Historic Buildings and Other Manmade Structures of Melaka
by Su Lin Lim
Melaka River Stone Steps • Perigi Raja (King’s Well) • Perigi Hang Tuah (Hang Tuah’s well) • Bukit China (Chinese Hill) • Sam Po Kong Temple • Ming rooftops • Melaka Sultanate Palace • Hang Kasturi’s Mausoleum • Hang Jebat’s Mausoleum • A’ Famosa (currently all that remains is the gate-Porta de Santiago) • Our Lady of the Annunciation Church • St. Paul’s Church • St. Paul’s College • Ruins of the Rosary Chapel, formerly site of St. Lawrence parish • Pelourinho/Pillory • St. John’s Fort • St. Peter’s Church • The Stadt Huys • Cheng Hoon Teng temple • Kampung Hulu Mosque • Kampung Kling Mosque • The Tranquerah Mosque • Christ Church • High Court building (formerly the Melaka High School) • Hereen Street/Millionaire’s Row (now Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock) • Jonker Street (Jalan Hang Jebat) • Goldsmith Road (Jalan Tukang Emas) • Sri Poyatha Vinayagar Moorthi Temple • Anglo-Chinese College • Church of St. Francis Xavier • Naning War Memorial • Queen Victoria Fountain • Japanese Cemetery
Melaka River Stone Steps
Malay kingdoms period, precise date unknown
The Melaka River runs through the town, tying Melaka to the Straits and dividing the city itself into two parts. During its heyday as a trading port, the river gave access to the safety of the interior, connecting with an inland waterway and providing the means to bring forest produce — rattans, canes, gums and resins — to market.
Contemporary sources have provided glimpses into the bustling life and culture of the town’s river life during the days of the Sultanate. Ma Huan, an Arabic-speaking Chinese Muslim who sailed with Admiral Zheng He (Cheng Ho) in the early fifteenth century, described a bridge that spanned the river, connecting the north and south banks with a market-place of twenty pavilions where commodities of all kinds were sold. These pavilions were built on red stone steps, made of wood and well carved with floral patterns.
When the Portuguese took over, the buildings lining the Melaka River gradually fell into disuse, crumbling with age and lack of maintenance by the city’s governors as trade and population diminished. Remarkably, however, the stone steps that had provided a foundation for these structures endured well into the colonial age. In (Victorian) paintings, well-dressed gentlemen in coat-tails, accompanied by ladies in petticoats holding fringed umbrellas, are often depicted standing on the steps.
One particular set of steps led to a tiny port, from which, following the river’s course, one could sail directly to the Chinese living quarters in Blacksmith Street, Goldsmith Street and Temple Street. It is likely that during the nineteenth century, Chinese migrants, after disembarking from the main voyage vessel, would have stood on these steps before crossing the threshold into the foreign land of Melaka.
Sir Frank Swettenham, Resident-General of the Federated Malay States, remarked on the curious layout of the landscape lining the riverbanks. In 1906, he had crossed the shallows between his ship and land in a launch and disembarked at the steep steps at the mouth of the river. He wrote, ‘the visitor will first be struck by the curious spectacle of a town with its legs in the sea. The reason is that the houses which face the main street of Melaka have their backs to the shore, and the space between road and sea is so narrow that the Chinese, who love deep narrow houses, have built out over the water… The effect is strange but picturesque, and from the Melaka River to the northern end of town, every house on the sea side of the long main street has one foot on land and one in the sea’.
Located at the foot of Bukit China, next to the Sam Po Kong temple. Said to have been constructed in Sultan Mansur Shah’s reign for the Chinese Princess Hang Li Po and her entourage during her residence at the base of Bukit China. Legend has it that Cheng Ho once drank from the well and ever since, the water had never dried up, even during times of severe drought.
Also known as Perigi Raja, this well was built by Sultan Mansur Shah in 1459. The well was poisoned several times; first in 1551 by Johore forces then in 1629, by the Achehnese, to ward off Portuguese attacks. The Dutch also ‘fortified’ this well to ward off enemies.
Located at Kampung Duyong (a Malay village 4 km south of Melaka just off the road to Muar). It is rumoured that the soul of Hang Tuah, the great Malay warrior of the 15th century, resides there in the form of a white crocodile. According to myth, only spiritually pure people are able to see the crocodile and great luck is bestowed upon the viewers.
