Istana Kampong Gelam to be a national monument

Istana Kampong Gelam to be a national monument
Tourists taking pictures at the Istana Kampong Gelam, the historic residence of Malay royals that is now home to the Malay Heritage Centre. It will be gazetted as a national monument on Aug 6.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Istana Kampong Gelam, a former Malay royal palace and a reminder of Singapore's historic links to the Malay world, will become a national monument just days before Singapore's Golden Jubilee.

The honour for the 172-year-old building, now home to the Malay Heritage Centre, was announced by Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim at a Hari Raya dinner for community leaders last night. It will be the 70th national monument when it is gazetted next Thursday.

The move reflects the enduring heritage of the Malay community.

Said Dr Yaacob, who is also Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs: "Even as a minority community in a multiracial country, our heritage has never been at risk. We are proud of our history, customs and traditions, because these speak to us of treasured values like piety and dedication."

He added: "Many of you would have seen these values and traditions captured in the beautiful collections at our Malay Heritage Centre. That the building will be gazetted just before Singapore's 50th birthday is, to me, a firm recognition of the Malay community's continued contribution to the diverse and vibrant social tapestry of Singapore."

Before Sir Stamford Raffles arrived in Singapore in 1819, it was part of the Johor-Lingga-Riau sultanate. He, however, got Sultan Hussein Shah and Temenggong Abdul Rahman to agree to set up a British trading port here.

Kampong Glam was a key area of settlement for migrants from the Malay Archipelago, drawing communities of merchants and traders who transformed it into a commercial hub. Many of the area's street names attest to the varied cities and islands of origin of early immigrants.

In the late 19th to 20th century, Kampong Glam was known as a hub for printing and publication. The royal palace was originally just a timber hut, and the present two-storey istana was commissioned by Sultan Hussein's son and heir, Tengku Mohammed Ali. It was completed in 1843.

As the residence of royals, it hosted important community events.

Madam Zuraidah Abdullah, chairman of the Malay Heritage Founda- tion's board of directors, said the gazetting of the building is timely "as it recognises Singapore's historical connection with the wider Malay world as we celebrate our nation's Golden Jubilee".

"Gazetting Istana Kampong Gelam as a national monument also recognises the integral role that our Malay communities and culture have played in shaping Singapore's history and development as a progressive and prosperous nation."

Istana Kampong Gelam was first gazetted as a conserved building in the Kampong Glam Historic District by the Urban Redevelopment Authority in 1989. It was subsequently refurbished and occupied by the Malay Heritage Centre, which Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong opened in June 2005.

The centre was further refurbished between 2011 and 2012 to refresh its exhibition content.

Today, the building is under the care of the Malay Heritage Foundation and managed by the National Heritage Board (NHB).

Being conferred national monument status by the NHB means a building will receive greater protection under the law, and has to abide by preservation guidelines. It will also be inspected regularly to ensure its proper upkeep.

Ms Jean Wee, director of NHB's preservation of sites and monuments division, said the gazetting of Istana Kampong Gelam "is part of our ongoing efforts to identify buildings and structures that are lasting representations of the growth of our country and people amidst a constantly evolving landscape". "Collectively, the Istana Kampong Gelam and our other 69 national monuments reflect the architectural and cultural diversity of our society," she added in a statement.

This article was first published on August 1, 2015.
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