KUALA Lumpur’s iconic Dataran Merdeka and the century-old Sultan Abdul Samad building have the potential to be under the Unesco World Heritage List.
Dataran Merdeka or Merdeka Square, as it is often referred to in tourist brochures, is the historic field where the Union Jack was lowered and the Malayan flag hoisted for the first time at midnight on Aug 31, 1957.
The Sultan Abdul Samad building on the other hand, located opposite Dataran Merdeka, is a late 19th-century building in Jalan Raja.
Constructed in 1894, the building with its Moghul and Moorish architecture, was designed by architects Arthur Charles Alfred Norman, Arthur Benison Hubback and Regent Alfred John Bidwell.
Kuala Lumpur mayor Tan Sri Mohd Amin Nordin Abd Aziz wants to push for Malaysia to nominate these iconic sites to Unesco for the recognition.
Amin Nordin said areas like Petaling Street also have potential due to the historical significance of its old temples, shophouses and associations that were steeped in history and over 100 years old.
He said Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) was in talks with Jabatan Warisan Negara (National Heritage Department) to make this happen.
Unesco World Heritage status is awarded by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) and a site must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one of the 10 selection criteria to qualify to be listed.
A check on the Unesco website showed that as of this year, there are about 1,092 sites listed as world heritage: 845 cultural, 209 natural, and 38 mixed properties.
Italy, with 53, has the most number of Unesco World Heritage sites followed by China (52) and Spain (46). In Malaysia, Unesco only recognises five sites – Gunung Mulu National Park (Sarawak), Kinabalu Park (Sabah), Lenggong Valley archeological site (Perak) and the historical cities of Melaka and George Town (Penang).
Any application for Unesco listing must be made to the National Heritage Department.
Support for move
International Council on Monuments and Sites (Icomos) Malaysia chairman Datuk Hajeedar Majid said the council has questioned why the Federal capital could not get the recognition when both Melaka and George Town were able to.
He added that Kuala Lumpur’s core teemed with history that goes back to the 18th and 19th centuries as seen in old shophouses, colonial buildings, and places of worship.
“We have been quite careless with our (buildings) in the past.
“There was loss of opportunities in the past, and the historic core of Kuala Lumpur has been redeveloped in an insensitive way,’’ he added.
Hajeedar, who is the former National Heritage Council chairman, elaborated that late 18th-century shoplots and early 19th-century shophouses have been redeveloped and the entire scale was not compatible anymore (with the old buildings).
“The old colonial buildings should have been declared heritage sites sooner. But having said that, it is not too late,’’ Hajeedar said.
“Historical areas can still be salvaged, but, it must be done with other pockets (of historical sites) such as Jalan Raja, Medan Pasar and Petaling Street area,’’ he said.
“The sites must be physically and visually linked with one another. But more importantly there must be political will for this to happen.
“We must push for this without fear or favour, Hajeedar said, adding that in the past efforts aimed at preserving historical sites had given in to political pressure.
Bukit Bintang MP Fong Kui Lun agrees that old areas like Jalan Tun H.S Lee, Medan Pasar and Petaling Street should be considered for the Unesco World Heritage status.
He said Petaling Street where the city’s Chinatown is located has more than 100 years of history with old temples that are easily over a century old.
“Petaling Street is unique and is one of the oldest areas in Kuala Lumpur that must be preserved.
“It is sad that Kuala Lumpur with its tin mining history and cultural significance is not part of the Unesco list.
Fong said the federal capital which prided itself on many sights connected with old buildings such as Masjid Jamek built in 1909, now known as Sultan Abdul Samad Jamek mosque, 124-year-old Taoist temple called Guan Di in Chinatown, and Hindu temples like the Sri Mahamariamman, founded in 1873, are not on the Unesco list.
He added that the Guan Di temple built in 1888 in the heart of Petaling Street is popular with tourists.
“When I was 12 years old, I used to come here all the time with my parents and I have always been fascinated with temples like the temple’s Dravidian architecture,” said Fong, 71.
“I also want to propose to DBKL to carry out heritage walks to educate tourists and locals on the history of the place,’’ he said.
He said after the last general election the government came down hard on Petaling Street traders for employing foreign workers to man their stalls.
“We cannot have that anymore. I have already warned the shop owners not to employ them,’’ he said.
“Petaling Street must remain authentic to its cultural history,’’ he said, adding that it would help to push for Unesco status or at least a national heritage status.
He said that he would seek a meeting with Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Mohamaddin Ketapi to lobby for Petaling Street to be a national heritage site.