Visual Index of Melaka Sites (Site name and description)
A Famosa Fortress A Famosa Fortress (1512)
Ruins of the original Portuguese fortress.
Bukit China Cemetery Bukit China Cemetery (17th century)
The largest premodern Chinese cemetery outside China, containing 12,500 graves.
Cheng Hoon Teng Temple Cheng Hoon Teng Temple (1645)
The oldest Chinese temple in Melaka.
Christ Church Christ Church (1741)
The oldest functioning Protestant church in Melaka.
Francis Xavier Church Francis Xavier Church (1849)
Gothic church built by the French Priest Father P. Fabre.
Hang Jebat Mausoleum Hang Jebat Mausoleum (15th century or earlier)
Achinese-style grave attributed to a famous warrior.
Hang Kasturi Mausoleum Hang Kasturi Mausoleum (15th century or earlier)
Grave attributed to the sworn brother of Hang Jebat (see above).
Kampung Hulu Mosque Kampung Hulu Mosque (1720)
A Sumatran-style Mosque built during a period of Dutch religious toleration.
Kampung Keling Mosque Kampung Keling Mosque (1748)
Another Sumatran style mosque with eclectic details.
Melaka Streets Melaka Streets
Scenes of the historic town.
Poh San Teng Temple Poh San Teng Temple (1795)
A temple dedicated to Tua Pek Kong.
Sri Poyyatha Temple Sri Poyyatha Temple (1710)
Melaka's oldest Hindu temple.
St. John's Fort St. John's Fort (late 18th century)
A Dutch fort with guns pointed toward the land, not the sea.
St. Paul's Church St. Paul's Church (originally 1531, rebuilt 1566)
The remains of the church where St. Francis Xavier was originally buried.
St. Peter's Church St. Peter's Church (1710)
The oldest functioning Catholic church in Melaka.
Stadthuys Town Hall Stadthuys Town Hall (1641-1660)
The oldest and largest Dutch colonial building surviving in Southeast Asia.
Sultan's Well Sultan's Well (15th century)
Melaka's most important well, built prior to the Portuguese arrival.
Tranquerah Mosque Tranquerah Mosque (1748)
A lovely mosque 3 kilometers outside of town.

About Melaka

Melaka has been an important trading center for nearly 600 years. Legend attributes the founding of the city to Parameswara, a prince from Palambang, who settled here after spotting a mousedeer kick a pursuing dog into the river. This miracle convinced him that this site was the perfect spot to build a city. He named it "Melaka" after the type of tree under which he was taking shelter.

In 1409 the Chinese admiral Zheng He arrived with a fleet of enormous vessels, seeking to establish diplomatic ties with States west of China. Zheng He was lavishly feted by Parameswara and allowed to stay for a time. After promising Chinese assistance in the event of an attack from nearby Siamese tribes, Zheng He withdrew for ports further west.

Meanwhile Parameswara converted to Islam in 1414 and married a Muslim prince of Pasai in Sumatra. He changed his name to Iskandar Shah. His conversion brought about increased trade with Muslim merchants based in India and the continued growth of the city's population.

Parameswara died in 1424 and was succeeded by Muhammad Shah, an able (but poorly documented) ruler who was able to repulse the Siamese despite China's inability to assist. After his own death Muhammad was succeeded by Muzaffar Shah who was the first to use the title "Sultan". His reign witnessed the invasion of the Siamese in 1445, but the stout Melakan defenders resisted the assault. After Muzaffar Shah's death the city fell into the hands of Mansur Shah who expanded the city-state into an empire by conquering Siak and Kampar across the strait in Sumatra. Other states on Malaysia's mainland fell into the hands of the Shah as well.

By this time Melaka had developed into a well-defined state that the Chinese were eager to mollify. The Chinese Emperor Yuang Lo offered his daughter Hang Li Poh in marriage to the Sultan to cement ties. Her entourage set up camp on what is now the Chinese cemetery and made do with 500 serving girls.

After the passing of several more rulers Melaka reached its zenith at the beginning of the 16th century under the reign of Sultan Mahmud. At that time the city held over 100,000 people speaking over 80 languages.

The peaceful development of Melaka was abruptly shattered with arrival of the Portuguese in 1511. Led by the ambitious leader Alfonso de Albequerque, who dreamed of creating a string of friendly ports from Portugal to China, the Portuguese landed in Melaka full of energy and determination. In a week-long battle they roundly defeated the Sultan's forces. To secure their newly-one prize, the Portuguese quickly began construction of the massive A Famosa fortress around St. Paul's hill. Originally located near the sea (but now inland due to reclamation) the fortress was able to guard against attack from both the landward and seaward directions.

Shortly after this time the famous missionary Francis Xavier arrived on the scene. Inspired by dreams of converting China to Christianity, this zealous priest was secretly appointed the Papal Delegate to Asia and set sail from Lisbon, Portugal with the consent of the King. When he reached the Portuguese settlement in Goa, India, he was transferred to a ship under the command of Diogo Pereira, who represented the King of Portugal.

Pereira's ship landed in Melaka to a lukewarm welcome. The governor, who despised Pereira, confiscated his ship and harassed Xavier's efforts. Undeterred by the setback, Xavier shook the dust from his robe (in a sign of disapproval) and set sail alone aboard a Chinese junk, hoping to reach Canton (Guangzhou).

Over an eleven-year period this tireless Priest traveled over 38,000 miles and spread Christianity with varying degrees of success all over Southeast Asia. Still, the prize of China awaited his efforts. In 1552 he set sail and made it as far as the island of Sancien in the South China Sea. There he contracted a severe fever on November 20th, 1552 and died on Sunday December 3rd, 1552.

Remarkably, Xavier's body decayed little on its way back to Melaka and thence to Goa, where it was laid to rest. Even more remarkable, the body is still there today, put on display once every 10 years. The body is in such a state of preservation that even the hairs on his beard are still visible.

The Portuguese continued to hold Melaka long after Xavier's death, but finally succumbed to Dutch pressure when they conquered the city in 1641. For them, Batavia (Jakarta) was their primary trading city and Melaka declined in importance, but not into obscurity. The Dutch built many impressive buildings, some of which are still standing. Their rule ended in the early 19th century when they handed over the city to the British after Napoleon's conquest of the Netherlands (they handed over the city rather than see it fall into French hands).

The British dismantled the fortress and incorporated Melaka into the Straits Settlements along with Singapore in 1824. Trade revived for awhile but was diverted to Penang (Georgetown) after rivalry between merchants.

The British held Melaka until 1942, when the invading Japanese armies marched down the straits and conquered the city. British control was reestablished with the defeat of the Japanese in 1945. Afterward it was incorporated into modern-day Malaysia.


The historic center of Melaka is near 2.194066' N, 102.249064' E (WGS 84 map datum).


All images 2005 Timothy M. Ciccone

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