Bukit China (Chinese Hill) was originally a jungle encompassing three mounds- Bukit Tinggi, Bukit Gedong and Bukit Tempurong.
The hill’s origins are shrouded in historical myth. The widely accepted line is that it took on its name after a daughter of the Chinese emperor’s concubines or royal handmaiden, Hang Li Po, was sent to Melaka on one of Zheng He’s voyages as a diplomatic gift to the ruler. Sultan Mansur Shah, who was then in power, allowed her entourage to settle around the foot of the main hill. Meanwhile, the royal family lived in a palace elsewhere, at the foot of another hill (Bukit Melaka, today’s St. Paul’s Hill). The Malay Annals mentions a Princess Hang Li Poh but recent debates have raised doubts over the purported royal lineage. Meanwhile, Ma Huan mentions the official settlement of Bukit China, but does not specify its exact location. Ma Huan records the building of an “official factory” during the time of Admiral Zheng He’s visits. According to his notes, fences, walls and a clock tower were erected to form a small stockade, where goods brought in by the treasure ships that had sailed to other parts of the world were stored. These goods were kept there during the months when the ships were waiting to ride the northeast wind back to China in mid-May. According to the “Mao Kun map” (Zheng He hanghai tu), which is the closest we have to one of Zheng He’s sailing charts, the stockade was situated somewhere on the left bank of the Melaka river.
Seven other wells were subsequently built around the area, during the time of Zheng He.
The sultan also ordered a well to be dug at Bukit China for the new immigrants. This well, Perigi Raja, remains to this day and never dries up, even during droughts. Legend has it that the well was poisoned several times to ward off enemies during the wars involving the Melaka Sultanate: once during the Portuguese assault in 1511, second when the Dutch attacked in 1606 and twice more in 1628 and 1629, with the advent of the Achehnese.
Despite its name, Bukit China also holds Muslim links. In the mid-seventeenth century, Melaka was temporarily taken over by combined Dutch and Achehnese forces during the Triangular War. The Portuguese soon reclaimed the city, yet the brief occupation left its legacy on the hill. The resting place of a prominent Achehnese warrior, Panglima Pidi, remains on the hill to this day, along with about 20 other Muslims graves. During the Dutch occupation, the three hills of Bukit China were bought over by Lee Wei King, the then “Kapitan China” of Melaka and donated to the Chinese community in 1685. The three mounds were renamed “San Pao Shan” (Three Gems or Three Protections Hill) and placed under the trust of a local Chinese temple.
Reputedly the oldest Chinese burial ground still in use in the world, San Bao Hill contains 12,500 graves, with many tombstones dating back to the Ming dynasty. The hill is the final resting place for at least seven Kapitans (the Portuguese term for the head of the Chinese community).
In 1795, Kapitan Chua Su Cheong gave orders for a temple to be built at the foot of the hill. As San Bao was a cemetery, the Chinese leader felt it was necessary to have a formal place of worship where the Chinese could pay respects to their ancestors’ tombs in China, although they were in a foreign land. Many have mistook Admiral Cheng Ho to be the pioneer of the temple, but this is unlikely given that the main centerpiece in the temple itself is one of Chua Su Cheong.
Bukit China came close to being destroyed in 1984, when the Melaka government announced plans to develop the hill into a housing and commercial centre. The plan sparked anger and outrage throughout the Chinese and other ethnic communities who felt moved to preserve a heritage symbolizing their earliest ancestors’ links to the country.
It is the guardian temple of the Bukit China cemetery and is believed to be named after a fish that saved Admiral Zheng He’s ship as it was buffeted about by a heavy storm during one of his many voyages. By clinging to the ship’s hull, the fish apparently prevented water from seeping into the hold. To this day, some Chinese refrain from consuming this fish.
Beside the temple lies the Sultan’s Well, or Perigi Raja.
A’ Famosa (currently all that remains is the gate-Porta de Santiago)
Portuguese period, built by Alfonso d’Albuquerque in 1512
The Dutch capture of Melaka in 1641 damaged the fortress. The Dutch restored it, thus the appearance of the Dutch East India Company’s coat of arms and the date 1670 on the gate. The temporary occupation of Melaka by the British in 1807 saw the complete destruction of all fortifications in Melaka except this gateway. The fort is made of local laterite and is in a good state of preservation.
