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THE ROLE OF COLONIAL
COUNTRIES IN DRIVING MELAKA’S URBAN EVOLUTION

BY ZHI WEE

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Introduction

Melaka has been known for its multicultural identity
which was contribute from powerful kingdoms and cities, immigrations and strong
influences from far and near, acting as a highway for maritime traders and
contacts between East and West.  Melaka
started as a small fishing village who grew exponentially to a wealthy port and
emporium, quickly overshadowing the older ports in the vicinity and attracted
the attention of Westerners such as the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British.

The architectural style’s evolution in Melaka
throughout the colonial times from the Portuguese to the British has been one
of the most sort out discussion in Malacca Architecture for its development of
a cosmopolitan culture.  Adding that
Malaysia is already a multiracial country with its population consisting of the
predominantly Malay population with the Chinese and Indian. Consequently,
influenced the architectural development of the country. Although the sole
purpose of the arrival of these foreign immigrant was to seek for political
status and economic roles, yet the cultures and custom of these immigrants had
given an impact to the local urban morphology. This essay would like to
highlight significant relics of Melaka, guiding readers through the country’s
centuries on history, the rulers and the marks they have left behind which have
greatly influenced the country’s cultural development and  visibly in the heritage buildings, which
remained until today.   

 

 

Sultanate
Melaka ( 1400 – 1511 )

The city of Melaka was founded back in 1400 by a Palembang
Prince called Parameswara. In regards to why Melaka as a small fishing village then
was chosen relates to the strategic geographical location the city has ,
locating in the middle on the east and west coast. Due to this factor, Parameswara
saw the great potential Melaka has in terms of trading possibilities and the
development of a wealthy city.  Since then
Melaka expanded exponentially from a small fishing village to a wealthy port
city. this was indicate by the various trade records which was founded by
historian that proves the urban form of the city during the Sultanate era. The city
was mainly centred on the port area and along the river banks for having the
advantage of both trading activities and scare water for agriculture.

 

 

 

·       Vernacular mosques

One of the most significant architectural evolution in
Sultanate Melaka was the construction of vernacular buildings, mainly vernacular
mosques. It started when Islam came to Melaka through the marriage of a Sultan
of Melaka and a Muslim Princess form Sumatra. These mosques are a significant
relic in showing the traditional building style before the arrival of western
colony. The vernacular style used in these mosques was the result of adaptive
responses to local climate, innovative in building material and ethic culture. The
few features that vernacular building has is the steep pitch roof and wide
eaves which were designed to redirect water during monsoon seasons, in contrast,
breathing roof and porous walls for good ventilation during warm temperature. Furthermore,
what makes these mosques so unique is because they were built under the
influence of multiple cultures like the Chinese, Hindu and Islam which gave the
country its multicultural identity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Portuguese
Melaka ( 1511 – 1641 )

At the turn of the 17th century, many European
countries including the Portuguese started to explore southeast Asia in hoped
of searching for fundamental materials for weapons, spices and mainly for expanding
trade. In this era, Melaka was known as the wall-coasted city after the Portuguese
successfully conquered the city in 1511. The captain of the ship, Alfonso de
Albuquerque built a fortress famously known as A famosa today for protection
and to increase the defense line of Melaka against future foreign enemy. The conquest
of the Portuguese brought a huge impact in the urban formation of the city and it
too marked the beginning of European disturbance in Malaya. They destroyed the
city and many of its architecture in order to obtain materials to build
churches and new buildings. The Portuguese’s rigorous rule restricted many Islamic
practices leading to significant damages to Melaka’s traditional architecture
such as mosques. However, the Portuguese successfully built up Melaka as an
administrative centre and many new schools and churches were built for the people.
Eventually, a Portuguese city was formed, leading to the emergence of an European-Asian
community in the southeast Asia.

 

 

 

·       A famosa

The fortress was built from 1511 to 1512 by the
Portuguese. Today only one of the gateway, Porta de Santiago of historical most
famous fort remains in the centre of Melaka Town. Making it one of the oldest remaining
European architecture in Asia all of history has spared. A famosa was built
around a natural hill near the sea constructing with 4 major towers. The principle
behind constructing the main defences was modern and efficient by having
angling walls similar to the theory of the “bastioned trace”, a system of
fabrication which first appeared at Verona in Italy in 1530. The fortress had
undergone continuous preservation and improvements during the Portuguese colonial
period. In 1641, the Dutch took over Melaka and renovated the gate in 1670. This
explains the appearance of “ANNO 1670” inscribed on the gate’s arch. However during
the British colonial period, the fortress was demolished leaving only the gatehouse
behind. Because of this A famosa is one of the most significant artefact exist
in Melaka that had witnessed the changes of colonial eras through the centuries.

 

 

 

 

Dutch Melaka ( 1641 – 1825 )

The Dutch
conquest started in the year of 1641, overtaking the initial position of the Portuguese.
The morphology of Melaka during this period had a significant upgrade with the
introduction of building regulation as were applied in HOLLAND. The result of
the new western regulation result in a more uniform and strategized urban
landscape which brought the city together consequently restore it from the
Portuguese Conquest. Malacca was divided by the Melaka River, separating it
into two parts, the town and the fort. In terms of spatial organisation of the
city, the whole city was built around the fort which is the centre point of the
city. In comparison in the urban planning of Melaka during the Portuguese
conquest and the Dutch conquest, an obvious change the can be differentiate was
with the positioning  of the town. The Portuguese
had the town built within the fort which in exchanged limit the expansion of
the town. The Dutch on the other hand had a more strategic planning which
involved dividing the city into two main parts, having the town built around
the fort instead which leads to a more spatial layout. However, during the Dutch
Colonisation, different ethic communities were segregated to different parts of
the city, with Chinese merchants dominated the busiest part of the town, Malays
dominated by the sea for fishery industries and Indians in the field of agriculture.
The purpose of this racial separation was a strategy used by the Dutch to
prevent the people from reuniting thus keeping their position as a colonist secured.

 

·       
Dutch
shophouses

Dutch style
shophouses were built in the early 1800s in the heart of Heeren Street. These type
of shophouses are one or two storey height with simple façade design and
architectural styles. Shophouses in this era appeared to be less
lavished having the front façade that appears to have a continuous row of
parallel or louvered shutters, timber walls and plain masonry pilaster on the
upper floor. The Dutch shophouses were mainly influence by the Dutch row houses
with characteristics which gave it the identity of being built in the Dutch period.
These shophouses marked the beginning of Melaka’s heritage of baba and nyonya shophouses
which are still preserve until today. With the combination of traditional
architectural styles, townhouses had developed into a unique architectural
style of Melaka.

 

 

 

 

 

 

British Melaka ( 1946 – 1957 )

The crown
colony of Melaka was considered the most important period in the development of
Melaka as a historical city. With a more strategic town planning basis and
principles brought into the country by the British, Melaka had further developed
into a disciplined and organised city approaching independence. During the British
colonisation from 1786 to 1957, Penang, Melaka and Singapore were known as the
Straits Settlements for one of the three administrative divisions. Unlike the
Dutch town planning which was more random and scattered, the British town
planning strategy was more strategic with modern infrastructure and
transportation. A railway was built to connect the port and the inner more
rural parts of Melaka for more efficient transportation of goods such as rubber
for trading activities. This led to economic growth of the country and
subsequently increasing the living standard of the people. 

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