heart of Melaka's old town is Jalan Tukang Emas (Goldsmith
Road) Jalan Tukang Besi (Blacksmith Road) and Jalan Tokong
(Temple Street); renowned for many religious places of worship.
The deflected and curving nature of the streets that meander this part of
the city creates a perfect sense of enclosure and exquisite townscape
effect. The visual experience is heightened by the intricateness and
varied buildings in terms of façade design and building height. The street
names, which took after the craftsmen of old Melaka, reflected the
importance of this area as the once artisan zone for the city. Tinsmith,
blacksmith, cobblers, coffin-makers, paper artisan and basket weavers
still ply their trades here. The other unique feature of the streets is the
presence of three different types of places of worship namely; Cheng
Hoon Teng Temple, The Masjid Kampong Kling and the Sri Poyyatha
Vinagar Moorthi Temple. Although the area is now predominantly
occupied by Chinese, the presence of the mosque and the Indian temple
suggests that this area was once lived by a multi ethnic community that
was able to live harmoniously together. The Cheng Hoon Teng temple is
over 300 years old and was founded by Li Kup who fled China when the
Manchus toppled the Ming. It is still the major place of worship for the
Chinese in Melaka and is the oldest functioning Chinese Temple in the

The presence of these three Places of Worship along the same street
lends a spiritual touch of the street's ambience. There is a high degree of
sensory experience as a person walks along the street due to the smell of
incense, fresh cut flowers and the sound of bells ringing and the call for
prayers that comes out from the minaret.

The oldest mosque in the historic city of Melaka is the oldest mosque in
Malaysia. The Kampong Hulu Mosque, built in 1728, was one of the first
mosques built primarily of masonry construction and possesses the
distinctive Chinese-Pagoda like pyramid-tiered roof form. The mosque
was one of the bustling centres of Islamic missionary activities during the
days of the Dutch occupation. The design of the mosque is simple which
is on square plan and open planning and surmounted by two or three
stepped pyramidal roof covered with Marseilles tiles. Columns and
minarets of late nineteenth and early twentieth century mosque adopted
Renaissance decorations and had no storeys. The Melaka mosque
appears to have numerous structural affinities with the mosque at
Bantam. The general principles of this tradition may have been brought
from western India at the time of the Islamisation of Java in the
fourteenth century.

The present Kampung Keling Mosque was built in 1748 on the foundation
of its original timber construction. It was related by the locals that the
Kampung Keling Mosque was founded because the local Malay
community was not on the best of terms with the Keling (Indian Muslim)
people. The Malays were centered around the Kampung Hulu Mosque
while the Keling community established their own mosque after a Malay
endowed a piece of land nearby to them.

The two mosques which stand at close proximity are not a common
feature in Melaka or anywhere in Malaysia. They are used at alternative
Friday prayers. The mosques are located on the corner of Jalan Tukang
Emas and Jalan Hang Kasturi. They have similar plans, based on a square
foundation with three entrances framed within a porch structure. The
mosque plan consists of an enclosed prayer area with three serambi
(verandah) sides. The heavy masonry walls enclosing the mosque
interiors have three doors on each side. The mihrab is enclosed like the
maksura with four round column arcades. There are four belian timber
columns from the original mosque which support the top most roof
structure. The top of the three tiered roof gives way to generous
windows all around. The Chinese tiles are used for the roof and crown
with mastaka to be inscribed into an almost perfect cube. The floor and
walls are covered with decorative ceramic tiles and the interiors are
heavily ornamented.

The Chinese contribution to Melakan architectural styles, as has been
mentioned before, is most strongly exemplified in commercial and
religious buildings, namely the shophouses and the temples. The Cheng
Hoon Teng Temple or the temple of the Evergreen Clouds in Melaka was
built in 1645 and completed in 1704 after several extensions and
additions. It is the oldest temple in the country. The decoration of the
temple applied in physical and visual form of the orthodox elements of
South-east Chinese architecture, with the color, symbolism and fineness
of detail and materials. It is home to the three religious philosophies of
Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism, with ancestor worship as the
centerpiece and common element in all three.

The Sri Poyyatha, built in 1710, is a Hindu temple standing on the same
street as Kampong Hulu Mosque and Cheng Hoon Teng temple. The
coexistence of these three distinct faiths is a testament to the religious
pluralism and tolerance of Melaka. Erected in 1781, this temple enshrines
the deity Vinayagar. In the back room is a sculpture of the deity with the
head of an elephant and the body of a man with four hands. The deity is
believed to be capable of removing obstacles in one's life.

Jalan Kampung Pantai is the street that runs parallel to the river and
accommodates many wholesalers, go downs and stores. In addition to
that, there are also many traditional retailers selling sundries goods and
items used for worship. This is a street that acts as physical evidence to
the role of Melaka played in the past as a port and trading post. In the
past, the river was the main means of communication and thus goods
that arrived via ships and boats were unloaded and stored in buildings
nearby. Today, the loading and unloading activities still occur on this
street which is congested with lorries and trucks from the wholesalers'
activities. This street also displays the character of a medieval street that
opens up to a square addressing a Chinese temple. A narrow lane links
up this Chinese temple with a tiny mosque on the other side of the river.
There are several other narrow lanes that link this street to the river that
suggest the close relationship between the activities on this street and
the river in the past.

