Istana Kampong Gelam to be gazetted as National Monument

Istana Kampong Gelam to be gazetted as National Monument
PHOTO: Handout

SINGAPORE - Istana Kampong Gelam will be gazetted by the National Heritage Board (NHB) as Singapore's 70th National Monument on August 6.

The former royal residence was once the seat of the Johore sultanate.

Given its historic association with the Malay community, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) gazetted Istana Kampong Gelam as a conserved building within the Kampong Gelam Historic District in 1989.

After the building underwent refurbishment works, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong declared the Malay Heritage Centre (MHC) open in June 2005, housed in the Istana Kampong Gelam building.

The heritage institution of MHC underwent another round of refurbishment works between 2011 and 2012 to refresh the museum's exhibition content.

Today, the present configuration of MHC honours the layout of the traditional Malay house, and is under the care of the Malay Heritage Foundation (MHF), and managed by NHB.

The gazette of Istana Kampong Gelam will be the second time that NHB is gazetting a conserved building as a National Monument, following the Jurong Town Hall gazette earlier in June this year.

When considering a building or structure for gazette, NHB assesses the building or structure independently for its national and historical significance, as well as architectural merit, regardless of its current conservation status.

As a National Monument, Istana Kampong Gelam will be protected by the Preservation of Monuments Act, and will have to abide by preservation guidelines in accordance with the Act, and undergo a regular cycle of inspections to ensure its proper upkeep.

History of Istana Kampong Gelam

Prior to the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles, Singapore was part of various Malay kingdoms in Southeast Asia.

In 1819, Singapore was part of the Johor-Lingga-Riau sultanate. Acting as a representative of the British East India Company (EIC), Raffles secured the agreement of Sultan Hussein Shah and Temenggong Abdul Rahman to establish a British trading port in Singapore to counter the Dutch influence in the region.

As part of the arrangement, the area of Kampong Gelam was allocated to the Malay community. This and subsequent agreements laid the foundation for the development of Singapore as a key British trading port in the 19th and 20th centuries.

With the re-emergence of Singapore as a flourishing port in the 19th century, economic opportunities attracted new immigrants to Singapore.

Communities of Bugis, Arab, Javanese, and Boyanese descent from Malacca, the Riau islands, Java, Sumatra and Sulawesi settled within Kampong Gelam, forming their own kampungs (villages) within the area.

With the Kallang River basin nearby and facilitated by the British new port and free trade policies, Kampong Gelam thrived as a trading and commercial hub, with merchants specialising in various trades including spices, textiles, gemstones and rattan products congregating in different parts of the district.

In the late 19th to 20th century, Kampong Gelam also became a notable printing and publication hub, attracting its share of intellectuals and artists.

As the traditional Malay authority, the sultanate established its istana (palace) within the district of Kampong Gelam.

In line with traditional building practices, the original istana was a timber hut. The present two-storey building was commissioned by Sultan Hussein Shah's son and heir, Tengku Mohammed Ali (later Sultan Ali Iskandar Shah) and was completed in 1843. It continued to serve as the residence of Malay royalty after the passing of Sultan Ali Iskandar Shah in 1877 and hosted important community events such as royal weddings.

In the 1820s, Sultan Mosque, the royal mosque, was built beside Istana Kampong Gelam. The mosque was later rebuilt in 1924-1928.

Referencing Classical European architecture, Istana Kampong Gelam was symmetrically planned and features classical elements such as the graceful arches of the entrance porch. Additionally, the residence was adapted for a tropical climate, with projecting eaves on the roof for sun-shading and large timbre-louvred windows for maximum ventilation.

The istana also incorporates many features of traditional Malay architectural styles that reflect its setting and historic function. The regional practice of raised floor architecture (houses on stilts) is echoed in a second storey supported by columns over the entrance porch. The istana's large, pitched roof resembles a defining characteristic of the Malay Limas (pyramidal) House.

In addition, the plan for the building corresponds to the Malay house typology, with the main entrance leading to the main house (rumah ibu), which is connected to an annexe (rumah dapur) where the kitchen would traditionally be located.

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