When Tengku Long signed the Treaty with Sir Stamford Raffles, in 1819, to found the British port in Singapore, there was already a long-established Malay settlement at Kampong Glam, then known as Kampong Gelam because of its groves of Gelam trees.
It was here that Tengku Long, appointed Hussein, Sultan of Singapore after the Treaty, set up his royal court, complete with palace and mosque.
It followed, then, that under Raffle’s 1822 town plan, Kampong Glam became the designated Malay-Muslim enclave. As immigrant workers, traders and tradesmen from Indonesia, Malaya, India and the Middle East settled and set up businesses there, the tiny village of only 150 souls quickly grew into a thriving centre of Muslim commerce, with the royal court as its centre and the Mosque as its heart.
Still an enclave, bounded by busy Beach, North Bridge and Ophir Roads, in the city’s north-west, Kampong Glam is the hub of modern Malay-Islamic Singapore. The old royal court is still its centre of culture and tradition and the Mosque is still its heart and soul. Age-old trades and businesses continue in buildings little changed in a century and in streets that still smack of old village life and rich Muslim-Malay history.
Today, Sultan Hussein’s royal court complex houses the Malay Heritage Centre. Set in lush green gardens at Sultan Gate, the elegant Istana, commissioned in the early 1840s by Sultan Ali Iskandar Shah, eldest son of Sultan Hussein, is now a heritage museum. Its eight themed galleries are lined with murals and filled with dioramas and artifacts showcasing Malay culture and outlining the contribution of the Malay community to building the new nation. Cultural Performances feature traditional dance, music and poetry while workshops include sarong tying, pottery, martial arts, dance and music.
Next door to the Istana, the Gedung Kunung, or Yellow Mansion, once the home of the Sultan’s descendants, now houses the Tepak Sireh, a heritage restaurant which serves authentic Malay cuisine and is popular for traditional Malay weddings.
Next door to the Malay Heritage Centre, backing onto North Bridge Road is the magnificent, Sultan Mosque. Built in 1928 to replace Sultan Hussein’s crumbling 1824 mosque, it was the result of a united effort on the part of the local Muslim community. Those who could made generous cash donations while the poor collected bottles which were used for decoration. The Sultan Mosque was designed by architect Dennis Santry and combines the Classical, Persian, Moorish and Turkish elements which make up the distinctive Malay Saracenic style. The massive prayer hall has 5,000 capacity and its end wall or Mihrab, which faces Mecca is intricately patterned in gold. The Sultan Mosque was designated a national monument in 1975. Its tall towers and gilded domes dominate every view from the Kampong and the call to prayer echoes compellingly through its streets.
Next post: shopping, dining, dancing and enjoying the spas of Kampong Glam