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Fort Canning Park

Fort Canning Park (22)

Just over 60 meters high, Fort Canning is a small hill with a rich history.

Before the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819, the Malays called it Bukit Laranga, which means Forbidden Hill.  They believed that this was where their ancestral kings had their palaces. In fact, excavations in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries gave credence to the popular legend that the Keramat, or the tomb of Shah Iskandar, was buried in Bukit Laranga’s foothills. Shah Iskandar was the last of the five kings who ruled Singapore during the golden period in the fourteenth century.  It was one of his descendants who named the island Singa Pura after seeing a beast in the shape of a lion.

According to recent archaeological findings, there is enough evidence to show that this area used to be an important commercial centre.

Impressed by the historical background of this hill, in 1822 Sir Stamford Raffles decided to build his first residence here, as well as Singapore’s first botanical garden. Later, his residence was used by the governors of the colony so it became known as Government Hill.

In 1859 the hill played an important military role, so for safety reasons it was decided to destroy the building and erect a military fort, called Fort Canning.  It was named after the governor general and viceroy of India Charles John Canning.

The fort was used by the British navy until Lieutenant General Arthur Ernest Percival surrendered to the Japanese, who used it until the end of the occupation in 1945, when the British regained control of Singapore. Now the bunker, called The Battle Box, is one of Canning Fort Park’s main tourist attractions.

In the early twentieth century the fort was demolished and today there are hardly any walls or doors. Later, when the island became independent, the area was occupied by the Singaporean military until the creation of the Fort Canning Park.  Today it offers a host of recreational, educational, artistic and cultural activities in the heart of downtown Singapore. You can stroll and relax, learn about the city's history, see art exhibitions, enjoy the outdoor cinema or even attend the city’s largest music festival, held here since 1998.

The park's attractions are as interesting as they are varied. From here we encourage you to wander and to discover on your own, but we do want to point out a few things that shouldn’t be missed.

To begin with, we recommend a special place for your senses: the spice garden. This space houses over 100 kinds of local plants and trees and is a small replica of the 19 hectare botanical garden established in 1822 by Sir Raffles.

Next, visit the sacred tomb of Shah Iskandar. While it is not certain, it is popularly believed that he was buried here. It is protected by a beautiful fourteenth century Malay-style roof called a pendopo, supported by 20 wood columns with motifs from the island of Java.

If you want to take a break, go lie down on the Fort Canning Green, a lawn area where you will surely be surprised by some spontaneous artistic performance. It is interesting to note that this area was once a Christian cemetery with beautiful Gothic style entrances designed by Captain Charles Edward Faber in 1846.

As for the former military facility, you will be surprised to learn that the Fort Canning Centre, former British army barracks, has housed the headquarters of Singapore’s national dance company since 1988.

Another military feature is the 9 pound canon.  Its role is more decorative than defensive, as it is only fired at 5 am, as well as at 1 and 9 pm, to mark the hour.

And, last but not least, don’t miss the old bunker, called The Battle Box.  This underground complex is 9 meters underground and was the largest military operations complex in all of Singapore, used during World War II.

Right next to it, there is a small hidden door, also known as a sally port, which once connected the fort to the outside and was primarily used to escape without being detected.

As you can see, Fort Canning Park is a place full of history and stories. Walking along its paths you can imagine the Malaysian palaces of the fourteenth century, how Sir Raffles strolled through his botanical garden or how the British military discussed their plans to fight the Japanese.

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