Fort Canning (part 1)

Fort Canning 01
Fort Canning Park entrance along River Valley Road

Fort Canning Hill was originally known as Bukit Larangan, which means “Forbidden Hill” in Malay. The locals believed the hill was the site of burial grounds and palaces built by the ancestral kings, and thus were forbidden to ascend the hill. When Raffles arrived, he set up his residence and the government house on the hill, as it provided a clear view of the port city. This gave the hill the name “Government Hill”.

Fort Canning 02
Fort Canning Park

In 1859, a decision was made to convert the hill into a military site. A fort was built, and named after Viscount Charles John Canning, Governor-general of India. “Fort Canning” subsequently became synonymous with the hill.

Fort Canning 03
Dragon fountain, located next to Park Mall

Today, it is a recreational and heritage site, with hotels, restaurants, excavation sites and lawns for holding outdoor events. NParks has also set up 2 trails around the park, namely the 14th century (ancient history) trail and an 18th century (colonial history) trail.

14th Century Trail
Status: Found

Most of the architecture and artifacts from the 14th century did not survive till today, hence most of the sites along this trail are just placemarkers and storyboards. However, quite a few of them are still worthy of a visit.

Keramat Iskandar Shah
Status: Found

Fort Canning - Keramat Iskandar Syah 01
Keramat Iskandar Shah

This keramat (Muslim shrine) is believed to belong to Iskanda Shah, also known as Parameswara, the fifth and last Raja (king) of Singapura. According to the Sejarah Melayu (the Malay Annals), he was the great-great-grandson of Sang Nila Utama, the founder of the Kingdom of Singapura. Iskandar Shah’s father, Paduka Seri Maharaja, was believed to be the king who ordered the execution of the boy in the legend of Bukit Merah.

Fort Canning - Keramat Iskandar Syah 02
Keramat Iskandar Shah

Iskandar Shah ruled from 1389 to 1398, when the kingdom of Majapahit launched an attack on Singapura. Iskandar Shah fled to Malacca, where he founded a new settlement and became its first ruler. As he had died at Malacca, it is believed that he could not have been buried at Fort Canning.

The keramat is sheltered by a pendopo roof held up by 20 wooden pillars.

Archaeological Dig & Exhibition Area
Constructed: 2001
Status: Found

Fort Canning - Archaeological Dig Exhibition 01
Archaeological Dig

Archaeological excavations were carried out at Fort Canning since 1984, and this exhibition area was opened in 2001 to display some of the artifacts found. Although most of the wooden structures have perished, numerous artifacts such as those made of porcelain and glass survived. These artifacts suggest the existence of local craftsmen and trade back in the pre-colonial days.

Fort Canning - Archaeological Dig Exhibition 02
Archaeological Exhibit

Royal Palace
Status: Lost

Fort Canning - Royal Palace Site 01
Pavilion at the possible site of the royal palace

The royal palace of the Raja was built from perishable materials such as timber, and thus no traces of it remain today. The heritage trail has identified the Picnic Terrace as one possible site of the royal palace. Although you can’t get a sense of the royal palace and its extensive decorations and facilities anymore, the large octagonal pavilion serves as a great resting place amidst trekking through the trails.

Fort Canning - Royal Palace Site 02
Octagonal pavilion

Mural Wall
Status: Found

Fort Canning - Mural Wall 01
Mural Wall

The mural wall located near the Hill Street entrance depicts Singapore’s history in the 14th century. It was done by Balinese artisans.

19th Century Trail
Status: Found

The 19th century trail highlights key sites pertaining to the hill’s history as “Government Hill” and as a fort during the colonial days.

Fort Canning Centre
Constructed: 1926
Status: Found
Conserved: Since 2005

Fort Canning - Fort Canning Centre 01
Fort Canning Centre, with Fort Canning Green in the foreground

The Fort Canning Centre was originally a British army barracks. The neo-classical building now houses the visitor centre and the Singapore Dance Theatre. It has a clear view of Fort Canning Green, a popular venue for outdoor events and concerts.

Fort Canning - Fort Canning Centre 02
Fort Canning Centre

It was given conservation status in 2005, together with the building that now houses Hotel Fort Canning and The Legends Fort Canning Park.

Christian Cemetery
Opened: 1822
Status: Lost

Fort Canning - Fort Canning Green 01
The walls surrounding Fort Canning Green, with tombstones set into them

The first Christian Cemetery in Singapore was situated here. By its closure in 1865, some 600 graves were interred here. In the 1970s, the cemetery was in a dilapidated state, and most of the tombstones were removed. Some were relocated to the Armenian Church, while some were set into the walls surrounding the plot of land.

Fort Canning - Fort Canning Green - George Doumgold Coleman 01
Tombstone of G. D. Coleman

Among the people buried here was George Dromgold Coleman, the first Government Superintendent of Public Works in Singapore. As an architect, he designed numerous buildings in Singapore, including the Armenian Church and the second Telok Ayer Market. Coleman Street was named after him.

Fort Canning - Fort Canning Green - Jose D'Almeida 01
Tombstone of Jose d’Almeida

Dr Jose d’Almeida Carvalho E. Silva was another prominent figure who was buried at Fort Canning. He was a naval surgeon before setting up his own trading firm. D’Almeida Street was named after him.

Fort Canning - Fort Canning Green 02
Remaining tombstones from the Christian Cemetery

Currently, only a small number of tombstones still remain at a corner of the plot of land. The now-empty field is now known as Fort Canning Green.

Gothic Gates
Designed by Captain Charles Edward Faber
Constructed: 1846
Status: Found

Fort Canning - Gothic Gate 01
Gothic Gates at Fort Canning Green

The two gothic-style gateways now serve as the entrances to Fort Canning Green. The letters “IHS” were inscribed onto both gates. They stand for “Iota Heta Sigm”, the first three letters of the Greek word for “Jesus”.

Memorial to James Brooke Napier
Status: Found

Fort Canning - Memorial to James Brooke Napier 01
Memorial to James Brooke Napier

James Brooke Napier was the infant son of William Napier and Maria Frances Napier. William Napier was a merchant, but became Singapore’s first Law Agent in 1833. Maria Frances Napier, on the other hand, was G. D. Coleman’s widow.

Fort Canning - Memorial to James Brooke Napier 02
Memorial to James Brooke Napier

James Brooke Napier died in 1848, at the age of 5 months and 24 days. They were on board Admiral Henry Keppel’s ship, HMS Meander. The memorial is the largest in the cemetery, reflecting William Napier’s status.

Cupolas
Designed by George Dromgold Coleman
Status: Found

Fort Canning - The Cupolas 01
The two Cupolas

The two structures were most likely meant to be shelters for resting. Armenian Church, also designed by G. D. Coleman, used to have a similar dome-shaped roof (although much larger).

More photos of Fort Canning will be posted in the next post.

File Last Updated: February 1, 2013

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