The Sultanate of Malacca (Melaka) was founded during the late 14th century along the Malacca River on the site of a small fishing village. It had the advantages of a protected port and a commanding position on the Strait of Malacca. Malacca Strait is a narrow body of water between Sumatra and Malaya. It was, and is, the most important trade route in history. All of the spices of asia passed through the strait, and Malacca controlled that traffic. As a result, the Sultan of Malacca was very powerful and very rich. And Malacca was doomed to playing a key role in several centuries of world history.
The chinese admiral Cheng Ho came first, in 1405, to trade and to provide protection from the Siamese. The Portuguese came in 1511 to conquer. They were followed in 1641 by the Dutch, and in 1795 by the English. Malacca suffered in the various battles that accompanied each change of ownership, until the river silted in and the harbor was no longer deep enough for large ships. Today Malacca is just a small town in Malaysia with no special importance in world affairs.
On our return flight from Bali, we arranged to have an extra 2 days to spend in Singapore. On our second day we took a tour bus trip to Malacca to see what remained of this historic town. We went through immigration processing 4 times (leaving Singapore, arriving in Malaysia, etc., etc.) and had a long ride through the Malaysian state of Johor. We were disappointed to find that there really isn't much left of historic Malacca.
The Portuguese fort was almost totally destroyed by the British. This tiny remnant was saved from destruction by Sir Thomas Raffles, the founder of Singapore. The Sultan's Palace (photo #1 at left) was destroyed, and now exists only as a replica. Saint Paul's church, where St. Francis Xavier preached and was buried for a time, is also a ruin. The remaining walls are lined with stone markers from Dutch burials.
Malacca, like Singapore, has a long history of religious diversity. The majority of the people are Moslem, but there are large numbers of Hindus and Bhudists. We visited a Chinese Temple (photo #4) where our guide explained the complex rituals performed when a family member dies. We saw a Hindu temple and a mosque. There is also an old Dutch Church in the center of town.
Although Malaysia is obviously not as prosperous as Singapore, it was surprisingly clean and tidy. The highway was well maintained and almost as beautifully gardened as the streets of Singapore. It was a long day, most of the time spent on the bus and in immigration offices. We probably would have enjoyed another day in Singapore more than this tour. However, we would love to come back and spend more time here. Malaysia would be a wonderful place to visit.
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