Porta de Santiago, a small gateway, was once a prominent structure during the 130-year rule of the Portuguese. It formed part of the formidable A’Forteleza fortress built in 1512 by Alfonso d’Albuquerque to thwart attacks by Malay forces as well as the Achehnese.
A’Forteleza stood 20ft high and had 8ft thick walls. Built from laterite stones and mortar, it was shaped like a pentagon and spread over the grounds of St. Paul’s hill and the city.
The gateway was damaged during the Dutch invasion in 1641, but subsequently repaired. Proof of this is evident by the inscription ‘Anno 1670’ at the top of the entrance and above it, the crest of the Dutch East- India Company and monogram ‘VOC’ (Vereenigde Oost-India Companie).
When the British took over in 1795, orders were given for all traces of Portuguese fortifications and remnants to be destroyed. Were it not for Sir Stamford Raffles’ intervention, Porta De Santiago would surely have been demolished along with the rest of the fort.
Our Lady of the Annunciation Church
Portuguese period, built by Albuqueruqe, ca. 1512, after the capture of the town
Built of local laterite by the Portuguese Duarte Coelho as a thanksgiving for his escape at sea, St. Paul’s Church was originally named the Chapel of Nossa Senhora and was located on the summit of St. Paul’s Hill. The Portuguese repaired and enlarged the chapel in the late 16th century and named it the Church of the Annunciation. When Melaka came under Dutch rule in 1641, the Dutch renamed it St. Paul’s Church and used it for their services until it was partly unroofed. Part of the church was used as a powder magazine by the British when they occupied Melaka in 1795.
The remains of St. Francis Xavier were laid in its sanctuary from the 22nd March to December 1553 before being transferred to Goa.
There are 36 huge granite headstones, including that of Johan Van Twist, the first Dutch governor of Melaka (1641-42) and the wife of Balthasar Bort, the Governor of the State and fortress of Melaka.
The ruins of the church lie just behind the fortress. Erected in 1521, it sits atop a hill and was originally a chapel. It was built by the Portuguese Duarte Coelho, founder of Cochin China, after he survived a pirate attack in the South China Sea. The chapel was dedicated to ‘de Nossa Senyora de Oiteru’, or Our Lady of the Hills.
St. Francis Xavier, head of the Society of Jesus missionary organization, took over this Catholic church in 1545. When he died in 1553, his body was temporarily laid to rest in the church before being returned to Goa, India. A marble statue of him stands outside the ruins.
With the Dutch takeover, the church was used as an extension of the hill-fortress. Changes were made to its structure; for example, canon embrasures with holes for recoilers. The building itself was renamed ‘St. Paul’s Church’ and later became a burial ground for Dutch noblemen. Huge granite tablets line the walls of the ruined building as testimony to this fact.
St. Paul’s College
Portuguese period, 1548
Ruins of the Rosary Chapel, formerly the site of St. Lawrence parish
During the Portuguese period, the site of the current ruins was the location of a parish church serving, according to Manuel Godinho de Eredia, 1,600 Catholics. This church was destroyed by the Dutch. During the last stage of the Dutch occupation, between 1790-1810, the Rosary Chapel (Ermida do Rosario) was built. For some time after it fell into disuse, the ground of the chapel became a burial ground. It is the ruins of this building that stand here today.
Portuguese period, date unknown
Recorded in the “Lendas da India”, by Gaspar Correia, secretary to Albuquerque. Pelourinhos, in Portugal or her overseas territories, were symbols of administration and political power. In Melaka, it was erected on the right side of the river, at the entrance of the present Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock. It was made of granite, with an even surface. Its fust was erected on three circular steps also in an even surface and ended with a granite ring, from which the structure ends in a cone.
St. John’s Fort
Dutch period, Date uncertain
The only Dutch fortification of the 18th century in Malaysia and possibly in the East. It is well preserved and Set on a hill overlooking the whole town of Melaka.
St. Peter’s Church
Dutch period, 1710
Built by a Dutchman who converted to Catholicism. It is an interesting mix of Oriental and Occidental architecture-the church and its altars are similar to those seen in Goa and Macau.
In 1710, a Dutch gentleman named Maryber Franz Amboer donated the land to Portuguese missionaries.
Located within Dutch square along Jalan Laksamana, the Stadt Huys (Town Hall) faces the river. Although parts of the wall date back to the Portuguese period, it was built in 1650 by the Dutch. It lay inside the walls of A’Forteleza, positioned directly opposite the Great Gate.
