We were exhausted.
Coming from three breakfast meals (first on our hotel, The Imperial Heritage Melaka, the second at the Chung Hwa’s Chicken Rice Ball and the last at Hassan’s Mee Goreng), you’d think we’d have more energy for walking around Melaka’s narrow streets and ogling at all the well-preserved colonial houses in the area than an Energizer Bunny with a camera.
The heat in Melaka is quite unbearable during the summer, draining us of our morning meals faster than we can type Dutch Square on our Google Maps-enabled phones.
|JALAN LAKSAMANA, OUR INTRODUCTION TO MELAKA’S COLOR|
Coming straight from the massive KLIA II by bus, the first thing that indicated we were finally at the UNESCO World Heritage City of Melaka was not a sign, but the light maroon-colored colonial buildings lining both sides of Jalan Laksamana. It leads directly towards Melaka’s Dutch Square, dubbed by some as the Red Square, not because it resembles anything from Moscow, but literally due to the buildings’ paint job.
|AND THERE’S A WINDMILL!|
We passed the famed square a couple of times as we zigzagged our way to our morning street eats, but it took us hours before we finally stepped on its bricked grounds. After shopping our way through Jonker Street and crossing the Melaka River (where we had a cruise the previous night), a windmill told us we were finally on Dutch grounds.
|DUTCH SQUARE MELAKA IS A CROSSROAD|
Melaka’s Dutch Square is a small parcel of land situated on a crossroad; it’s where Jalan Hang Jebat (Jonker Walk), Jalan Gereja and Jalan Laksamana all converges. On this little square, a central fountain constructed during 1904, fashioned in Victorian styles, is surrounded by some of the oldest structures in the province.
|A LOCAL REPAIRING SOMETHING IN HIS SHOP|
There’s Malaysia’s oldest Protestant church, the iconic Christ Church, the Youth Museum & Art Gallery which was built in 1784 as the Dutch Administrative Office, the Tang Beng Swee Clocktower, which was not built by the Dutch but rather by an affluent Chinese family during 1886, and finally the Stadthuys, which the square is sometimes referred to as—its literal meaning, the town hall.
|THE ONLY THING THE DUTCH DIDN’T CONSTRUCT|
And yes, everything is painted in shockingly gaudy maroon. In my mind, I was debating if the Dutch were really into such colors, having seen none of it on my brief trip in the Netherlands some years back.
And what exactly were the Dutch doing here anyways?
|MELAKA’S GOTHIC CHURCH, NOT PAINTED IN MAROON|
|DISNEYLANDISH TRISHAWS CAN BE RENTED ALONG THE DUTCH SQUARE|
Spices, as all in life are, is of course the answer.
During the days when spices were all the rage in the world, the Dutch decided to take Melaka from the Portuguese to use it as their trading point. They stayed here for 183 years and painted all the buildings in maroon.
That last one was a joke, of course.
|THE SQUARE AS VIEWED ACROSS MELAKA RIVER|
During those days, these buildings—which were in reality made from bricks—were actually painted white. It wasn’t until the British took the reigns that the governor decided that red looks better. So the walls were transformed into bloody red, as the English would’ve called it.
|EVERYTHING IS IN MAROON!|
But that’s not the end of it. The Malays, of course, has the final say in the matter, they own this land anyways. I guess they thought that the color red was much too strong for taste, so they tone it down a bit and came up with the light maroon color that we now see.
|THE OLDEST DUTCH BUILDING OF THEM ALL|
The two most visited building in Melaka Square are the Stadthuys and the Christ Church. While we weren’t able to visit the Stadthuys much, a building built during 1660 and considered to be the oldest Dutch building still standing this side of Asia; we were able to enter Christ Church.
|THE FAMOUS CHRIST CHURCH|
This oddly-colored church is probably what all tourists (travelers avoid famous places like these like the plague, har har) picture in their mind’s eye whenever one mentions Melaka. Christ Church is indeed iconic. I’ve seen only one church, and we have tons and tons of it in the Philippines, that almost has the same color.
|DUTCH TOMBSTONES ON THE CHURCH’S FLOOR|
Built in 1753, its actually a reminder how the Dutch rutted out the Portuguese in Melaka. To drive home the point, they even built it over a Portuguese church, which fortunately already lay in ruins. Like most structures around the Dutch Square, you’d hardly know that it was actually made from bricks, these particular ones, shipped all the way from Zeeland in the Netherlands.
|CHRIST CHURCH’S UNREMARKABLE INTERIOR|
Once inside, you’d hardly be impressed unless you know what you’re looking for. It is as plane as Jane. Christ Church’s claim to fame though are its 200-year old hand-carved pews and its 15-meter long roof beams—each one made from a single tree trunk.
|MELAKA’S ARCHITECTURE MUSEUM|
|ONE OF THE LIFE-SIZED DIORAMAS INSIDE THE MUSEUM|
Most of the structures around the Melaka Dutch Square have been turned into museums. They have an Islamic Museum, an Architecture Museum, a Peoples Museum, a History & Ethnography Museum. Think of a museum, they probably have it (joking). It’s too bad that we were only able to check out the Architecture Museum since a.) we really didn’t have much time, b.) it was conveniently located right along the street en route to our hotel, and c.) it was free of charge and we thought it has air-conditioning.
Oh let’s not kid ourselves. It was probably just c.).