A busy ancient walkway

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  • Friday, 02 May 2014

The Cheng Ho Gallery, showcases trade and diplomatic journeys of the famous Chinese admiral

IT IS indubitably the oldest and most traversed road in Malacca and continues to attract the largest number of visitors.

Jalan Kota can be traced to the Fortaleza de Malaca (Fort of Malacca) of the Portuguese era as its stretch more or less delineates the inner walkway of the once impregnable citadel.

After conquering Malacca in 1511, the Portuguese built a temporary wooden rampart to secure the city but soon after, started building a stronger stone and mortar structure extending from the riverfront to the foot of St Paul’s Hill, facing the sea.

It was called the A Famosa — a name still being erroneously used to identify the Santiago gateway, Malacca’s most famous landmark.

Stones to build the fortress were salvaged from ruins such as the palace of Sultan Mahmud Shah, and sourced from the nearby isle of Pulau Upeh.

According to some reports, the original A Famosa (translated as the Famous and also as the Beautiful) was a square fort with the rampart walls made of stone, earth and even wood.

Remnants of the once inpregnable Fortaleza de Malaca at Jalan Kota/Jalan Merdeka
Remnants of the once impregnable Fortaleza de Malaca in Jalan Kota/Jalan Merdeka.

It held out the attacks of the old Sultan’s forces but the increasing heavier artillery being used against it, especially from Acheh, led to major improvements.

From 1560, towers, gateways and bastions were added to it, resulting in the fort taking on the shape of a pentagon. By 1583, it was reinforced with 70 canons aimed in all directions around its 954m circumference.

Before the Dutch conquered the city 58 years later in 1641, it had six bastions — St Domingos, Madre de Deus, Onze Mil Virgens (Eleven Thousand Virgins) Santiago, Hospital dos Probes and St Pedro.

Before the final assault on Jan 14, 1641, the Dutch blockaded the fortress for five months, preventing those inside from getting fresh food and water.

According to reports, the soldiers and members of their families were reduced to eating dogs, cats and rats to survive. In one case, a woman was said to have resorted to eating the body of her dead baby.

By the time the fortress was finally breached, the death toll from starvation, disease and canon fire had risen to about 7,000 people.

The Santiago gateway, Malacca¿s most famous landmark.
The Santiago gateway, Malacca’s most famous landmark.

Today, Jalan Kota is the foremost place where most of the domestic and foreign tourists coming to Malacca throng to.

All along the road and up the hill of St Paul, there is an array of museums, many of them holding fascinating exhibits. Some appear to have been created just for the sake of meeting the need to describe Malacca as the “City of Museums”.

Among the most popular is the Stadt House or Stadthuys, which houses the History Museum and the Ethnography Museum.

Built between 1641 and 1660, it is the oldest Dutch building in the East.

The Stadthuys, modelled after the ancient town hall of Hoorn in Holland, was used as the administrative centre of the Dutch and the subsequent British colonial governments since 1680.

It is a fine example of architecture of the Dutch colonial period with stairways, imposing wooden doors and louvred windows.

Despite its name, only five contain remains of Dutch officers while the others are of British administrators and their wives.
Despite its name, in the Dutch Cemetery, only five contain remains of Dutch officers while the others are of British administrators and their wives.

Among the items on display in the museum are relics from Malacca’s past, dating from the Sultanate period to present times.

Just behind it is the Cheng Ho (Zheng He) Gallery, showcasing the trade and diplomatic journeys of the famous Chinese admiral, antique porcelain, replica of ships from his “Treasure Fleet”, and other attractions.

There is also a giant statue of the revered Muslim admiral who was the first eunuch to hold such a high military position.

But the biggest draw to the hill is the roofless remnant of St Paul’s Church.

The hill was originally called Bukit Melaka or Malacca Hill but the Portuguese renamed it Monte Maria after the Virgin Mary.

Sixteenth century Portuguese writer João de Barros wrote that a chapel called Nossa Senhora da Annunciada (Our Lady of Grace) was built by a nobleman called Duarte Coelho as an act of gratitude for his miraculous escape from a violent storm in the sea.

