As is with the Royal families all over the world, the Johor royal family has its fair share of royal residences,. In Johor, listed are six royal residences : three in the state capital Johor Bahru, one in the Royal township of Muar (up in the northwestern part of Johor), one in Kluang located about mid-state of Johor, and the last being in Segamat in the north eastern part of Johor.
In the state capital of Johor Bahru, the three royal palaces (or Istana as they are known in Malay) are The Istana Besar, The Istana Bukit Serene and the Istana Pasir Pelangi.
The Istana Besar, located near downtown JB, is as majestic a palace can ever be. Facing the Straits of Tebrau, it was commissioned in 1864 by the Father of Modern Johor, Sultan Abu Bakar (1862-1895), it was designated as the royal residence by His Majesty once it was completed in 1866.
It was designated as a royal museum during the reign of His Majesty Sultan Iskandar ibni Al Marhum Sultan Ismail (1981-2010) but had been ordered closed to the public by the reigning monarch, His Majesty Sultan Ibrahim ibni Al Marhum Sultan Iskandar for restoration works.
Despite it being closed to the public, it is still used for official functions, one of which is the awards ceremony ie awards, titles and medals, to coincide with the birthday celebrations of the reigning monarch.
The Istana Pasir Pelangi is located in Pasir Pelangi, hence the name. It was the residence of the then Tunku Mahkota (or Crown Prince), Tunku Ibrahim, and upon his ascendancy to the throne of Johor, the now His Majesty Sultan Ibrahim ibni Al Marhum Sultan Iskandar retained his main residence at the Istana Pasir Pelangi, in addition to the royal office at the Istana Bukit Serene.
The Istana Bukit Serene was commissioned in 1933 and was completed in 1939. The palace was initially owned by the state government of Johor but was later presented to His Majesty Sultan Sir Ibrahim Sultan Abu Bakar (1895-1959) as a gift to commemorate the 40th year of his reign as the Sultan of Johor.
Istana Bukit Serene is located opposite Danga Bay and was designated as the royal residence during the reign of His Majesty Al Marhum Sultan Iskandar after proclaiming the Istana Besar as a royal museum.
However, upon His Majesty Sultan Ibrahim’s ascendancy to the throne of Johor, not only was the Istana Besar closed to the public for restoration works, but the Istana Bukit Serene also underwent upgrading works.
Today, being one of the important landmarks of the state capital Johor Bahru, it has proven to be a must-stop, not only for visitors to the state capital but also to residents of the state capital itself.
The entrance to the palace and its surroundings has undergone significant changes that it is barely recognizable to what it was a few years ago. Renamed as Laman Mahkota Istana Bukit Serene, the changes has added to its significance as a royal residence and makes sure that there is no mistaking it for what it is.
Being a JB boy myself, growing up in JB, witnessing the transformation and the highlighting of an important landmark such as the Istana Bukit Serene, alongside The Istana Besar, Bangunan Sultan Ibrahim, Hospital Sultanah Aminah et al, it amplifies the fact that JB has history.
Amongst the upgrades that we noticed are :-
- the driveway leading to the gates of Istana Bukit Serene are now paved with tiles, with beds of flowers and lamp posts lining the driveway. In the light of day, it looks regal in line with its status as a royal residence and at night, with the lighting in place, you just can’t help but notice it.
- The presence of members of the Johor Military Force (JMF) manning the guard posts at the main gates, looking resplendent in their uniforms. The JMF was formed by His Majesty Sultan Abu Bakar in 1886 and is the oldest military unit in Malaysia.
- The royal insignia above the main entrance.
- A replica of the Crown of Johor atop the approach, held in place by arches.
- Two courtyards, the nearest to the palace gates replete with fountains.
- The other features the crescent and five-pointed star, with four replicas of the Istana Bukit Serene watch towers marking its perimeters, and
- a parking lot for both cars and buses meant for tourists and visitors.
Naturally, we are not allowed to enter the grounds of the palace itself. Otherwise, that would make our visit very memorable, never you mind the day, would it not? To be able to view the beautifully and well-maintained palace grounds, as well as the royal automobile collection including several rare antiques, amongst others, stories of which having being passed by word-of-mouth since I was a little child.
But then again, to be allowed past the main entrance gates, it would take a very important occasion and a very official invitation card to let you through, never mind having your name listed on the very important guest list.
Would love to get one. Wouldn’t you?