zaterdag 7 januari 2012

Malaysia - Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca

Melaka and George Town, historic cities of the Straits of Malacca have developed over 500 years of trading and cultural exchanges between East and West in the Straits of Malacca. The influences of Asia and Europe have endowed the towns with a specific multicultural heritage that is both tangible and intangible. With its government buildings, churches, squares and fortifications, Melaka demonstrates the early stages of this history originating in the 15th-century Malay sultanate and the Portuguese and Dutch periods beginning in the early 16th century. Featuring residential and commercial buildings, George Town represents the British era from the end of the 18th century. The two towns constitute a unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia.

Through history, the Straits of Malacca have been a highway for maritime traders and contacts between East and West. Powerful kingdoms and cities have arisen and a typical trait has been immigration and strong influences from far and near, contributing to a multicultural identity. In the late 14th century or early 15th century the city and the kingdom of Melaka was founded. The small fishing village rapidly grew to a large port and emporium, overshadowing the older ports in the area. With the support from the Chinese emperor the king managed to stay independent of Siam. Many ethnic groups were present and it is reported that some 80 different languages were spoken. The custom that people from different ethnic communities lived in their own sections of the city started in this period. Islam was introduced; the king assumed the title of Sultan and Melaka became a centre of learning for Islam.
In 1511 the Portuguese conquered the city of Melaka. A stone fortress surrounding the present St. Paul's Hill was built and within this, palaces for the governor and the bishop, five churches, two hospitals, a college and other public buildings were built. The destruction of mosques and tombs shows a wish to weaken Islam. However, the tradition of separate ethnic quarters and multiculturalism continued. Melaka was frequently attacked by its Malay neighbours; other Europeans were sailing through the Straits of Malacca and had an interest in the area, and in 1641 the Dutch captured the city. They had conquered Java in 1619 and made Batavia (Jakarta) their capital in the East. Melaka was not to compete but became their main base in the peninsula and again rose to a Southeast Asian entrepot par excellence at the end of the 18th century. The Dutch merely took over the existing infrastructure. Later they built a new fortress on St. John's Hill and in 1650 the former Governor's residence was converted into the Stadthuis. The catholic St. Peter's Church was built in 1710 and the protestant Christ Church in 1753, the oldest protestant church in Malaysia and still in use.
In 1795-1818, during the Napoleonic wars in Europe, Melaka came into British hands. By then Penang/George Town had been in existence for some time and as its rival, it was initially ordered to level Melaka. The fort was demolished, only the gate is left, but then the destruction was stopped. A few years later, in 1824, Melaka was finally brought under British administration. George Town was founded in 1786 by the British. Unlike the Portuguese and the Dutch they exercised a policy of free trade. People from all over the world were encouraged to settle in the new town and to produce export crops. To administer the island, a Presidency was set up under the jurisdiction of the East India Company in Bengal and in 1826 it became part of the Straits Settlements together with Singapore and Melaka.
The development of both cities over the centuries was based on the merging of diverse ethnic and cultural traditions, including Malay, European, Muslim, Indian and Chinese influences. All this resulted in a human and cultural tapestry that is expressed in a rich intangible heritage that includes languages, religious practices, gastronomy, ceremonies and festivals.
In Melaka, a conservation area was first identified in 1979 and upgraded in 1985. In 1988 an international seminar was organized and the area of St Paul's Hill designated as a heritage zone. The same year, the State of Melaka established the Preservation and Conservation of Cultural Heritage Act, and in 1993 this was placed under the newly established Melaka Museums Corporation. From this the Conservation Trust Fund was formed, and from 2001 this has been used to finance selected building conservation projects in Melaka.
In George Town, a policy on conservation areas was introduced in the early 1970s. This was the first time a conservation plan became part of the town plan. The island's rapid urban change in the mid-1980s fostered a public conservation movement and an International Conference on Urban Conservation and Planning helped to raise awareness. In the early 1990s some demolitions and conservation projects attracted attention. The first major building restoration work undertaken by the State Government was the Syed Al-Attas Mansion in 1993.

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