A Short Stop at Kota Melaka

Since it was our first time going around Malaysia, the thought that the ancient port city of Melaka was just a stone’s throw away from KL was simply irresistible. It was immediately on my bucket list. Together with my Malaysian friend Fadrul, we went south—about more than an hour and a half journey through Lebuhraya Utara-Selatan (North-South Expressway) from Cyberjaya to Melaka.

Personally, I was a bit excited.

Melaka the Mighty

Selamat datang!
First time I’ve encountered the word “Melaka” or “Malacca” was with our Philippine history textbooks back when I was in high school. It described a bustling port city in Malay Peninsula, where in certain ways or another, influenced pre-colonial (proto) Philippines—Indic, Malay, or Islamization of Mindanao and certain parts of our archipelago, through trade and commerce.

Melaka River Cruise and the houses beside it. Don't you just wish esteros in Manila were like this?

Later I would find out that Melaka indeed is a very influential city, strategically located between Asian spheres of influences. It was a center of trade and rule of what was once a flourishing sultanate believed to have been established by a Sumatran Prince called Parameswara.

Church of Saint Francis Xavier and Melaka River
Its influence and strategic location in the region has attracted not only traders from Arabia, China, India and other parts of Asia, but also Europeans later in the 15th century.

The Portuguese first conquered the city sometime in the 1500’s. Later, the Dutch VOC would occupy it. Lastly, it fell onto the British hands from late 18th century which would later be integrated in the Straits Settlements up to Malaysia’s independence in the 20th century.

A reconstructed wall of the old Portuguese colonial-era Melaka. Pre-colonial Melaka was also walled with wooden palisades.
If we are going to tell you the entire detail of Melaka’s history, we could have written one chapter or a book for it! Haha!

Everything's big in Texas, as what they say in the US. But for Melaka, its influence is even bigger than the modern-day state that it is now.
To cut this section short, Melaka was IMMENSELY popular and influential in Southeast Asia as a hub!

It was a Sunday

It was a balmy and overcast Sunday noon when we arrived in Melaka. My friends have advised me that it can get very crowded and traffic going there might be bad on weekends. Luckily, it wasn’t that bad when we went there.

Inside the 19th century Church of Saint Francis Xavier.

My first glimpse of this ancient bandaraya was rows of shop houses. Sure, these Malay Peninsula shop houses are everywhere, but thankfully it’s being well kept here. Of course, the city’s historic centre is a declared UNESCO World Heritage Site, together with Georgetown in Penang up north!

It was a Sunday and a few days before my birthday, we head on to the first heritage building in Melaka—the Church of Saint Francis Xavier. This 19th century neo-gothic church was my sanctuary for a few moments. There was no Mass that noon and we freely experienced the church and paused for a prayer of appreciation.

The row of red shop houses in Jalan Laksamana, entering Dutch Square

Kota Melaka

After that, we were welcomed with a row of red shop houses as we approached the Dutch Square and Stadthuys, the center of the city. This is where you can say “painting the town red!”

A shop house at Jalan Laksamana
The Dutch Square, Stadthuys, and the hill with several heritage buildings surrounding it, is the city’s historic core. Much of the architecture in this area is a mix of all worlds—from the early Dutch, to British, and even Portuguese, with mix of Asian.

The Dutch Square. The clock tower in the middle, the Christ Church Melaka in the middle and the old city hall of Melaka called "Stadthuys" which is now the History and Ethnographic Museum of the city.
The City Center is one big museum complex!

It's quite busy outside.
In the Dutch Square, the Christ Church Melaka, said to have been built in the 18th century, dominates the public space, along with a clock tower.

If you like to have an overview of Melakanese history and society, the Stadthuys (Dutch for “City Hall”) is the city’s Muzium Sejarah dan Etnografi (Historical and Ethnographical Museum). It’ll give you a glimpse of the city’s prominence, story, and its people.

"Warisan Kebangsaan" or "National Heritage." This is Malaysia's version of historical markers. Stadthuys is a National Historical Landmark, I guess if it's in "Philippine heritage language." Hehe! 
On top of the hill lies the ruined Geraja Saint Paul, said to be “the oldest church complex in Southeast Asia.” It was initially a small chapel (like the stories of our churches here in the Philippines) which became a Jesuit church sometime in the 1500’s. Aside from being a center of evangelization efforts, it was reputedly the base of Saint Francis Xavier’s missions in Asia. Later it was used by the Dutch, then finally the British. Today, its ruined beauty sits commandingly on top of the bukit.

The ruined Geraja Saint Paul on top of Melaka Hill
Just at the other side of the hill is a replica of the Istana or palace of the Sultan of Melaka, which is also a museum.

The commanding view from the top of the hill. Back in the day, the sea was just immediately after the treeline. Much of the coast of Melaka has been reclaimed for development.
Further down, the ruined gate of A Famosa is what was left of the Old Portuguese walled city, one of the oldest European colonial buildings in Asia. The Portuguese, having conquered the city, constructed a stone wall reminiscent of the colonial outposts in the 16th century. The Dutch continued to maintain the fortress-walled city after 1641. When the British came, having a high maintenance walled city was said to be costly, hence they demolished the walls. If it wasn’t for Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of modern Singapore, there wouldn’t be any Portuguese-era walls left.

So many sights to see and experience, so little time!
History overload already? We’re not done yet.

A Famosa. It's so hard to take a people-less A Famosa on a weekend.
This 1911 built building houses the Proclamation of Independence Memorial Museum, where memorabilia on Malaysia's struggle for independence are kept. Too bad I was a bit tired and overdosed with a lot of history and culture information coming in that afternoon. Will visit it next time, then.
While there are several museums within the vicinity, we took the Muzium Seni Bina Malaysia, or the Malaysian Architecture Museum, which is for free. It gives an overview of different architectural designs that define the “Malaysian architecture,” from the rumah (houses), istana (palaces), masjid (mosques)—colonial or local—the diversity of design makes up the Malaysian culture’s built heritage.

Muzium Seni Bina Malaysia

A scale model of a masjid

We haven’t crossed the river yet

Some of the British colonial era buildings within the complex

The Police Station looks like it has been there since the British times.

While museums were fun, I was getting a bit exhausted. The heat and humidity at that time wasn’t really a great time to walk—added that I wore jeans and dark-coloured t-shirt! We have to cut the museum tour and just walk among the noisy trickshaws with out of this world designs that cater to tourists. I guess that’s Melaka’s version of our own kalesas and sidecars in Intramuros Manila.

These trademark trickshaws in Melaka are ostentatious in design and hark its presence with a very loud sound system.
The afternoon isn’t over yet. We haven’t crossed the river yet. We will continue our journey to the other side of Melaka River later. For now, let’s rest from the overloaded information!

We're halfway done. There's simply so much in Melaka for such a short blog post!
There is simply too much in Melaka for a short blog post!
Next post, Jonker Walk and the other side of the city.