|Located on the west coast of
Peninsular Malaysia, overlooking the famed Straits of Malacca with which it shares its
name, Malacca or Melaka lies between Sembilan and Johor, some 150km from Kuala Lumpur.
|The city state of Melaka began life
as an obscure little village whose residents made their living fishing in the coastal
waters and maritime trade with the nearby kingdoms.
Malacca, in its more famous avatar came into being
when an exiled Sumatran prince, Parameswara founded the city sometime between 1376 and
1400 AD. Local legend tells us that Parameswara was out hunting when his discovered his
hunting dogs at the receiving end of a fight with a tiny white mouse deer or pelandok. So
impressed was the prince with the courage of the tiny deer that he established a city on
the very same spot and named it Malacca after the tree under which he rested.
As Malacca prospered and grew into a powerful
southeast Asian kingdom, it attracted traders from China who paid the king money in order
to be allowed to trade in the city. Parameswara had by this time converted to Islam and
was now known as the Sultan Iskander Shah. With royal patronage from the Sultan, Islam
flourished and became the religion of the Malay Peninsula. By the time Iskander Shah died
in 1424, his city had grown into a bustling commercial centre - an international port
frequented by Javanese, Indian, Arabs, Persians, Malabarese, Khmers, Thai, Burmese and
Chinese sea merchants trading in spices, silks, gold, tea, opium and tobacco.
As stories of Malaccas wealth and prosperity
spread in the region, it attracted the attention of Europes imperial powers. The
Portuguese were the first to arrive led by Alfonso dAlberquerque and stayed on for
more than 130 years, leaving an indelible impact on the cultural and social heritage of
Melaka. The Dutch captured Melaka from the Portuguese in 1641 though Djakarta continued to
be their base in the Dutch East Indies. The last of the Malaccas European rulers
were the British who ruled here till Malaysia gained its independence in 1957. The
different cultural inputs from the many communities who either traded in or ruled over
Malacca have given it a multi-ethnic character that is apparent in the architecture,
religious tolerance, social traditions and cultural diversity of the city.
The 658 sq km city state of Melaka is divided into
three main regions - Alor Gajah, Central Malacca and Jasin. A trip to Melaka, as it is now
called is a walk down historys memory lane. The city-state is replete with mosques,
temples, medieval fortresses and old ruins that showcase its rich past. Modern day
Melaka is home to a multi-ethnic population comprising Malays, Chinese, Indian Tamils,
Nonya or Strait Chinese and Portuguese nationalities. It has lost its raison d etre as a
prominent trading port but still retains a quaint charm. A sleepy city with a slow pace of
life, tourists are fascinated and enchanted by the sight of junks winding their way past
the waterfront, by tightly packed streets full of old temples, mosques and shops that sell
some genuine and plenty of fake antiques.
The city of Melaka has a wealth of historical
monuments and heritage buildings dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries and each one
tells its own story. The Portuguese built their stronghold at AFamosa
in 1511 and soon after the imposing St Pauls Church on St
Pauls Hill. The Jesuit priest later beatified as St Francis Xavier often visited the
island and he was buried at the Gothic St Francis Xaviers Church
before his mortal remains were shifted to the Basilica of Bom Jesus in the Portuguese
territory of Goa. Under the Dutch, the church was semi abandoned and used primarily as a
cemetery. The British went a step further and used the by now defunct church to store
A little bit of Portugal in Melaka is the Portuguese
Settlement dating back to 1930s. Mostly inhabited by Eurasians of mixed
Portuguese and Asian descent, it acquires a carnivalesque ambience during feasts and
festivals with plenty of music and dance to add colour and gaiety to the event.
The Stadthuys is an imposing pink
building built by the Dutch in the mid 1600s housed the town hall. The Stadthuys contains
all the features characteristics of Dutch colonial architecture from enormous doors to
louvred windows. It is the oldest building of Dutch origin in Asia and now houses the Ethnographic
Museum as well as some government offices. The Ethnographic Museum showcases the
rich cultural heritage of Melaka. The Dutch left another memorial of their rule in the
beautiful Christ Church built in 1753 - it is the best example of
traditional Dutch style architecture in the region with its wooden beams and pews. St
Johns Fort was the Dutch bastion on the island and gets its name from the
chapel to St John built by the Portuguese.
