SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): The Padang - a site of countless historic events in Singapore's history - will officially be gazetted as the nation's 75th national monument on Tuesday (Aug 9), the 57th anniversary of the Republic's independence.
On Monday, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong said that while the site has no physical structures, its open space is the site of many shared memories as a nation.
The gazette protects the site from alteration and change that would affect its character and significance, while allowing it to continue to be a social and community space enjoyed by Singaporeans, he added.
Tong was speaking at the National Gallery Singapore, which occupies the former Supreme Court and City Hall that sit next to the Padang.
The National Heritage Board (NHB) said the Padang is the first green, open space on Singapore's list of national monuments - the highest form of recognition for a structure or site's significance.
Located in the heart of Singapore's civic district, the Padang is a green patch of about 4.3ha - about the size of six football fields - surrounded by St Andrew's Road, Connaught Drive, as well as the Singapore Cricket Club (SCC) and the Singapore Recreation Club's (SRC) clubhouses.
"Generations of people have gathered to witness key milestones in Singapore's history. It stands as a testament to Singapore's historical journey, our journey, our trials, our tribulations, our progress, all have been witnessed by this open space that we see here," said Tong, who cited victory parades celebrating the Japanese surrender during World War II in 1945, as well as the merger with the Malaysian Federation in 1963 and the post-independence National Day parades.
"It anchors our Singaporean identity and reflects our place in the world,” added Tong, noting that the Padang is one of the oldest open spaces in Singapore used for public and social recreation since the 1800s.
During the colonial period, the Padang - which means field or open ground in Malay - was initially known as the plain, and then the esplanade, a site for recreation.
It also became a venue for horse races and performances, and hosted New Year's Day celebrations in the 1840s.
Singapore was granted internal self-governance in 1959. On Dec 3 that year, the first Yang di-Pertuan Negara (Head of State) Yusof Ishak was inaugurated at the Padang, where he unfurled Singapore's new red and white state flag with its crescent moon and five stars.
Yusof later went on to become the first president of the Republic.
After Singapore's separation from Malaysia, the first National Day Parade was held at the Padang on Aug 9, 1966, beginning at 9am.
The National Day Parade will next be held at the Padang in 2023.
Jean Wee, director of the NHB's Preservation of Sites and Monuments division, said that together with Singapore's 74 other national monuments, the Padang "will contribute to the architectural and cultural diversity of our nation's built heritage, and be celebrated as one of the many places that define Singapore and our people".
The NHB said key community stakeholders are involved in the maintenance and use of the site.
SCC president Zoher Motiwalla said: "The gazette has been long overdue in recognising the Padang's position as the site of many significant national events, and its importance as one of the roots of our country's history and heritage.
"We take very seriously our role as one of the stalwart custodians of this newest national monument, the Padang, and will continue to help maintain it as a place that brings communities together to interact and play through sports and leisure activities."
SRC president Chang Yeh Hong said that besides maintaining the site, the club has continued its tradition of promoting sports for all.
"This is a tradition we will proudly uphold," he added.
NHB said that following the gazette, it will promote greater awareness and appreciation of the Padang's significance in Singapore's history through various commemorative initiatives to be launched from August, including tours and interactive games for students and the public.
In 2019 - the year Singapore commemorated 200 years since Sir Stamford Raffles' arrival on the island - Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced that the Padang as well as the Cavenagh, Anderson and Elgin bridges would be gazetted as national monuments.
But the Padang could not be gazetted until after changes to the Preservation of Monuments Act - the set of laws that protect national monuments here - were passed in Parliament in November last year.
One amendment to the Act broadened the definition of monuments to include sites - defined as any open space, any inland waters, or any area of land containing anything that evidences human activity, present or past, including an intact building or buildings.
Only sites containing structures or remains of structures could be gazetted prior to the amendment.