Monday, 14 October 2013

Melaka or Melacca – some history!

Melaka riverbank by night

I’m going to put my bit at the top in case by the time you get to the bottom you are all asleep! We’ve managed 6 of the 35 museums so far, been on a river cruise and up the Flaming Sari Tower (don’t know why it’s called that) which whizzes up, rotates a few times and goes down, I just hope the Post Office Tower used to go slower than that as I felt quite sick! I’ve also finally been bitten by a mossie on my face, while in the loo (the evil little black things like to hang around in toilets) so there you are trying to squat while dealing with pants and shorts, buckets and little hoses feeling quite defenceless and what happens? You just have no hands left to defend yourself with.

Melaka, supposedly named by the Sultan of Melaka around the year 1400 when he first arrived at this place and, while leaning against a Melaka tree, watched a tiny mouse deer defensively kick away one of his large hunting dogs. Realising its significance he founded his city here and named it after the tree, the mouse deer being the emblem.
Tiny kittens that Jackie found
Between the years 1400 and 1511 the city flourished in ‘The Golden Years’ of trading. Its strategic place in the strait of Melaka, protected from both the SW and NE monsoons by the mountains of Malaysia and Sumatra and on trade routes between Arabia, Persia, India, Siam, Indo-China and China, it became a perfect port of call for all oriental trade in products such as porcelain, tea and spices, allowing vessels to come from the west in the SW monsoon, while those from the east returned home and visa-versa during the NE monsoon. There was even some trade with some European ports, including Venice, prompting Tun Perak, a statesman under the Sultan from 1456 to 1498 to write ‘he who is Lord of Melaka has his hand on the throat of Venice’

This one looking over the edge of their cardboard box at the big wide world, his sibling a little more reticent!
But this one really feels he's ready to get out....

A plan of the fort at the edge of the sea
Portugal, who at that time had bases in India had heard about the great trading port in the east and sent an envoy to make contact in 1509, but the Sultan of Melaka became very suspicious of their intentions and took several sailors hostage. Despite numerous peaceful attempts to free the hostages all failed, so in 1511 the king of Portugal sent an armada to take Melaka and exiled the Sultan from the city, beginning their 130 year occupation and construction of A’Famosa, the huge fort, some of which remains today.

This picture is taken from the top of the Taming Sari Tower which is just on the seaward side of the old fort. All that you see here was once under the sea! The tower is probably about where one of those white ships are depicted in the plan above
Breakfast on the riverbank one morning
After several bloody battles the Dutch, in collaboration with the Sultan, finally captured the city in 1641, beginning their 134 year occupation and construction of much of the old city within the walls of the fort.

Both the Portugese and Dutch wanted control in order to control the spice trade and much of the other eastern trade, but in the 1800’s the British occupied Penang Island to the north by striking a protectorate agreement with the Sultan of that area, eventually negotiating agreements with the whole of Malaya, ousting the Dutch and starting, in 1824, 133 years of British rule, up to their independence in 1957. 
A baby monitor lizard climbs up the maritime museum ship
The British, deciding the fort was no longer required, ordered its demolition, eventually using dynamite as it was so strong. Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (he who founded Singapore) campaigned to save the fort, but by the time he got the authority to have it stopped, very little of it remained.

It seems quite interesting to me that the four eras above each lasted for a period of between 111 and 134 years, quite similar times and I wonder if there is any significance in this.

The riverbank from the pleasure boat ride
It was during the British rule that Melacca (as the British spelt it) declined to a sleepy backwater as they developed ports in Penang and then eventually Singapore, so the ancient city of Melaka is now mainly a tourist and historical town. In fact ships can no longer navigate the Melaka river as it is now silted up and, following land reclamation projects, the sea is now several hundred meters away from the fort that was originally jutting into the sea. There are such a huge number of properties and roads stretching out beyond the fort that it is difficult to visualise that it was all once sea.

Two Jackies standing in front of a replica of the Sultan of Melakas palace, built with no nails as faithfully as possible from information available
The palace from the gardens
Melaka was, at one time, of such significance that the whole of Malaya was named Melacca on some early maps. We love the place, it’s got loads of historical buildings, a mass of museums, a huge blend of Chinese, Indians, Malays and Portugese and a melting pot of different cuisines, many of which have blended together to form unique flavours found no-where else. It’s just a great place to be!

We’ve loved exploring and learning about the various cultures, but the pre-European contact of trading between the far eastern countries seemed the most stable (apart from several fierce battles with Siam) and we could just imagine the smells of spices and all the ‘comings and goings’ of the ships and traders and different languages spoken (84 apparently), so rich in culture and tradition, it must have been fantastic! I wonder how it would be today if Europeans had ‘kept their noses out’ and let it go on developing as it once had.

A very interesting couple of trees in the palace gardens
However, the European influences have certainly produced some fine buildings, giving the city so many layers of different cultures, so without all of that it probably would be less interesting.

Interestingly, nine of the fourteen states in Malaysia still have a Sultan in charge, the other states having a governor, so that ancient Malay history and organisation still survives today, although it is now a democratic system of government with a Prime Minister, based on the British system. The Sultans periodically gather together to appoint one of them as a King, who becomes a constitutional monarch for a period of time (I think it’s five years, but I may be wrong on that), before being succeeded by another from one of the other states.

One more day to go here, what shall we do tomorrow and what cuisine shall we try tonight…..?

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