The marble statue of St. Francis Xavier¿s erected in 1952, has a missing right hand
The marble statue of St Francis Xavier, erected in 1952, has a missing right hand.

In 1548, the chapel was handed over to the Society of Jesus in Goa, India and Francis Xavier (later St Francis) received the title deed.

After expansions and works to heighten the structure, it was renamed Nossa Senhora do Monte (Our Lady on the Hill).

Among the misconceptions about the ruins is that the body of St Francis was once buried in the burial chamber of St Paul’s Church.

St Francis was apparently buried somewhere in the old chapel in March 1553 but his body was taken to Goa in December the same year because Malacca was considered “unworthy of such a treasure”.

As the chapel was expanded in 1566, the real location where the missionary was temporarily buried remains unknown.

After the conquest of the Portuguese, it was turned into a Dutch Reformed Church and called St Paul’s Church, a name that remains till today.

The Dutch used it for 112 years, until the Christ Church was built next to the Stadthuys.

The British added a lighthouse to the hill after taking over Malacca in 1824 and at one time, the church was a storehouse for gun powder.

The marble statue of St Francis Xavier erected in 1952 has a missing right hand. According to stories, a day after its consecration, a big tree fell on it, severing the hand.

It was a strange coincidence because the missionary’s body lying in Goa is also without the right hand.

Before he was canonised as a saint on March 12,1662, the Vatican had asked for the hand (which he used to bless people) to be severed and sent to Rome where it still remains a relic for veneration.

Along the walls of the ruins of the church stand old tombstones with interesting inscriptions, motifs and stories.

The oldest, dating back to 1568, is that of Dom Miguel De Castro, the son of Dom Joao De Castro, a Portuguese naval officer and fourth Viceroy of Portuguese India.

Among the other tombstones are that of Dutch administrators buried on St Paul’s Hill, including those who had served in outposts in southern Thailand.

At the foot of the hill on the other side is the Dutch Cemetery where burials were carried out between 1670 and 1682. Despite its name, only five contain remains of Dutch officers while the others are of British administrators and their wives .

Two other relatively new attractions of the hill are also worth visiting — the Governor’s Museum and the Democratic Government Museum.

The first is the Dutch-built former Seri Melaka. It served as the official residence and office of the Dutch and British governors before becoming the first residence of the first governor of Malacca, Tun Leong Yew Koh who served from Aug 31, 1957 to Aug 30, 1959.

The other Yang di-Pertua Negeri who lived there were Tun Abd Malek Yusof (Aug 31, 1959 to Aug 30, 1971), Tun Abdul Aziz Abdul Majid (Aug 31, 1971 to May 18, 1975), Tun Syed Zahiruddin Syed Hassan (May 19, 1975 to Dec 3, 1984) and Tun Datuk Seri Utama Syed Ahmad Al-Haj Syed Mahmud (Dec 4, 1984 to September 1996).

The Democratic Government Museum nearby used to be the state assembly building.

Down the hill leading towards Taman Merdeka (Independence Park) are several other old buildings housing newer museums.

Among them are the Islamic Museum, Umno Museum, People’s Museum and the Malay World Islamic World Museum located at the Bastion House that used to be owned by Dunlop Estates and the Malacca Cultural Museum.

My all-time favourite is the Stamp Museum, not because I’m in any way a philatelist but because of the stories surrounding the building.

The most legendary is the “Hantu of No 7, Fort Road”, supposedly the spirit of a nun who was put to death along with her soldier lover, after she was found to be pregnant. Her remains are said to be buried below the house.

Although the current structure was built by the Dutch, the foundations date to the Portuguese occupation.

Over the decades it had been used as a residence of officials, the education office, the orginal state museum, and as a store of the municipal council. People had reported seeing the ghost of the nun and sometimes that of the soldier.

In 1953, British writer and painter Sheila Prentice wrote in The Straits Times about the supposedly benign spirit of the nun, whom the children living in the house were so familiar with, that they referred her to “Mummy’s friend”.

Next to the Santiago gateway is supposed to be a replica of the Malacca Sultanate Palace that houses the Cultural Museum.

Portuguese records, however, state that there were only two stone buildings in the city before the conquest — the palace and the mosque.

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Opinion , Malacca , Islamic museum


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