It served as the official residence of the Dutch governors, as well as a centre of administration. It also housed the offices of the Dutch East India Company (VOC).
One remaining room still boasts an original 17th century Dutch wooden-floral ceiling. It has a simple, robust design, with high windows and wide staircases reminiscent of municipal buildings in Holland. According to Hoyt, the original buildings were probably faced with brick and sealed with plaster; brickworks, like roof and floor tiles.
The building reflects typical Dutch architectural patterns- thick stone walls, supported by local hardwood.
Later, possibly in the 1920s, the British painted the buildings a dark salmon red.
Cheng Hoon Teng temple
1625 (according to the dates inscribed on a stone tablet built in the Temple)
The Cheng Hoon Teng temple in Jalan To’kong dates from 1645. It is the oldest functioning Chinese temple in Malaysia and indeed, South East Asia. Taking its name after an ancient idiom (roughly translated to mean ‘a meteoric rise’), the temple was a symbol of hope for Chinese migrants looking to build a new life overseas. Many skilled craftsmen, artisans and carpenters, hailing from the Fujian cities of Zhangzhou and Quanzhou, worked to build its richly decorated edifice.
It was founded by the same Kapitan who later bought a large jungle area and converted it into a burial ground for the Chinese community (see Bukit China).
The temple’s central altar is dedicated to Kwan Yin (Guanyin), the Chinese goddess of Mercy. Other altars are dedicated to the Goddess of Ma Choe Po (Queen of Heaven and protector of fishermen and sailors) and the Guardian Deity of Well Being. Flanking these are halls devoted to the God of Culture and Literature, the God of War (Guan Yu), Tua Pek Gong and inventor of Chinese character input method called “Cang Jie”. The temple was a centre for China’s so-called three systems of thought: Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism.
Apart from functioning as a place of worship, the Cheng Hoon Teng temple was also incongruously used as a court of justice and center of administration for the local Chinese community during the Portuguese and Dutch colonial era. The policy of electing a “Teng Choo”, or president of the temple board, carried on even after Melaka was ceded to the British.
Kampung Kling Mosque
This mosque, with an unusual pagoda-like minaret and a huge Victorian chandelier, was built in 1748, and bears testimony to the rich intermingling of local and foreign cultures that existed in the colonial era. Though its main building has a distinct Sumatran architectural style, there is also an incorporation of a six-tier Chinese pagoda-like minaret. Inside the mosque, European tiles line the walls, with an old and beautifully crafted wooden pulpit in the prayer hall. Along the outer roof panel lie embossed Chinese characters, signinfying ‘double happiness’.
Keling is a word derived from “Kalinga”, the name of the region in India from which early Indian traders to Melaka hailed. The term ‘Keling’ was used throughout the period of the Melaka Sultanate, through to the Portuguese and Dutch occupations to refer to a person of the Indian race. Only with the arrival of the British was this term officially replaced with “Indian”.
Keling blood entered the royal line during a struggle for succession to the throne after the death of Sri Maharajah, the offspring of Parameswara. His son, Raja Kasim had married a sister of a prominent Tamil Muslim merchant named Tun Ali who had settled in Melaka from northern Sumatra. Raja Ibrahim, his half-brother, was installed as regent prince but was overthrown about a year later by a coup d’etat led by Tun Ali and Raja Kasim with the implicit approval of the Chief Minister (Bendahara) who had been pressed or persuaded to accompany the rebels. The attack furthered the interests of Tun Ali’s family and secured a Muslim dynasty on the throne.
The new ruler took the name Muzaffar Shah, and became the first of the Melaka kings to use the title of Sultan in 1456. During his reign, many from the race of the Kelings were allowed to hold prestigious offices in court. Tun Ali’s son, Tun Mutahir, served as Chief Minister to the sultan.
Aside from dabbling in politics, the Keling merchants residing in Melaka were highly skilled in financial matters. These merchants hailed from a reputable merchant house (the Chettiar family) and through dealings with the local government, came to own numerous pieces of property in Melaka. Two such pieces were converted into grounds for a Muslim mosque and Hindu temple reserved for the use of their community during the Dutch occupation. The latter was probably built to accommodate their Gujerati brethren, who were Hindus. Freedom of religion was clearly well practiced among the Indians at the time.
