Fort Canning Park | The Story Behind “Forbidden Hill”

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Fort Canning Park
Fort Canning Park

Facts about Fort Canning Park:

  • Fort Canning Park is located on Fort Canning Hill.
  • Fort Canning Hill was also known as Bukit Tuan Bonham (Sir Bonham’s Hill), Bukit Bendera (Flag Hill), and Singapore Hill.
  • The green landscape around Fort Canning was known as Central Park in 1972.
  • It was renamed Fort Canning Park on November 1, 1981.

Spice up your trip!

What was once known as “Forbidden Hill” nows belongs to a park that is rich in natural and historical significance.  Malay and Chinese historical records depict Fort Canning Hill as a center of power about 700 years ago (1300 AD).  It is most likely that the Temasek (Sea Town) royal seat was established there and therefore forbidden, out of respect, to the people of the 19th century.  With Singapore’s colonization, the hill was used for housing colonial leaders.  During World War II, the hill transformed into a military base as well.  To the benefit of the people’s oral history, and of course archaeology, ancient artifacts from the 14th century were discovered.  Anthropologists, students, and families in general, will find Fort Canning Park fascinating.  For tourists interested in history, there is the Fort Gate and a 9-Pound Cannon from the 1860s.

For Heritage Tree enthusiasts, there are eleven great reasons to visit Fort Canning Park: there is one Flame of the Forest, two of the Terap species, three Ear-pod Trees, four of the Madras Thorn, and a Rain Tree.  The shade and green color of the park is very inviting for those who just want to take a break from the busiest shopping areas in Singapore, especially if they are commuting between Orchard Road and the Civic District.  Spicing up your next trip to Singapore might be as simple as visiting Fort Canning Park’s replica of the first Spice Garden created by Sir Stamford Raffles.  Some of the spices grown there were clove plants and nutmeg.  From there, you might want to search for the Battle Box and later, the sally port, a small hidden door for undetected escapes.  You can go off and think of stories of suspense, or even imagine what you would have used it for if you had lived during its time!

Walk through time!

There are many venues at Fort Canning Park that exemplify the complex history that Singapore has faced to become what it is today.  Since 1984, archaeological research has taken place at Fort Canning, and the Archaeological Dig is the only excavation site in Singapore that is showcased as an exhibit.  Glass and gold items were produced at this site way before the British colonized the area in 1819.  Some people can imagine taking a 14th century walk while near the Keramat Iskandar Syah.  Keramat means “a sacred place” in Malay and it is known to be the burial ground of a revered leader.  It has a 14th century pendopo (Malay roof), with a fighting cock motif carved into twenty wooden pillars.  The recuperated artifacts suggest that this resting place belonged to one of the rulers of Temasek, Iskandar Syah.

For more of a 19th century walk, however, visitors might want to begin close to the information kiosk.  They can pass through Fort Canning Green, which used to be the old Christian Cemetery before 1865, and marvel at the Gothic Revival style gateways.  Forwarding to the present time, the most relevant venue for contemporary Singaporean life is probably the ASEAN Sculpture Garden.  The sculptures in this garden were designed in 1981 for the ASEAN Sculptures Symposium in Singapore and were donated to Fort Canning Park the following year.  They represent unity and cooperation between the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.  The country of Brunei later added its sculpture in 1988 when it too became an ASEAN member.

Tips for Travelers:

  • Fort Canning has a program in which volunteers who want to share their knowledge of Singapore’s Fort Canning Heritage can become Fort Canning Park’s tourist guides, photographers, researchers, etc.
  • Fort Canning has nine venues that can be rented.  If you are interested in a venue for your wedding, the following might be available: Fort Canning Green & Patio, the Gallery & Foyer, the Fort Gate, or the Raffles House.  Check the website for more information.