The Maritime Museum is located on
Jalan Merdeka - it is a huge replica of a Portuguese ship, the Flor de la Mar that sank in
the Malacca Straits. Amongst the more interesting exhibits at this primarily nautical
museum are navigational instruments, old maps, models of ancient ships and other marine
memorabilia. The Melaka Cultural Museum is housed in the Melaka
Sultanate Palace, a wooden building that has been built on the basis of
descriptions of the royal palace found in the Malay Annals.
Another fine museum is the Baba and Nonya
Heritage Museum located in a house at Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lok. Privately owned,
the museum showcases through a fine collection of artefacts and furniture the cultural
heritage of an unusual community. The Nonya, Nyonya or Strait Chinese are the descendents
of Chinese who came to Melaka in the 15th century as the entourage of a Chinese princess
married to Sultan Mansur Shah. The entourage consisted of 500 maidens sent as
gifts for the Malay men - their Sino-Malay offspring became the Strait Chinese
community of Melaka.
With its multi-ethnic population, Melakan society
evolved a tolerant personality - evidence of which can be seen in the varied religious
architecture in the city. The Cheng Hoon Teng Temple in the old city was
established in 1648 and is the oldest Chinese temple in Malaysia. Within walking distance
of each other are the Kampung Kling Mosque and the Hindu temple Sri
Poyyatha Vinayagar Moorthi Temple.
An integral part of the historical heritage of
Melaka are the tombs of 5 great warriors of Chinese origin who served the Sultan of
Melaka, Mansur Shah 500 years ago. Hang Tuah Mausoleum at Klebang is
dedicated to the legendary Chinese warrior; similarly, another intrepid warriors
contribution in protecting Melaka from outside attacks is recognised at the Mausoleum
of Hang Kasturi. Huang Tuahs Well and the Princess Hang Li
Pos Well have been transformed into wishing wells for the gullible.
The Melaka River Cruise presents a
different view of both the city and its history as the boat slowly sails down the Melaka
River. For a more dramatic glimpse of the history of Melaka, check out the Light
and Sound Show at Padang Pahlawan (Warrior's Field) on Jalan
Melakas other attractions includes the beaches
along the coast at Tanjung Bidara and Tanjung Kling and the off shore islands of Pulau
Besar and Pulau Upeh. Also interesting are visits to the Reptile
Park, Butterfly Farm, Crocodile Farm and Melaka Zoo.
Getting There: Melaka is not too
far away from most places on the Malaysian mainland and express buses, chartered tours,
trains and rented vehicles are all easily available. Melaka city is 144 km (2.5 hrs
driving time) from Kuala Lumpur, 250km from Johor Bahru and 300km from Kuantan. A ferry
service operates between Melaka and Dumai in Indonesia. Within the city, the perfect way
to move around is to either walk or hire a trishaw- their fares vary depending on both
duration and distance.
Accommodation: There are multiple
accommodation options available for tourists/visitors to Melaka beginning from excellent
hotels in the city to condotels, mid- budget hotels, chalets, beach huts and resort
complexes on the islands of Besar and Upeh.
Dining & Entertainment: Melaka
offers some terrific food - visitors are indeed spoilt for choice as a veritable feast
unfolds before them, be it traditional Malay, Thai, Indian, Chinese, Portuguese or western
cuisine. Whatever its origin, the food in Melaka is always zesty, spicy and pungent
But the high culinary note in Melaka is undoubtedly
Peranakan (Nonya) cuisine. Peranakan is a near gourmet coming together of Chinese and
Malay cuisines - the dishes to try out are acar, sambal, otak otak (fish steamed in banana
leaf), itik tim or duck served with salted vegetables, satay celup and banana flower buds
cooked together with crab in coconut sauce. The best way to wind up a divine meal is with
kueh koci, glutinous rice flour parcels filled with tender coconut, steamed wrapped in a
banana leaf and served in rich syrup of gula melaka (Melaka palm sugar).
For detailed country and visitor information, see Malaysia.