The edifice of the mosque itself reflects a curious blend of multi-racial cultures that flourished during the time of its construction. It is tangible proof of how profoundly interconnected the religions and cultures of Melaka once were. It is, in all respects, a grand infusion of different architectural styles and elements derived from Indian, Chinese, Malay and even European customs.
Roof: The pyramid-like, double-hipped roofs were built according to the Chinese style, albeit with a twist; instead of using red tiles, floral Sumatran tiles were used to adorn the tops of the mosque.
Minaret: Minarets were quite common among old mosques in Melaka, but the one built in the Kling mosque was unique as it was built on a square plan, with floral decorations adorning the top if its spire and ridges. It is believed to be an Indian-styled minaret originating from Sumatra.
Veranda: An arcaded golden veranda surrounds the main prayer hall and is held up by Corinthian columns. European imported glazed floral ceramic tiles were used to embellish the walls, and, somewhere at the back of the mosque, a European-styled fountain was erected, presumably sued to perform ablution rites.
Carvings: Underneath the roof of the mosque, the mark of Teochew craftsmen are clearly displayed in distinctive porcelain inlays, giving the walls a simple yet elegant floral finishing. Chinese characters are carved into ridges, the most prominent bearing the words “double-happiness”.
Possibly built to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of Dutch occupation of Melaka. Contemporary records show that until the building of this church, worship was held in the late Portuguese Governor’s chapel on the Residency Hill.
Details: built of laterite to the plinth, and above it, of red brick specially shipped from Holland. Ceiling beams measure 48 feet by 12 inches square (each cut from a single tree) a span of level ceiling rarely attempted in modern architecture. Roof made of Dutch tiles. The porch and vestry were added in the middle of the 19th century.
On a mural tablet on the north wall near the west door, mention is made of Reverend William Milne D.D., the first protestant missionary to the Chinese. Together with Rev. Robert Morrison, D.D., he produced the first protestant translation of the Bible into Chinese. It was completed in 1819 and printed using his own printing press in Melaka.
Laid on the floor are Portuguese tombstones which were brought into the church for preservation when the present floor was laid in the 1930s.
Today, it is the oldest functioning Protestant house of worship.
- each ceiling beam was hewn from a single tree.
- its bell (dated 1608) once belonged to another church.
- the floor is embedded with tomb-stones bearing Portuguese and Armenian descriptions.
- it was converted to an Anglican church when the British arrived in 1795. (Hoyt says that a porch and vestry were added in the mid-nineteenth century).
- a frieze of the Last Supper, composed of glazed tiles, lies above the altar.
Hereen Street/Millionaire’s Row (now Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock)
A street formerly dominated by rich Straits Chinese ancestral homes; many of these families have now long left Melaka for Kuala Lumpur or Singapore. These are narrow, deep two-storey houses, built in Southern Chinese style. The doors are carved and gilded, and the houses typically have elaborate ancestral altars symbolizing filial piety, screens, panels and blackwood furniture inlaid with mother-of-pearl.
Hereen Street is lined with old residential homes built by the Dutch. These buildings are still resplendent, though most have now been converted to boutique hotels, restaurants, cafes, offices and retail outlets.
Baba-Chinese millionaires once lived in rows along this street as well.
Sri Poyatha Vinayagar Moorthi Temple
British period, 1781
Oldest of the four Indian temples in Melaka, built by the Chitty community after obtaining land from the Dutch government. Although followers of Hinduism and influenced by Indian culture, these people usually only speak Malay. Currently situated on Jalan Tukang Emas in Kampung Keling.
British period, 1818
Built to promote a reciprocal knowledge of the languages among the English and the Chinese and of communicating the gospel message to the latter. The Rev. William Milne D.D., Protestant Missionary to China under the auspices of the London Missionary Society, served for 7 years as its Principal, superintending the education of Chinese and Malay youths.
Church of St. Francis Xavier
British period, 1849
Naning War Memorial
British period, after 1832
The Naning War (1831-1832) was fought between the Minangkabau Malays in the area inland from the town of Melaka and the British authorities, over the right to collect annual tithes. It ended with Naning being absorbed into the Melaka territories, whereas previously it had been on the boundary.
Queen Victoria Fountain
British period, 1901
Made of English marble; in commemoration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee (1837-1897).