Malacca City: History and Culture in Malaysia
Nestled along the Strait of Malacca, midway between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, Malacca City is rich in history and high on culture. Known locally as Melaka, the city is a popular choice with travellers looking to explore Malaysia and Southeast Asia. It’s especially fashionable with those seeking an urban destination that’s slightly less hectic than the region’s other major cities but still has enough to keep you busy. Malacca certainly has enough to keep you busy.
Historic Malacca City
Spanning both sides of the Malacca River, Malacca’s city centre is deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city has one of the longest and most storied histories in the entire region, something that becomes apparent with a simple stroll around the city.
The Red Square, or Dutch Square, is the main historic part of the city. Home to the Stadhuys, a seventeenth century administrative building, and Christ Church, the square features distinctive red brick buildings constructed by the Dutch in the mid-seventeenth century. The whole neighbourhood is generally bustling with locals and tourists alike.
Another popular historic site in Malacca is A Famosa, or at least what remains of A Famosa. Built in the early sixteenth century by the invading Portuguese, this fortress held a prominent hillside position and still offers excellent views today. Only the ruins of the gate remain, but the fact that this may be the oldest European ruin in all of Southeast Asia makes it worth seeking out.
Exploring Malacca’s Museums
There’s even more history to be discovered in Malacca’s various museums, the most impressive of which is Malacca Sultanate Palace. Whilst it may only be a reproduction, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in a genuine fifteenth century palace. Inside you’ll find paintings, sculptures, jewellery, textiles, weaponry, and much more.
The likes of the Cheng Ho Cultural Museum and Baba and Nyonya Heritage Museum offer further glimpses of Malacca’s past. Both feature informative and intriguing exhibits. Meanwhile, the Maritime Museum is a must-visit. The museum is actually a replica of the Flor de la Mar, a sixteenth-century Portuguese sailboat that reportedly sunk off the coast of Malacca
Elsewhere in the city, you’ll find a host of other smaller museums, detailing everything from kites to jewellery to religion. The beauty of Malacca is that, wherever your hotel is located, all of these museums, as well as an assortment of galleries and historic sites, are within easy walking distance.
A Cultural Melting Pot
Malacca City, as with the country of Malaysia itself, has undergone significant political change during its 600-year existence. Founded by the last king of Singapura, the city has endured Portuguese, Dutch, British and Japanese rule, before finally being integrated as part of Malaya and subsequently Malaysia. Unsurprisingly, this political upheaval has resulted in something of a cultural melting pot.
One of the most popular areas of the city is the Jonker Walk. Situated on the western bank of the river, the Jonker Walk is Malacca’s Chinatown. Home to museums, markets, cafés, restaurants, temples, and much more, this colourful part of the city is a must for any visitor. The night market is also well worth a visit.
The city is also home to a Little India neighbourhood, where you’ll find restaurants, market stalls, shops and flower sellers. The Portuguese settlement is another cultural neighbourhood that harks back to the city’s past, while a walk along the riverfront offers more than a hint of Amsterdam.
Churches, Temples and Mosques
Malacca’s rich cultural history also translates to a diverse religious make-up. Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims and Christians are all well-represented in the city, a detail that has led to a fine and varied collection of places of worship. In fact, opting to tour the many religious institutions is a wonderful way to see the city at large.
Whether you join a guided tour or opt to find your own way around the city, must-see stops include: the Cheng Hong Teng Temple, which has been in operation since 1645; the Sri Pogyatha Vinoyagar Moorthi Temple, considered to be the oldest Hindu temple in the country; the Masjid Selat, a modern-day mosque that has been built on a man-made island in the Strait of Malacca; and the Church of St. Francis Xavier, a nineteenth century Portuguese church with impressive twin spires. Sat atop a hill overlooking the river, St. Paul’s Church also offers some splendid views of the city.
Whilst history and culture play a significant role in Malacca, there’s much more to the city than aging buildings, ethnic neighbourhoods and places of worship. The city is chock full of restaurants, hotels, shopping malls, boutique stores, coffee shops, and the other modern-day accoutrements you’d expect of a lively and vibrant city. You’ll also discover several contemporary tourist features.
Malacca Zoo is a popular destination for families. Located north-east of the city centre, the zoo is home to some 1,200 animals, with no fewer than 215 species represented. The zoo also hosts a night safari, giving you the chance to glimpse those elusive night time creatures and critters.
To see Malacca in all its glory, head for the Taming Sari Tower. This revolving gyro tower rises 80 metres off the ground and offers stunning panoramic views of the city and its top landmarks. If you’re staying in the city centre, the tower is just a short walk from your hotel, so there’s no excuse not to marvel at the city from a high.
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