Malacca is a small state encompassing 1657km2 on the Western Peninsular of Malaysia. Geographically positioned along East-West trading route, at the busiest and narrowest point of Straits of Malacca, the state experienced a unique culmination of cultural and historical influences from Malay Sultanate (1400-1511), Portuguese colonial (1511-1641), Dutch colonial (1641-1795), English colonial (1795-1942, 1945-1957) and Japanese occupancy (1942-1945). Today, independent Malacca (since 1957) is a modern state that offers intriguing historical reminders of its past.
Map showing Malacca (just below Kuala Lumpur) positioned strategiccally in the middle of East-west trading route, at the narrowest part of the straits.
Malacca and its glorious starts
Sometimes in 1400, the history of Malacca began with the story of the place for which it was named, which began with the fascinating and partly legendary tale of the Hindu prince from Palembang, Parameswara who was driven out of Temasik by Siamese, founded Malacca and named
the land after the tree which he was resting under, Malaka. The land in actual, is a strategic and well protected river mouth surrounded by hills and from the prevailing monsoon. Being on the narrowest part of the Straits with the deep water near its side, the river mouth formed a small harbor overlooked by the hill on which the ruler and his chiefs could build a fortified stockade protected on the land side by marshes. Soon traders began to call and the little settlement prospered. Parameswara became the first ruler of the famed Melaka Sultanate and later embraced Islam with the name of Sultan Mansur Syah. The second Sultan of Malacca, Muzaffar Shah, led the territorial expansion of the sultanate and with it the growth of trading centre and the spread of Islam. One of the major factors contributed to the rise of Malacca as trading centre was the monsoon winds that enabled Arab and Indian traders from the west to travel to China in the east and vice versa. Soon Malacca became a major player in spice trade and served as a gateway between the Spice Islands and high-paying Eurasian markets. Malacca also became the center of Islam in the eastern sphere and the spread could be traced throughout the Malay Peninsula and the Sumatran. At the height of its power, the Sultanate encompassed most of modern day Peninsula Malaysia, Singapore and a great portion of eastern Sumatra shores. The sultanate dominated both sides of the Straits of Malacca for more than a hundred years and this period marked the classical age of Malay culture and architecture. The kingdom gave birth to the grand timber-frame palace of the third sultan of Malacca, Sultan Mansur Shah (1459-1477). Besides palace, mosques became the centres of Islamic learning under the patronage of its rulers. The Malacca River distinguished the southern hills for the sultan, the chiefs and administrators to the godowns and residences of the traders at the northern bank. Malacca River grew rapidly into a vast, cosmopolitan trading centre.
Illustration showing the grand timber palace of Sultan Mansur Shah.
Under the patronage of Sultan Iskandar Syah (1394-1414), Malacca enjoyed international diplomatic ties. The expedition of chinese admiral Cheng Ho to Malacca in 1405 established tributary relations between the Malay States and the Ming Dynasty. Chinese culture, customs and building techniques
were brought in at Kampung Cina settlement (today Hang Kasturi Street). The Baba-nyonya is Malacca’s straits-born Chinese or Peranakans (meaning “born here”) whose lineage traces back hundreds of years when their descendents arrived and inter-married with the local women. The architectural influences of the Chinese led to a hybrid Malaccan townhouses termed as ‘Straits Eclectic’ that combined architectural wisdoms from Chinese, Malay and later European. Inter-marriage also took place between the Tamil Muslim and the locals gave birth to the...