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Malacca as a Portuguese colony 1511 - 1641

Porta de Santiago remains of Portuguese A Famosa fortress

Malacca as a Dutch colony 1641 - 1824

'Middelburg' bulwark, remains of Dutch fortress

Christ Church (Protestant, 1753) and Stadthuys (Townhall, 1660) built by the Dutch

Christ Church today, built with bricks from the Dutch province of Zeeland

Stadthuys late 19th century

Stadthuys, oldest surviving Dutch building in the East

Now the city's history museum

Melaka River

Looks exactly like dining at the Vliet in Voorburg

'Heerenhuis' (Gentlemen's home) on Tun Tan Cheng Lock, formerly Heeren Straat

Van Riebeeck Governor of Malacca 1662 - 1665 before he went on...

Jalan Hang Jebat, formerly, Jonker Street, now antiques and restaurants

St Paul's on St Paul's Hill First Portuguese chapel than a Dutch...

View over Malacca Straits from St Paul's Hill English colony from 1824...

Quite a few Dutch grave stones in St Paul's

Melaka catering to the tourists also for Malaysians and Singaporeans

Half size replica of Portuguese Flor del Mar sunk of Aceh's coast...

Curious combination of flowers and loudspeakers

Traditional Melakan houses in Kampung Morten along Melaka River

Mosque Kampung Kling with tower in pagoda style

Peranakan style Chinese homes on Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, Melaka's Millionaire's...

Chinese President Hu Jintao visits Peranakan House on 'Heeren Straat' just a...

In honour of Hu Jintao's visit

Interior of dark wooden furniture

My Puri hotel is built in the same Peranakan style

With spacious buildings around several inner courtyards

‘Whoever controls Malacca controls the strait of Malacca; whoever controls the strait of Malacca controls the price of cloves in Europe’. That logic was not lost on the Europeans looking for spice riches in the 16th century and beyond and keen to break the Arab monopoly on the overland route. First the Portuguese, then the Dutch and finally the British made sure they had a finger in the pie.

Malacca had already been an important trade hub between India and China since medieval times because of its strategic location along the Malacca straits where the shipping lanes, sheltered by Sumatra, ran close to the Malay coast and it was ‘the city where the winds met’. Chinese ships would arrive between November and March on the northeasterly winds, wait for the monsoon winds to change to southwesterly by June and then continue their journey. Which gave them plenty of time to settle, giving rise to the ‘Peranakans’ (Chinese ‘born here‘).

Tales of the riches of Malacca lured the Portuguese after they had established themselves in India and D’Albuquerque, viceroy of Goa, sailed with 18 ships and 1400 men to take revenge for a defeat in 1509 and conquered Malacca in 1511, with the Sultan fleeing to Johor where he re-established himself.

“Are all the houses in the Netherlands red?” The question from the driver, who has been telling me about Melaka and its colonial past, takes me by surprise. “Red, no not really, why would they be?” Because all Dutch buildings in Melaka are red, he explains.

The Portuguese were protected from Spanish interference by the treaty of Tordesillas of 1494 where Spain obtained the new worlds west of the dividing line halfway the Atlantic Ocean and Portugal those east of that line. (Spain would colonise the Philippines via Mexico for example). That treaty did not bind others and when the Dutch influence on the Dutch East Indies increased, the Portuguese hold on Malacca became more of a nuisance and from the early 1600‘ the VOC (Dutch East Indies Company) tried several times to destroy the Portuguese fort and finally managed to do so when they combined forces with the Sultan of Johor in 1641.

“Do you know why the Church and the Stadthuys are painted red?` I ask the lady at the Christ Church information desk in turn. “Is it because the church was originally built with bricks brought over by Dutch ships?”. Both the church and the former Dutch town hall are painted terracotta red and when I learn that the church was originally built by imported Dutch bricks that normally are reddish in colour, it occurred to me that that might be the explanation. She doesn’t know and when later I come across old prints where Christ Church is painted white, my hope of a breakthrough as an amateur historian is dashed again.

The Dutch finally traded Malacca with the British for Bencoolen on Sumatra in 1824, in an effort to consolidate either sphere of influence. The British had already ‘protected’ Malacca when the Netherlands were occupied in 1895 by the French during the Napoleonic Wars and demolished most of the fortifications before they returned it again in 1818.

The fortunes of Melaka did not fare too well under their colonial rulers. The Portuguese, fervent Catholics, were bent on driving out Muslim traders. The Dutch, tolerant on religion, favoured Batavia as their main trading port and finally the British promoted Singapore, founded by Raffles in 1819. So Melaka never quite regained the importance it had achieved before, which does not mean to say that the Peranakans, shrewd traders as they were, did not continue to thrive. They did, as their spacious Peranakan houses on Millionaires Row, former ‘Heeren Straat’ (Gentlemen‘s Street) in present day Melaka testify. In the end not everybody receives the honour of a visit by President Hu Jintao of China.

“I would like to stay on for one more night, is that possible?”. The Puri hotel I am staying in is an example of the Peranakan style and with its courtyards and spacious buildings quite suited for the purpose. “I am sorry sir, we are fully booked for the weekend.” I had not expected that honestly, but it turns out that the school holidays have already started in Singapore and the hotels in Melaka, popular because of its colonial heritage, are fully booked. Not to worry, that means there will be plenty of space in Singapore, my next stop.

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