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Malacca Dutch Heritage Trail (Part II)

9. DUTCH MALACCA
Dutch Malakka was segregated by class. On Heerenstraat, also known as ‘First Class Gentlemen Street’ in Dutch some of these magnificent houses have been converted into hotels e.g. Hotel Puri, or private museums e.g. Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum. In response to the rapid loss of this particular building type in the conservation zone of Malacca, the US Department of State’s Ambassador Fund for Cultural Preservation had awarded a grant to carry out restoration of a Dutch era shop house located at No. 8, Heeren Street (7).

A model project to demonstrate to owners of similar properties how such ancient buildings can be restored to high quality and adapted for new uses, it is also a resource centre for the heritage zone. Parallel to Heeren Street is Jonker Street (Jonkerstraat) also known as ‘Nobleman Street’ and used on the steps at the main entrance and at the thresholds of the passage leading to the air well of these townhouses was indicative of the social standing of the owner.

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10. PITSTOP AT NO 18 JONKER STREET
Housed in this two-storey 1673 Dutch heritage building is Bistro Year 1673. Its a perfect setting for a respite and for tourists to rest tired feet. Soak up the atmosphere at the open-air courtyard. This is a popular spot and the Trailblazer’s corner. Treat yourselves to the delightful choices on the menu. The restaurant also offers dining with light music and cultural entertainment.

The history of the building is as rich as the decor and ambience. This 343 year-old building was the ‘boomkantoor’ or tax office for the VOC where the ‘havengelden’ or harbour taxes were collected. The doors and windows are original cast from solid 17th century metal, the same type of metal used to support the building structure. A narrow pathway which leads to the back portion of the building was used in those days to transfer goods from the VOC warehouses. Certain parts of the building were used as a stable to keep horses and carriages.

Here at the heart of old Malacca with its narrow streets lined with quaint and opulent houses, the place is undergoing a renaissance. But conservation and preservation of these ancient buildings requires funds which the state government is unable to subsidise and some of the owners have allowed their buildings to be used for commercial enterprises. Tiny shops beautifully decorated sell a myriad of tourist souvenirs, antique items and nick-nacks while boutique hotels and restaurants catering to tourists are mushrooming everywhere. There is a harmonious blend of the old and new that draws a steady flow of day trippers and weekenders to this part of the heritage city. The atmosphere is touristy and bustling. During weekends and holidays the streets are teeming with tourists and visitors business is brisks.

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11. THE MIDDLEBURG BASTION
Down by the mouth of the Melaka river where the roads meet in front of St. Paul’s Hill is the magnificent old city of Malacca. Passerbys are oblivious of its existence and relevance. Many do not know that the old city originally lies 4 feet below the new one. From old maps, Malacca is encircled by 8 bastions. The old city was completely fortified against invaders.

The ruins of the fort wall and Middleburg Bastion were discovered in 2006 following plans by the state to construct a revolving viewing tower next to the river. Subsequent archeological digs and research confirmed the Middleburg was part of the ancient fort. The 1.5km fortress wall that encircled the city was built by the Portuguese in the mid 1500’s. The Dutch added the Middleburg bastion and Hendrick bastion in the 1660’s to protect the old quay.

Conservationists wanted the discovered ruins foundation intact but policy makers were more interested in the tourists dollar and RM12.8 million was allocated to rebuild the watch tower to its former glory using laterite rocks from nearby Upeh Island. Walk over the glass bridge when at the top of the bastion to appreciate the purely foundation and the depth of the underground. Cross the road to see the fort’s ancient drainage system.

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12. DUTCH OFFICIAL RESIDENCES
Remember those interesting school trips and excursions to the museums and library centres? Museums are at the forefront of learning experiences besides being a tourist attraction. The Dutch buildings along the Museum’s Row were formerly the Official Residences. Most have gone through various usages by the state and its agencies and have now turned into museums.

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13. THE ARCHITECTURE MUSEUM BUILDING
Was the official residence of senior VOC staff. In the early 1960’s it housed the Melaka State Library and was packed with students. Built in the 1700’s the building represent a typical Dutch building with thick walls and symmetrical floor plans. The upright staircase on the upper floors and large windows and protruding beams are reminiscent of Dutch architecture and design. The museum is a depository of historical items related to architectural history in Malaysia.

Next on the row is the Museum & Antiquities Department Building (11). It was also built for Dutch VOC Officials and has the same typical Dutch Structure.

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14. THE STAMP MUSEUM BUILDING
Next to the Museum and Antiquities Building was occupied by the Westerhout family for 300 years until 1930 and was subsequently turned into the state’s first museum after 1957.

Like the artefacts and ancient exhibits in the museums, these buildings have become solitary and liveless legacies. In reality, every heritage building on the Museum Row along with the contents within has a beautiful that only a knowledgeable guide and eloquent story teller can recreate to fire up the visitor’s imagination, spinning tales of yore, of how everything was then and of how life was lived by folks of a bygone era. Simply enchanting for travellers who have come from far and wide. Amazing that one can cover 183 years of history in 3 hours to re-five Malacca’s Dutch Heritage.

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