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Heritage in the City

Kampong Glam conservation area: The historic seat of Malay Royalty


This tour takes place in the historic Kampong Glam Conservation Area, a compact urban precinct of shop houses in various architectural styles and the former seat of Malay royalty. Highlights include two National Monuments – a visit to the Sultan Mosque, one of the most historic mosques in Singapore, and the former palace, the Istana Kampong Glam, now the Malay Heritage Centre. Visitors will gain an understanding of how conservation planning and policy has shaped the evolution of the precinct. They will also visit the Aliwal Arts Centre, a conserved former school which has been adaptively retrofitted to house cultural and arts uses.

Kampong Glam Conservation Area
Kampong Glam is a compact urban area of approximately 8.9ha. It was traditionally a Malay residential area with ethnic-based activities at the periphery and along Arab Street. The area predominantly comprises conserved shophouses of 2 to 3 storey height. The area was gazetted as a conservation area in 1989, and is one of four Historic Districts in Singapore (along with Chinatown, Little India and Boat Quay). Its unique characteristic lies in the contrast between its streetscape, with its low and uniform scale, and the large open spaces of the palace grounds.

Malay Heritage Centre
The Malay Heritage Centre project involved the restoration of the former Istana Kampong Glam and former Gedung Kuning, and the addition of 4 new single-storey blocks within the Istana compound.

The former Istana has been recently gazetted as a monument. It is a heritage museum and the new single-storey blocks house a multi-purpose hall, arts and craft workshops, ancillary office and a souvenir shop.

Aliwal Arts Centre
The Aliwal Arts Centre was formerly the Chong Cheng Girls’ School and Chong Pun Boys’ School built by the Haw Par Brothers in 1938. This clearly shows the presence of Chinese population in Kampong Glam and nearby vicinity. It is now used as a centre for both traditional and contemporary arts and houses artists’ studios and performance spaces.

Sultan Mosque
It was formerly the royal mosque of the Sultan of Johor and was a timber building with a three-tiered attap roof when it was first built in 1824. When the Muslim congregation grew, it was rebuilt in 1924 and its design was heavily influenced by the Indo-Saracenic style. This style combines traditional Indian and Islamic elements with European architectural features

Rectangular in plan, the main prayer hall is skewed to align with the qibla, the orientation to the Islamic holy city of Mecca. The two-storey hall can hold up to 5,000 worshippers. It underwent some renovation recently and a new lift was added to cater for the aging worshippers and visitors.

Below the dome of the mosque lies hundreds of brown drink bottles which were donated by the poor who wanted to contribute to the mosque’s construction.

Arab Street and Haji Lane
At popular Arab Street, you can still find many textile shops that have been there for generations. Other traditional trades housed in the shophouses include Middle Eastern carpets, basket-ware and Muslim religious paraphernalia. Nearby Haji Lane is believed to be Singapore’s narrowest street; barely the width of two cars. It used to be the hub of Muslims, in transit to Singapore, to prepare for their pilgrimage to Mecca. Now, it is a happening hub of shops and restaurants that are popular with the younger and working population.