Sandwiched between the states of Negeri Sembilan and Johor, Melaka is by comparison a small state with an area of only 1,651 square kilometers on the Western Peninsular of Malaysia. The states is divided into three districts, Melaka Tengah or Central Melaka, the District of Alor Gajah to the north and the District of Jasin to the south. However, almost all the interesting and historical sites are located in Central Melaka and mostly in the town area.
According to the legend, Malacca was founded in 1396 by Prince Parameswara from a dying ancient kingdom of Srivijaya. Parameswara came to Temasik (Singapore), killed the ruler who paid tribute to Siam (today’s Thailand) and reigned there for five years until the Siamese drove him out. Parameswara was out hunting one day and while resting under a tree, one of his dogs cornered a mouse-deer and in defense, the mouse-deer kicked the dog smartly on its nose. Amazed by the bravery of the mouse-deer’s and he believed what he saw as a good omen, he decided to build his empire on that sacred land and named it after the tree he was resting under, which was the Melaka Tree (Phylianthus emblica).
Originally a Hindu, Parameswara convert to Islam and took the name Sultan Iskandar Shah. Inevitably, Islam became the official religion. At that time, Malacca was nothing more than a small village beside a river, but under his rule, the kingdom flourished and its influence spread to the neighbouring countries of Sumatra and Indonesia.
In the past the city was geographically positioned along East-West trading route, at the busiest and narrowest point of Straits of Malacca. It was a major port along the spice-route, and its harbor bristled with the sails and masts of Chinese junks and spice-loaded vessels from all over world. Also was traded: silk and porcelain from China; textiles from Gujarat and Coromandel in India; camphor from Borneo; sandalwood from Timor; nutmeg, mace, and cloves from the Moluccas, gold and pepper from Sumatra; and tin from western Malaysia. The strong wind was always blowing from the right position for the sailors and Malacca was a safe place to be, when the sailors came ashore. No wonder that they took this city for provision. Malacca became important for all who wanted to rule the Strait of Malacca. And...that Strait was so important for the spice-route. That's why Malacca had since 1400 so much occupiers and could grow to a world wide trade center.
The state experienced a unique culmination of cultural and historical influences from Malay Sultanate (1400-1511), Portuguese colonial (1511-1641), Dutch colonial (1641-1795), English colonial (1795-1942, 1945-1957) and Japanese occupancy (1942-1945).
Under Alfonso de Albuquerque, Malacca was conquered by the Portuguese in 1511. The Portuguese came to the East to capture the spice trade. The Portuguese failed to maintain the glory and prosperity of Malacca because of restrictive policies, competition and wars. The Portuguese ruled Malacca from 1511 to 1641. On the incline of the hill (St. Paul's Hill) they built a fort: "A Famosa". Later this was extended, so that the hill was surrounded by the wall of the fort. Inside these walls were two palaces, a castle, a meeting room for the Portuguese Council and there were five churches. Unfortunately, the only thing that's left is the "Porta de Santiago", a gate without a wall that leaded to the fort.
Drawing shows A Famosa or Porta de Santiago built by the Portuguese
After a siege of 7 months the conquered the fort in 1641. At that time Malacca wasn't so rich and prosperous anymore. After the conquest, the Dutch could start rebuilding the fort and occupied it largely as a military base, using its strategic location to control the Straits of Malacca. Where the Portuguese had concentrated on the construction of fortification and churches, the Dutch on the other hand planned Malacca well, built comfortable brick houses (along Heeren Street and Jonker Street), protestant churches and large administrative buildings such as the Stadthuys.
The Stadhuys showing Christ Church in the middle, 1807
In 1795, when the Netherlands was captured by French Revolutionary armies, Melaka was handed over to the British by the Dutch to avoid its capture by the French. Although the British returned the city to the Dutch in 1808, it was soon given back to the British once again in a trade for Bencoleen in Sumatra.
From 1826, the English East India Company in Calcutta ruled the city until 1867, when the Straits Settlements ( Melaka, Penang and Singapore ) became a British Crown colony. The British continued their control until the Second World War and the Japanese occupation from 1942 to 1945.
Following the defeat of the Japanese, the British resumed their control until 31st. August 1957, when anti-colonial sentiment culminated in a proclamation of independence by His Highness Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, Malaysia's first Prime Minister.
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