As a country with four official languages – English, Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil – Singapore largely owes its multi-faceted culture to its changeable past. In the 14th century, Singapore – then known as Temasek – was a trading port under the influence of both the Majapahit Empire and Siamese kingdoms.
Destruction at the hands of the Portuguese in the 16th century meant that it faded into obscurity for the next two centuries or so. It was only when it was re-established as a British trading post in 1819 that it began to be rebuilt. The country experienced the horrors of war during the Second World War, then finally achieved independence in 1965, and have since emerged as one of Asia’s rapidly-growing superpowers.
Here’s a list of 5 historic sites which make for fascinating viewing when paying a visit to the ‘Lion City.’
1. Merlion Statue
The Merlion Statue in Singapore’s Merlion Park is an iconic 8.6 metre statue of a lion-fish hybrid. The Merlion was originally designed by Fraser Brunner, a curator of the Van Kleef Aquarium, as an emblem for the Singapore Tourist Board, a function which it served from 1964 to 1997, although it remains the trademark of the tourist board.
The Merlion Statue weighs 70 tonnes and is flanked by two smaller versions of the Merlion. This giant statue spouts a smooth line of water into the river before it. The Merlion Statue is one attraction which is very easy to find if you’re in the city.
2. Changi Museum
The Changi Museum in east Singapore is dedicated to remembering the events surrounding the Japanese occupation of Singapore and specifically the lives and experiences of the thousands of civilian and Allied prisoners of war who were held in the Changi prison camp area.
The museum contains a number of different exhibits including an area holding replicas of the famous Changi murals, which were painted by British POW Stanley Warren during his time in captivity. As well as the many exhibitions, the Changi Chapel can be found at the Changi Museum. Visitors are welcome to light a candle to remember those who were held at Changi during the war.
3. Kranji War Memorial
Kranji War Memorial is a monument in the northern Singapore region of Kranji in honour of the men and women who lost their lives defending Singapore from Japanese invasion during World War II. Made up of twelve columns, representing the formation in which the military marches, a wing-shaped roof representing the air force and crowned with a wall which portrays the periscope in dedication to the navy, the Kranji War Memorial is a fitting commemoration of all three branches of the armies who fought for Singapore’s freedom.
The approximately 24,300 names inscribed on the columns of Kranji War Memorial are those of the soldiers from all of those countries whose bodies were never found together with the words “They died for all free men”.
4. Kranji War Cemetery
Kranji War Cemetery was founded as a hospital burial place during the Japanese occupation of Singapore in World War II. Following the war, it became a veterans’ cemetery and today Kranji War Cemetery in the northern Singapore region of Kranji is home to 4,458 marked graves.
The cemetery is also the resting place of some of Singapore’s presidents, including its first two, Inche Yusuf bin Ishak and Benjamin Henry Sheares. Kranji War Cemetery sits beside the Kranji War Memorial, dedicated to those who fought for Singapore in World War II.
5. National Museum of Singapore
With its history dating back to 1849, the National Museum of Singapore is the oldest museum in the country. It contains a wealth of information about Singapore’s history and culture, and has continued to be renovated over its history owing to its expanding collection.
The building itself is worth a visit alone, being Neo-Palladian and Renaissance in style. Make sure to look out for a stunning and extensive jade collection, which was donated in 1980.