Historical Melaka(Malacca) is indeed the soul of the nation. It is here where we link our past to the present, on how we have grown and changed along the centuries. The highlight is the historic port city, also called Melaka. In the 14th century, Melaka was just a fishing village until it attracted Parameswara, a Hindu prince from Sumatra. He had fled Majapahit Empire in Sumatra and went to Temasik(Singapore) before finally settling in Melaka in 1396. Under Parameswara, Melaka soon became a favoured port for merchants resupplying their ships or waiting out the monsoons. Halfway between China and India, Melaka attracted merchants from all over the East. In 1405 Admiral Cheng Ho of China arrived in Melaka bearing gifts from the Ming emperor and protection from Siamese enemies. Chinese settlers followed and intermingled with the locals, married them and adopted Malay customs. They came to be known as the Peranakan or Straits Chinese. The husband is called Baba and the wife Nyonya and speaks the Baba Malay, a mix of Malay and Chinese Hokkien. Like the Chinese Peranakan, Indians traders from Panai, Tamil Nadu India also settled, married the locals and adopted Malay customs. These Indian peranakans are called Chitty and most are unable to communicate in Tamil fluently. By the time of Parameswara’s death in 1414, Melaka was already a bustling trading state. Islam was introduced here through traders from India. The third ruler of Melaka, Maharaja Mohammed Shah, converted to Islam, and his son, Mudzaffar Shah, took the title of sultan and made Islam the state religion. Soon the religion spread to most of the peninsula.
In 1509 the Portuguese arrived at Melaka seeking the wealth of the spice and China trades, but after an initially friendly reception, they were attacked by Melakans and some were captured. This prompted an outright assault by the Portuguese, and in 1511 Alfonso de Albuquerque took the city, forcing the Sultan to flee to Johor, where he re-established his kingdom. The period of Portuguese strength in the East was short-lived, as Melaka suffered harrying attacks from rulers of neighbouring Johor and Negeri Sembilan, as well as from the Islamic power of Aceh in Sumatra. Melaka passed into Dutch hands after an eight-month siege in 1641 and was ruled for about 150 years. In Melaka they built fine public buildings and churches, which remain the most solid reminders of European presence. When the French occupied Holland in 1795, the British, allies of the Dutch, temporarily took over administration of the Dutch colonies, which include Melaka. In 1824 Melaka was permanently ceded to the British. Melaka, together with Penang and Singapore, formed the Straits Settlements, the three British centres for later expansion into the peninsula. Melaka eventually decline in the wake of a rapidly growing Singapore and became a quiet backwater.
The old part of the city with most of the historical buildings and sites lies near the Melaka river mouth. The city’s unique personality draws from its mix of Peranakan shop houses, Portuguese and Dutch architecture, Victorian vestiges, Buddhist, Taoist and Indian temples and Islamic mosques. When you have had your fill of Melaka’s sights, food lovers can sample some of Malaysia’s best and unique cuisine here. From characteristic Chicken Rice Balls, Peranakan dishes to Portuguese cooking, the aromas in restaurants citywide are further testament to the cultural mosaic that makes Melaka such an intriguing port. Sadly though, some old buildings are sometimes torn down, or current ones being altered resulting in loss of old world charm. This is especially so for buildings in old Chinatown in Melaka. There was even a plan to build a revolving tower very close to the Dutch square until groundwork unearthed some Old Portuguese walls stopped work. Nevertheless, there is still much to see and experience here.
Old Melaka is a small town that is easy to navigate and compact enough to explore on foot, bicycle or on one of the gaudy looking trishaw (bicycle rickshaw). The older parts of Melaka are mainly on the eastern side of the river, particularly around Town Square, also known as Dutch Square. On the western side of the river lies Chinatown with old shops dating back to the 19th century.
The city of Melaka is known for its connection with the history of the Malay Sultanate of Melaka which traced its origin back to some 600 years ago. During the 16th Century, Melaka became famous due to its strategic location as a major regional commercial port.
This has made Melaka a coveted possession among the western powers of that era and was subsequently seized by the Portugese, Dutch and English. Presently, the Melaka State Government has taken initiatives to preserve buildings and artifacts left by the colonisers and transform these as major historical sites that will attract both domestic and international tourists.