Malacca: A Crucial Centre of Trade in Malaysia

The simple tale of a fishing village that rose to become an integral part of the trading loop in Asia.

Malacca City enjoys a standing of some historical importance in Malaysia. The capital of the state that shares its name was once the fulcrum of a powerful Malay kingdom before attracting the attention of Portuguese, Dutch and British colonialists in the 15th century.

As is the way of such things, Malacca rose to prominence from understated beginnings. In this case, the trajectory of a simple fishing village aligned with that of Parameswara, the final Raja of Singapura and founder of the Malacca Sultanate after a Majapahit attack in 1377. The Raja found his way to Malacca in 1400 and noted the strategic importance, both commercially and defensively, of this village on the narrowest point of the Malacca Strait. As Malacca developed, so did its position as a trading port, to the extent that it became one of the most pivotal in Southeast Asia. The river’s prominence also gained Malacca an apt nickname: ‘The Venice of the East’.

Read more: A trip back in time at Qing Xin Ling.

Christ Church in Dutch Square

The Malacca of today continues to resonate. Stories of the past merge with the colourful street art of modern times to highlight how the city straddles two eras. The colonial period is particularly evidenced by Dutch Square, for example. Here can be found the 18th-century Anglican Christ Church, the oldest functioning Protestant church in Malaysia constructed between 1741 and 1753 in the then-prominent Dutch architectural style.

A Famosa

The area is one of absolutes, as evidenced by Stadthuys, Southeast Asia’s oldest Dutch building. Constructed by the Dutch in 1650, its characteristic red exterior has since become one of Malacca’s iconic sights. Equally striking is the Tang Beng Swee Clock Tower, built in 1886 and the meeting point of the colourful tri-shaws that patrol Malacca’s streets. From a strategic viewpoint, the A Famosa gate, constructed in 1512, was the region’s tallest building until its destruction in 1641. The gate bears witness to the old Portuguese and Dutch occupation and earned its name as the sole remaining tower of the old forts that overlooked the city. The forts themselves came to an end when the British, who by then had taken control of Malacca, sensing the turning tide as the Napoleonic Wars wound down, knew the city would return to Dutch control. Thus, the occupiers took affirmative action and destroyed the city walls to make Malacca indefensible.

St Paul’s Church

The ghosts of conflict continue to haunt St Paul’s Church, perched atop the hill overlooking the fort. The ruined church was built in 1521 and ranks as the oldest such building in Malaysia and Southeast Asia. In times of conflict, however, it took on a new role as it underwent deconcentration and structural modification as part of the fortifications of Malacca. 

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