Malacca, on the south-west coast of Malaysia, has a rich and varied history. It occupies a strategic point on the Malacca Strait, which runs between Malaysia and Sumatra, and has been home at various times to the Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch and British. In the middle ages it was an important stop on the trade route between China and the Middle East for ships carrying cargoes of spices, textiles and other goods. By the 15th century up to 2,000 ships could be seen in the harbour at one time. There was an established Chinese community by this time and the Chinese admiral Zheng He often called into the port during his voyages.
The town was taken by the Portuguese in 1511 and was later occupied by the Dutch and the British prior to independence. Today it is a thriving town with smart waterfront developments and a bustling Chinatown. In 2008 Malacca (along with George Town, also on the Malacca Strait) was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site as an exceptional example of a multicultural trading town in South East Asia. Tourists can enjoy walking the compact town centre and visit the museums that record the town’s heritage. They may also visit temples and go shopping in Chinatown and, of course, eat traditional Malay food in one of the many cafés or restaurants.
Historic centre of Malacca
There are two old and imposing red painted buildings on the Dutch Square: Christ Church and the Stadthuys. Christ Church, the oldest Protestant church still in use in Malaysia, was built by the Dutch in the 18th century but also has 19th century British additions. The 17th century Stadthuys is the oldest building in the town and is a fine example of Dutch architecture. It was originally used as the official residence of the Dutch governors and now houses the town’s Museum of Ethnography and History.
Beside the Stadthuys is the Porta de Santiago, an archway and gate that are the only remaining parts of the Portuguese A Famosa Fortress. There are a number of little shops and stalls selling souvenirs near the Dutch Square. You can also hire a colourful trishaw and take a ride with a friendly driver and loud music.
Chinatown and Jonker Street
If you want to stop for something to eat or drink, try the Geographer Cafe on Jonker Street which sells a wide variety of traditional Malay food, with a number of vegetarian options.There are many interesting places of worship in Chinatown, including Cheng Hoon Teng, the oldest Chinese temple in Malaysia, Sri Poyyatha Vinayagar Moorthi, built in 1781 and one of the oldest Hindu temples in the country, and the Kampung Kling Mosque.
There are several museums dedicated to Malacca’s history and heritage, including the following
- Maritime Museum. The riverside Maritime Museum features a replica of a Portuguese ship that sank off the coast of Melacca. Inside the ship are exhibitions and displays of Malacca’s long maritime history and pivotal place in the spice trade. There are also a number of maps and paintings. A separate building in the museum grounds contains a curious mixture of space travel, dinosaurs, navigation equipment and salvage from shipwrecks. There is also a display of the marine environment and ecosystems. The museum is open from 9am – 6pm every day except Tuesday (there is an admission charge). Visitors must remove their shoes before going inside the ship.
- Cheng Ho Cultural Museum. Situated in Chinatown, this museum is dedicated to the history of Malacca and the life of the Chinese admiral Zheng He. It occupies a number of old shophouses and has models and artefacts from Zheng He’s treasure ships. At the back of the museum is the Cheng Ho tea house, a restored Ming period house where you can enjoy a cup of tea prepared and served in the traditional style and watch a quirky puppet show of Zheng He’s life and voyages.The museum is open every day from 9am – 6pm (there is an admission charge).
- History and Ethnography Museum. This is housed in the Stadthuys on the Dutch Square and gives an insight into the various ethnic communities of Malacca and into the town’s history. Artefacts include porcelain, musical instruments and ancient weapons. The museum is open from 9am – 6pm every day except Monday (there is an admission charge).
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