Learn why Melaka is the red city of Malaysia

April 18, 2022
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The UNESCO heritage city all red

Melaka, the red city of Malaysia, is a fascinating historical town in Malaysia with a rich history. A visit to this city will reveal evidence of Portuguese, Dutch, and British influence in the city in terms of architecture and culture. Portuguese were the first to arrive in the 16 th century, followed by the Dutch and finally the British. While there are still some architectural remains in the city dating back to the Portuguese. The most famous of these is the Famosa fort which is mostly in ruins except for the gate, and this is a key attraction. Melaka is well connected and can be reached by bus from Kuala Lumpur. Buses in Malaysia are luxurious, comfortable, safe as well as economical. Tourists can book a bus ticket online from the site of redBus, and bus tickets are provided for services not directly operated by redBus but by one of its many affiliates.

Some of the best architecture around

The major architectural influence is Dutch, and the entire central square of Melaka transports tourists back to a typical medieval town in the Netherlands. There are several attractive buildings, such as the Stadthuys, which is the town hall complex in the central square. The Stadthuys is now a history museum. This entire square is known as Red Square, as the entire complex is red in colour. This colour of buildings has given Melaka the name of the Red city of Malaysia. The other prominent buildings such as the Christ Church, St. John’s fort, a museum (the Baby Nyonya heir and a Chinese temple with glass and porcelain animals.

The British received Melaka by way of an Anglo Dutch treaty in the 19th century and soon transformed this attractive town into Melaka, the red city of Malaysia. Most of the Dutch buildings had been white, but the British painted them red soon after their takeover of Melaka, and this is why everything from doors to marble portions and even wrought iron hinges are all painted red. 

The Melaka maritime museum is another heritage place to visit and includes an entire Portuguese ship that had sunken in the sea near the coast but has now been recreated in its ancient splendour. Shoes are required to be removed before entering the museum, and the place is sparkling clean. There are valuable artefacts and treasures from that era, and tourists can have a good taste of the history of the region. There are several paintings from when Melaka used to be a trading post that had drawn the Portuguese to this area in the first place. The recreated Portuguese ship and the museum are all painted red, adding to the allure of the red city of Malaysia.    

The Melaka Sultanate palace is another fascinating building to see. It is located at the foot of St. Paul’s hill and is a wooden replica of Sultan Mansur Shah’s palace. It is said that the entire replica palace was built without nails, and tourists can easily verify this at the site. A vast copper and zinc roof sits on the 7 pillars of the palace. The palace also mysteriously has a tinge of red. The woodwork is beautifully sculpted, and suitable treatment has enabled the palace to survive for so long.

St John’s fort is next on the list of historic buildings in Melaka. The paradox that immediately strikes a careful observer is that the cannons face inward instead of towards the sea. The hilltop fort provides mesmerizing views of the Melaka River and of great sunset views. 

But why the red colour

While it has been proven that the British painted most of Melaka red sometime during the 1920s, the reason why this was done remains a mystery. Several hypotheses have been proposed. One popular hypothesis is that the British wanted to diminish the lasting effect of Dutch Architecture and hence painted all the buildings red. Another hypothesis suggests that this colour has been found to be the most effective for reducing weathering and staining of the original white colour. There is, however, no documented evidence for these hypotheses and the enigma is best left as an unsolved mystery.     

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Andi Perullo de Ledesma

I am Andi Perullo de Ledesma, a Chinese Medicine Doctor and Travel Photojournalist in Charlotte, NC. I am also wife to Lucas and mother to Joaquín. Follow us as we explore life and the world one beautiful adventure at a time.

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