Commanding an important position on the busy sea route between India and China on Malaysia’s southwestern coast, Melaka was battled over for centuries between the Portuguese, British and Dutch. As a result, this modern day Malaysian city is now a popular tourist destination packed with architecture, culture, traditions and cuisine all reflecting its rich heritage. Here is a look at some of the top attractions in Melaka:
See also: 5 Best Day Tours in Malaysia
The remains of this Portuguese fortress are among the oldest remaining European structures in all of Asia. A Famosa (Porta de Santiago) was built on a seaside hilltop in the early 1500s to protect the newly conquered land from returning to a sultanate or being invaded by other European nations. The hope was to create another Portuguese friendly port along the Spice Route to ease trade for merchant ships delivering between Asia and Europe. It later fell into Dutch hands, and was given to Britain to avoid being conquered by Napoleonic France. Britain feared its power if it were conquered, so chose to destroy it instead of fortifying it further. A single small gate was preserved at the request of Sir Raffles, the founder of Singapore.
Masjid Selat (Malacca Straits Mosque) was created in the early 20th century with a mix of Middle Eastern and Malay architectural styles. Built on manmade Malacca island, it is designed to appear as if it is floating when water levels are high. In traditional Moorish style, much of the outside is white with accents of vibrant color. In this case, large stained-glass archways of yellow and green are one of the main showpieces that accent the mosque. The building is particularly beautiful at night, when a series of colored lights make it one of the most beautiful sights in all of Melaka. The mosque serves as an active and popular place of worship, but also allows public tours.
This is not the original, but a replica museum that was built in 1984 to showcase the region’s history. The building was built based on the historical descriptions of the palace of Mansur Shah, the sultan who ruled Melaka from 1456 to 1477. The palace has a series of dioramas that depict what a typical day inside the palace probably looked like. Supplicants, guards and vendors flank the main hall, waiting to pay tribute to the sultan and make requests. A scale model of the building and more than 1300 period items make up the rest of this historical museum.
This old Dutch city hall is painted the same red as Christ Church and most of the other remaining Dutch Colonial buildings in Melaka. It went from the offices of the Dutch governor and deputy governor under Dutch rule to a free English school under British rule. Today it is home to the History and Ethnography museum, believed to be one of the premier museums in the region. It includes traditional costumes and artifacts that showcase the many different periods in Melakan history.
This revolving tower is reminiscent of the space needle in Seattle, and serves a lot of the same purpose. Part ride, part sightseeing excursion, the Menara Taming is a great way to get an overall look at both historical Malacca as well as the new and upcoming changes to city. The gyro tower is a seven minute long ride and holds eighty people at a time. At the base of the tower are a number of other activities to try, such as pony rides, carnival rides and electric car rentals. Package deals are available to buy a ticket to the tower in combination with several other attractions in Melaka.
Dating from 1646, the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple is the oldest functioning temple in Malaysia. It practices the three traditional Chinese doctrines of Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism. The temple is located along Harmony street, home to many other mosques and temples, and greets visitors with an ornate gate bedecked with Chinese lions. The temple itself is made up of several prayer halls, the main one dedicated to Kuan Yin, the goddess of mercy. Smaller halls honor the gods of wealth, propogation and prosperity, as well as providing a home for ancestral tablets.
Created from a mansion on millionaire’s row, this museum was established by Chan Kim Lay, a fourth generation inhabitant of this home to celebrate the complex and wonderful combination of Chinese and Malay culture, also known as Baba Nyonya. The museum features a number of crafts and handiwork, including woodworking pieces, porcelain and furniture. Large, painted tapestries hang on walls with elaborately carved frames and a story of Chinese and Western cultures blending into a Malay world is told through the pieces in this traditional home.
Originally built by a Portuguese captain in 1521 as a simple chapel, St. Paul’s Church offers views over Melaka from the summit of Bukit St Paul. St. Francis Xavier, one of the founders of the Jesuit order, used the church as his base for his missionary journeys to China and Japan. In one of those journeys, Xavier fell sick and eventually died in China in 1552. His body was temporarily interred here for nine months before being transferred to Goa, where it remains today. Visitors can look into his ancient tomb inside the church, and a marble statue of the saint gazing over the city.
This street is the center of Chinatown of Melaka. It began in Dutch Colonial times as the home to many of the servants of Dutch nobility. However, after the Dutch left, it became the home of the nobles themselves. Many seventeenth-century manors remain here, along with a large number of shops, restaurants and other amenities. When the large Chinese presence moved in, decorative accents like a large Chinese-style archway were added. The street is blocked off every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening to become a pedestrian-only night market.
Christ Church was created in the eighteenth century to replace the aging Portuguese church, and remains one of the most iconic buildings from the Dutch Colonial era in Melaka. Originally white, this building was painted red in the early 1900’s, and this color has become an indicator of most of the buildings from the Dutch era. The inside of the church is inlaid with a number of tombstones, written in Dutch, English, Portuguese and Armenian. Often long-winded, these tombstones give an interesting snapshot of life in colonial times.