Monday, 10 June 2013

Melaka Part 3: The Ruins of the Portuguese

From the history of the great Malacca, we strolled down to the next important phase in history i.e the arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th century. Next to the Istana Kesultanan Melayu Melaka, the remaining of Portuguese empire stood still – A Famosa. 


While remaining ruin of the entrance to the fortress as per the pictures was actually called Porta de Santiago or Gate of the St. James, it was erroneously referred to as A Famosa, even by some reference, text books and even the tourists brochures. 

The Fall of Melaka
I would conclude that the fall of Melaka was majorly contributed by internal political problem in the administration of Melaka. Due to lack of unity, it was not that hard for Portuguese to make a move and conquer Melaka. They just need a reason to do so.

The first delegates, led by Lopez de Sequeira came in peace, with gifts and messages from the King of Portugal. They were called the White Bengals, as their physical features were somehow different, or more attractive from what the local would normally have seen.

While initially the Portuguese delegates were treated with great hospitality, the Sultan was later pestered by the Indian and the Arab merchants not to trust the hidden agenda of the Portuguese i.e. to conquer Melaka. The Sultan later gave an order for the Portuguese to be captured. Lopez de Sequeira managed to escape and had to abandon some of his men behind. 

Upon discovery of the fact that some of the delegates were captured by the Sultan, Alfonso D’ Albuquerque (omg payah nak eja kot masa subjek Sejarah kat sekolah, nasib baik soalan exam objektif), the then governor of the maritime, ordered for more than 1000 soldiers to attack Melaka and to demand release of the prisoners.

Even after the prisoners were released, series of attack were targeted on Melaka by the Portuguese. The defendless innocent citizens, elder people, women and children became the victims with no mercy. All personal belongings were confiscated. Houses and religious buildings were severely destroyed.

The great Melaka had fallen. 

The A Famosa
Realising the need to establish a strong defense in Melaka against any outsiders, the Portuguese decided to build a strong fortress or citadel. So Alfonso D’ Albuquerque used forced labor comprising of the slaves captured during the war to build the citadel, by using dismantled Muslim grave stones, bricks out of destroyed Malay homes, masjid and madrasah as well as other rocks found nearby the area.

After 5 months of scorching hot sun and limited food supply that claimed people’s life, A Famosa or officially called Fortaleza de Malaca was successfully completed. Armed with thick walls, four high towers and almost seventy canons aimed at all direction, A Famosa stood for another 130 years.

The fall of the Portuguese began when the Dutch, with the assistance of the Johorean, laid siege around the fortress for five months, weakening the Portuguese with famine, diseases and gunfire.

A Famosa finally fell into the hand of the Dutch. 

Then the British came in but they were not keen to keep A Famosa. So, William Farquhar was mandated to demolish the fortress for good. From axes and crowbars to the usage of gun powders, A Famosa was destroyed bit by bit.

Only by a letter wrote by Sir Stamford Raffles, the demolition was put to a halt. And what remained as at today, as we could see are only parts of the A Famosa. Majorly, the Porta de Santiago and St Paul Church up the hill. 

No admission fee is imposed, not even by donation. The entrance is free of charge from the entrance to the St. Paul Church up the hill.

A Famosa nowadays became a hub for street art performers – singers, painters and hawkers. I encountered an old man playing harmonica at the stairs and as I walked further up and as the harmonica music subsided, I encountered an old man singing English songs while strumming his acoustic guitar. Other than the singers, painters displayed their great pieces of art on the ground and on the wall along the way. In fact, I bought a painting sold by a deaf Chinese guy for RM 10. T Shirts and other types of souvenirs were also sold from the entrance to the top of the hill, where bargain is a necessity.


From the top of the St Paul hill, I was given a chance to witness a spectacular view of the Straits of Malacca. However, if not for the rapid development of modern houses, the view would be of absolute nature, before my eyes.

Today, no visit to Melaka would be completed without a visit to the remaining parts of the once famous Fortaleza de Malaca. So why hesitate?

Two hours done. An hour more to go.

Till then,
Hairi Tahir

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