The last time I saw Fort Canning was in 2008. Same year I visited the island state for the first time. The country made a great impression on me that I visited it a dozen times since then. And as fate would have it, I was assigned to work in the island early 2012.
There are guided walks here (here). I think these volunteers would do a better job telling you the story of this historic hill. I wanted to talk to these folks but never had the chance. But these guys makes your visit easy with these literatures on line (here) available for free – if you decide to travel alone like I do. There are tons of information in these catalogs that you could probably apply to become a tour guide once you’ve read them all!
This hill is without a doubt the most historic site in Singapore. Its ancient name was Bukit Larangan (bukit is hill, where we got bukid, Larangan is their word for “forbidden” because the ruler lived here). The last king. Iskandar Shah, ruled Singapore for nine years until 1398. Then the Majapahit empire took over his kingdom. An interesting side note is that prehispanic Philippines was part of this Asiatic empire. While this Iskandar Shah was vanished to Malacca by the Majapahit’s, he found his way back to Singapore. His dead body that is. He’s buried in the hill where he oversaw his kingdom. The grave site (pictured above) is revered by many as a holy site. A few years ago, researchers unearthed pottery and porcelains near the Shah’s burial site.
Another fascinating remnant of the past within the hill is the country’s first Christian cemetery. It’s a fine example of how the early European settlers buried their loved ones. Jewish, Russian Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants were interred side by side. The burial grounds was later moved but some of the more grand tombstones were left behind. There’s an interesting one that had Manila written as his birthplace. There was once a time when there’s prestige telling people that you were born in Manila. The first Catholic church here was partly funded by the Manila Cathedral.
When Stramford Raffles established a British outpost in the islands, he made his cabin bungalow on top of Fort Canning. Subsequent British administrators improved and expanded this house. I’m not sure how original the present day structure is but it is said to be exactly where Raffle’s installed the foundations of his shelter. There’s a reservoir on top of the hill that once supplied the neighborhood below. It appears that it’s still being used today because not only was it fenced for good measure but there are signs warning would be trespassers of getting shot!
The old colonial fortress gate of Fort Canning. The thing about fortresses in Asia is that one of the reason why they were built was so the Europeans would have a place they can go to in times of uprisings. Which tells you that they know that someday, the people they conquered would figured out what’s going on. What’s intriguing about the hill’s fortress is that there was a moat that once surrounded its ancient wall. Could you imagine a fortress on top of a hill complete with a moat?
There’s a spice garden not far from the Fort Cunning Center (this building was built in the 20’s for the British Army). Easily, one of my favorite spot. I remember seeing this three years ago. It’s possible that Rizal spent time here during his visits. They’ve collected a variety of spice plants. There are giant gingers and pandan all over the place. There are wild peppers, camias, tanglad, name the spice and the garden have it. The lesson here was that the European came to SE Asia for these little known spices – to enrich the flavor of their cuisine. Of course, that’s an interesting story but spices was not the only reason why they came.
Wild black peppers. Yeah, I think that’s the scientific name.
A south American tree stranded on the hill. You don’t have to be a hardcore botanist to tell that this tree is old. It looks old. It would take a dozen adults to embrace this mammoth tree.
I forgot what this is — but it’s a very important spice. Damn. Ah, jalapeno? Urgh!
Entrance to the “Battle Box”. During the WWII, the British high commanders made the hill their headquarters. The tunnels are now preserved and is open to the public. What many people don;t know is that there were more British troops in their Malaysian colony (incl. Singapore) during the Japanese offensive than in their native UK. They were out to protect their colonies but the Japanese sliced thru their defense like knife to a butter. There’s just so much to see around this hill that I wonder why tourist doesn’t come here in droves.