Member: Melaka World Heritage Office
History of Melaka
The city of Melaka (or Malacca) was once one of the most important centre of trade for the whole eastern part of Asia and the gateway to the spice islands of the Southeast Asian islands, especially the Moluccas, Banda, Ambon and Seram, and Ternate.
The glory of the Malay Sultanate of Melaka ended in 1511. It was the Portuguese that ended the “fabulous eastern empire”. The Portuguese became the first Europeans to participate in the Asian trade, especially between India and China, and by controlling Melaka, they would become a new power in Europe to be reckoned with. The Portuguese once said, “whosoever holds Melaka, has his hands on the throat of Venice”, for Venice was then the richest trading state in Europe, monopolizing the rich silk and spice trades of Asia. The Portuguese later built a Fort (Fortaleza de Malacca) surrounding the city, which proved strong enough to resist all attacks from foes including the VOC on a few attempts, during the 130 years that the Portuguese held Melaka.
VOC in Melaka
Finally, the VOC decided on an all-out attempt to capture the city from the Portuguese to control the Straits of Melaka since the passageway was too important for the VOC’s base in Batavia (Jakarta). The siege began in June 1640 and it took six months before the forces of the VOC and their local allies from the Kingdom of Johore (heir of Melaka Kingdom) took over the Melaka Fort. By controlling Melaka, the VOC controlled the merchant trades along the Strait of Malacca, towards the spice islands of the “East Indies” (Indonesia). The VOC signed more peace treaties with other Malay States (Negeri Sembilan, Selangor & Perak). The Dutch period saw relative peace through the treaties with Johore and the other states who had their own trading ports along the straight of Melaka. After the VOC was declared bankrupt in 1799, Melaka became a Dutch colony but was soon ceded to the British as part of the Anglo-Dutch treaty of 1824.
Trading in Malacca
Until the 18th century, Malacca remained to be the one of main trading bases for the VOC, not for spice trade, but for tin. VOC had concluded treaties with other Malay states which were rich in tin, and built fortified warehouses along the Straits of Malacca to collect tax from the tin trades. One of it was Fort Dindings in Pangkor island. It was built in 1670 for the storage and protection of tin supplies from the Sultanate of Perak which until 1970s was the world largest producer of tin. Apart from tin, there was some minor trade in other products. Spices such as gambier and pepper were traded as well as cloth, wood and other goods that were shipped between South East Asia and Galle and the Indian coast. Above all Malacca was an important administrative and defensive stronghold to control the trading routes through the Straight of Malacca.
Malacca World Heritage Site
It was during the Dutch period that some of the most prominent buildings in Malacca were built and many still stand today in their original form. Even the present town plan of Malacca was established by the VOC between 1650 and 1670 complete with VOC port facilities, churches, hospitals and housing for the VOC officials. The area of St. Paul’s Hill was part of the former fortress. Government buildings such as the famous city hall “Stadthuys” from 1650 and Christ Church from 1753 can be found here alongside large original warehouses that stored the VOC goods. The residential and commercial town area on the opposite side of the river remains largely intact with more than 600 townhouses and religious buildings which were divided into culturally segregated neighborhoods. Most houses date from the Dutch Period (1641-1824) as the town was rebuilt after a large fire in 1686.
Today the entire VOC period city of Melaka (1641-1797) contains over 2130 buildings and has been inscribed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since July 2008. The buildings include 66 National Heritage buildings, among others are VOC structures such as Stadthuis, VOC boomkantor, VOC warehouses, and residences of VOC officials.