The Multicultural Nature of Melakan Society, combined with the style of
architecture, has provided a rich legacy of buildings representing different
traditions. From the various religious traditions come an exceptional
collection of mosques, temples and churches modulated by many world
architectural languages.

There are various types of buildings in Melaka, ranging from the periods
of the Melaka Sultanate to the present day. Most buildings during the
sultanate were destroyed since most of them were made of wood,
although there are records of buildings built of some other materials
during this time. Malay vernacular and terrace houses can still be found
in city of Melaka. Malay timber houses remain intact in the core zone,
particularly at Kampung Ketek, Jalan Tokong. On the other hand, some
of the earliest antecedents to the townhouses in Malaysia were built in
Melaka. The houses, the most ornate examples to be found on Jalan Tun
Tan Cheng Lock (Heeren Street), were built or bought by wealthy Melaka
Straits-born Chinese merchants for use, sometimes both as godowns and
residence. Now, many of the houses are no longer lived in but are
maintained by the families as ancestral homes that are used for special

The origins of these townhouses are not easy to trace but the earliest
recorded maps and drawings indicate some form of development on
Heeren Street and Jonker Street dating from 1514 during the time of the
Portuguese occupation in Melaka. However, subsequent to that, many
battles were fought over Melaka and the town was burned and razed
several times. The streets, because of their strategic location by the sea
and adjacent to the Melaka Fort City, always become important
addresses. For example, as its former Dutch names, Heeren Straat
(Street of Lords in Dutch) and Jonker Straat (street for the working class
people). Some of the oldest buildings on the streets are of mideighteenth
century construction, built during the Dutch Colonial period.
Though the main influence for the building form must certainly have
been from the Chinese, the European and especially Dutch tradition of
row houses is very evident. Also, during the second occupation of Melaka
by the Dutch after the Napoleonic War (from 1818 to 1824), the Dutch
ordained that no new buildings were to be built. This meant that the
Chinese had to buy existing buildings built by the Dutch and adapted
them to their needs.

The Shophouses and Townhouses in the Historic City of Melaka are
attached or terrace houses with similar facade treatment as those found
in Europe. Those on Heeren Street were mainly used as residence, and
those on Jonker Street were for commercial purposes. Some of the
earliest houses have covered walkway as a linkage, though in some cases
an extended party wall blocks the passage. Shophouses - means a
building where the commercial activities are on the ground floor and
residential purposes on the upper floor. Nowadays, the buildings are used
as offices and cater for a variety of businesses such as light industry and
café or restaurant. The original façade is still maintained although there
are have small changes to suit to the building use. Similar to the
shophouses, the townhouses of Melaka have covered walkways as a
linkage, though in some cases an extended party wall (the wall which
separates each house) blocks the passage. The walkways are often tiled
in hand-painted or wedge wood tiles and the front doors have a "pintu
pagar" (double leaf 'saloon doors' found in front of the main doors). An
outer security swing door in carved and fretted teak facades are typically
decorated with sculptured figures, animals, flowers and other patterns.
Over the main door, the "pintu besar" are house mottos proclaiming good
fortune and everlasting happiness. Eave fascias are usually in fretted
Malay designs. Columns and pilasters may be Doric or Corinthian.
Windows may be Venetian, Chinese or Malay derivative with louvered
(European influence) or solid (Chinese) shutters. Roofs are tiled in
Chinese clay tiles with distinctive rounded gabled ends.

The interiors of both houses are richly decorated with carved teak panels,
doors and window frames. The air wells and courtyards are often paved
in Melaka tile, a derivative of Dutch Delph tiles. Complementing the rich
decor is traditional Chinese furniture which is centuries old. These long
narrow attached houses with several internal air wells and courtyards
accommodated members of an extended family that shared a common
kitchen. The important elements of the house are the ancestral hall, the
sitting room and the air well. The roofs are steeply pitched to present as
sharp an angle as possible to facilitate rain run-off. It also shelters heat
from the hot mid-day sun. The framing structure is a system of trusses in
rigid rectangular forms held together by wooden tenons. Circular purlins
carry the weight of the roof by brackets to roof beams. This in turn
transmits the load to the column. Seldom are the walls load-bearing
which reduces the material needed.

Within the Core Zone of the Historic City of Melaka there are more than
600 shophouses and town houses of different styles and influences,
which can be divided into several categories, depending on their façade
designs and such as:
• Dutch Style
• Southern China Style
• Early Shophouse Style
• Early Transitional Style
• Early Straits Eclectic Style
• Late Straits Eclectic Style
• Neo-Classical Style
• Art-Deco Style
• Early Modern Style.


louise said...

Hi, nice post :)

Melaka is really an amazing historical place to visit in Malaysia. I visited once and feel like visiting again :) All the red buildings, architecture, Melaka River, Jonker Street .. everything is just amazing ...

I put up some information about places to visit in Melaka in my blog . Please visit and have some comments .. Hopefully I will visit Melaka soon :)

cheers ...

Anonymous said...

Hi, nice post :)

Melaka is really an amazing historical place to visit in Malaysia. I visited once and feel like visiting again :) All the red buildings, architecture, Melaka River, Jonker Street .. everything is just amazing ...

I put up some information about places to visit in Melaka in my blog . Please visit and have some comments .. Hopefully I will visit Melaka soon :)

cheers ...