Fort Canning Park, Singapore (July 2018)

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Fort Canning Hill is of great historical significance for Singapore, as a hill top locaton favoured by rulers of the past. Lawrence and I decided to explore this area to see where Sir Stamford Raffles set up his home some 200 years ago. We found a walking tour map online which provides all the background information you may need about life on this hill. You can follow the route marked as the 14th Century Walking Tour, and there are many informative signposts along the route. You do not even have to start at Point 1, we actually started at Point 27 because we parked at Carpark A, but the route is circular so you can start anywhere. And if you want a really educational day out, then you can start off at the nearby National Museum of Singapore.

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We started by walking up towards the Fort Canning Centre (photo above), looking at the gravestones set in the brick wall. In 1822, this area became the Christian Cemetery, flanked by huge icing-sugar white gateways designed by Captain Charles Edward Faber, of Faber Hill fame (photo on right).

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One particular grave stone took my attention as it belonged to a Joseph Wise. My family name is Wise but I am not aware of any association with Cumberland.

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There were two other sets of brilliant white constructions in the gardens in front of the Fort Canning Centre; a memorial to James Brooke Napier (named after the influential Brooke family of White Rajas in Borneo), and two small cupolas. The view looking down from the hill was lush and green, slightly spoilt by workmen putting up scaffolding, I assume for the upcoming National Day celebrations.

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Historical records indicate that Fort Canning Hill was the site where the rulers of the Malay kingdom chose to build their palace, as long ago as 1330. At that time, Fort Canning Hill was known as Bukit Larangan, or Forbidden Hill, as commoners were forbidden to go up the hill where the royals lived. When the British arrived in 1819, local residents still dared not go up this hill even though the rulers of the old Malay kingdom had long gone.


For the British, this became Government Hill, and Singapore’s governers lived on the summit near the southern end of the hill. It was renamed as Fort Canning when the military took over in 1860. Here is Raffles’ House, not quite the same as his original home which would have had a roof made of attap (nipa palm thatch).

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From the Raffles’ House, one can get a great view over the south coast of Singapore; note the top of the Marina Bay Sands hotel in the photo below.

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Because of its vantage point, this area was used as a communication centre. A flagstaff was built in the 1820s using flags to convey information to the public below. Later, a time ball was installed, with the ball raised at 12:55pm and dropped at 1pm, for people to tell the time. And, in 1902, a lighthouse was built here to guide ships.





On this tour you will encounter a Spice Garden; we visited just as the rain was stopping, so the fragrance of the Spice Garden was notable. It is a replica of the original garden planted by Raffles in 1822 as he was keen to learn how to cultivate nutmeg, cloves, and other spices, which were making the rival Dutch East India Company very rich indeed.

                   A nutmeg tree.                                                                                           A cinnamon bark tree.

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While nutmeg and cinnamon did not grow well in Singapore, the black pepper vine did. Much of the wealth of Singapore in the early days of British rule came from the export of pepper to Europe. The meagre looking pepper vine is seen here (photo on left) climbing up a wooden trellis.










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Near the Spice Garden is the Keramat Iskandar Shah, that is the burial place of Sri Sultan Iskandar Shah, the last of the five kings who ruled Singapore during the golden age of the Malay Kingdom in the 14th century. Actually, no one really knows if Sri Sultan Iskandar Shah is actually buried here, but the site is considered sacred.


Sri Sultan Iskandar Shah is otherwise known as Parameswara (Malay for Supreme Lord). He fled Singapura in 1396 following a foreign attack and ended up founding Malacca and the start of a new Malay Sultanate (ultimately the Old Johor Sultanate).

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Another interesting location on this tour is the Arcaeological Dig which was started in 1984 and proved the existence of a late 13th and 14th century Malay settlement on this hill. There is a lot of reading to be done at this location, so I would recommend reading up in advance from the National Parks website.

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The military aspect of this location is also obvious. You will see cannons, used for display not for function, and a Fort Gate which was once part of the fortress wall that surrounded the summit of this hill. You can also access the Battle Box bunker here, but it was too late in the afternoon for us to do that.

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Walking around this hill will give you are real sense of history as its significance re the maritime role of Singapore is obvious. The Malays, the British, and the Singaporeans have all gained from the strategic position of Singapore on the trade route between India and China. And Canning Hill was the place to observe and control this wealth-making activity. Besides that, the open space and tree-lined paths make this a very pleasant area just for a walk. Some of these trees, especially the rain trees, are protected as national treasures and really are quite spectacular (see photo below left).

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© Helen Gray 2019