The Old Quarter of the Historical City of Melaka

Flag of the State of Melaka (source : melaka.gov.my)
Flag of the State of Melaka
(source : melaka.gov.my)

We were in the State of Melaka (or Malacca, as it is spelt in English) a few weeks ago, in the locality of Alor Gajah to be exact, when we decided to ‘drop in’ on our second son who had just started his second semester of his Business Studies diploma course, as ‘we were in the neighbourhood’.

That, in parent speak, is the same as what the young would say as ‘checking up on you’. It’s also to the young as a God-send opportunity to cushion the ever deplenishing cash-in-hand situation, for no parent would ever leave their child without posing the ‘you okay for this month?’ question.

And since it was still early in the day, we thought it’d be nice to go on a slight detour to the historical city of Melaka as a mean to unwind as well as for a change of scenery.

Coat of Arms of the State of Melaka (source : melaka.gov.my)
Coat of Arms of the State of Melaka
(source : melaka.gov.my)

After all, we figured it should not take us more than 30 minutes, from our son’s campus, to get to the historical city of Melaka, be it via the North South Expressway (NSE), joining the NSE from Simpang Ampat and exiting at Air Keroh) OR via the Alor Gajah – Melaka Expressway, especially if you have exited the NSE at Simpang Ampat and not wish to get back on the NSE.

For the uninitiated, the historical city of Melaka is the capital of the State of Melaka. So steep in history is the historical city of Melaka that it even lends its name to the State of Melaka. Admittedly, it can get a bit confusing unless you happened to be a Malaysian and know the history.

It’s also a reason why the historical city of Melaka is administratively more commonly referred to as Bandaraya Bersejarah Melaka (MBB) loosely translated as Historical City of Melaka.

To make it simple, just think of Frank Sinatra’s ‘New York, New York – so good they named it twice’ thing and you will get the general idea.

Melaka - World Heritage City (all rights reserved)
Melaka – World Heritage City
(all rights reserved)

Anyway, we made our way from Alor Gajah to the historical city of Melaka and true enough, reached the historical city in practically no time at all, which is a bit of an exaggeration, I must say! Although I did mention it was not that far.

When we talk about the historical city of Melaka, we do mean historical and for us both, that would mean what both my wife and I call ‘the Old Quarter’.

Making our way into the old quarter of historical Melaka is not easy, for no matter how you widen the roads (after making sure and taking care of course that there’s nothing of historical significance underneath), it is never near wide enough as the traffic volume is consistently high (and higher during school holidays), with charter buses and the pedestrian walks full of people, making their way from one destination to another.

In historical Melaka, there is no such thing as a tourist season. It is tourist season all year round.

Now that’s the driving part, never mind parking. But as luck will have it, we got ourselves a parking space not too far a walking distance from the main historical spots.

The historical city of Melaka has been recognized by UNESCO as one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. Recognized as such on 7th July 2008 (together with Georgetown, Penang), you cannot walk far around the old quarter without coming across one historical site or building.

The last remaining gate of Porta de Santiago, A Famosa (source : wikipedia.org)
The last remaining gate of Porta de Santiago, A Famosa
(source : wikipedia.org)

But what makes it more interesting is that some of these historically recognized buildings are still in use today, in one form or another.

Now where is the Old Quarter? Mind you, this is a term that my wife and I would use to describe it and is not something official.

From our point of view, the Old Quarter of Historic Melaka is an area where you can find, within a small radius of no more than 5km, the Dutch-era red-bricked town or city hall, the Stadhuys (built in 1650 to serve as the residence of the Dutch Governor and his Deputy, and is today serving as the Museum of History and Ethnography), the Portuguese-built St Paul’s Church (formerly known as Our Lady of The Hill and converted into a burial ground by the Dutch nobility and renamed as St Paul’s Church. Also reknowned as the temporary burial ground of Francis Xavier before his remains were permanently interred at Goa, India), the ruins of the Portuguese fort A Famosa (which was built in 1511 when the Portuguese conquered Melaka, and suffered severe structural damage in 1641 when the Dutch came with cannons afiring, and would have been totally destroyed by the Brits in 1808 if not for the intervention of Sir Stamford Raffles).

The Christ Church and Commerative Clock Tower (All rights reserved)
The Christ Church and Commerative Clock Tower
(All rights reserved)

Not forgetting the red-bricked Christ Church, which was constructed in 1753 by the Dutch in the fashion of the time, the replica of the last Sultan of Melaka’s palace, destroyed y the Portuguese during the Portuguese’s quest to conquer Melaka, the small and narrow Jonker Street (or Jalan Hang Jebat) nearby where if you look long and hard enough, you may well just find a gem of an old artifact (I did say look long and hard, did I not?), and of course the rejuvenated Sungai Melaka where river boat cruises now take the place of what use to be plied by river boats ferrying goods, with bistros and cafes now lining the river banks. There’s even a Hard Rock Cafe nearby, and THAT is definitely recent compared to the other more distinguished buildings in the neighourhood.

There are also Chinese temples, Indian kovils and Muslim mosques that are as old or even older than some of aforementioned buildings. They would have been even more but then again, not many survived as not only the Portuguese and the Dutch came along but so did the Brits and the Japanese as well, not including what is today termed as modern-day development.

In fact, it was reported that all non-Catholic houses of worship were destroyed during the time of the Portuguese (1511-1641). This included the very first and oldest mosque in then Melaka, reputedly on the land opposite where Stadhuys stands today.

Masjid Kampung Hulu or Kampung Hulu Mosque - The oldest mosque still in use in Malaysia (all rights reserved)
Masjid Kampung Hulu or Kampung Hulu Mosque – The oldest mosque still in use in Malaysia (all rights reserved)

It was only during the time of the Dutch (1641-1795 and 1818-1826) that other houses of worship were allowed to be built including the Kampung Hulu Mosque. Built in 1720 and completed in 1728, it is now the oldest mosque in the city of Melaka and in the whole of Malaysia still in use today, and still located at its original site.

What else can I say about historical Melaka that has not been said or mentioned in numerous books and articles and blogs? Admittedly, not a lot. But I did say that history is everywhere in Melaka, and that history is still evident when you come across people of Eurasian descent bearing distinctly Dutch and Portuguese family names, as well as the Indian Chitty’s and the Chinese Peranakans, who has lived side by side the local Malay population, intermingling and inter marrying into what is now the melting pot distinctly Melaka.

Instead of the cannon balls and the bullets and the arrows and the spears being exchanged, they now exchanged greetings and food dishes while making merriment during festivities.

The historic city of Melaka, a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site is very interesting and you will never get bored with it, especially the Old Quarter.

The rehabiliated waterways of Sungai Melaka (all rights reserved)
The rehabilitated waterways of Sungai Melaka
(all rights reserved)

My family and I have been here numerous times and for now, we foresee that we’ll be here more times in the future, regardless of whether we ‘are in my son’s neighourhood’ or not.

Like Arthur’s Camelot, the historic city of Melaka is still a magical place, full with history’s lessons of life and country, and the majesty of the old Melaka Sultanate, the legends of that King Maker Tun Perak, the loyalty and diligence of Tun Tuah and his sworn blood-brothers, Tun Jebat, Tun Kasturi, Tun Lekir and Tun Lekiu and their many warrior brothers in the service to the Sultan, the State and to each other, the palace intrigues, as well as of the blood, sweat and tears of the combatants, from all sides, of the wars thereafter, for the prize that is Melaka.

 

Date : 4 February 2014

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