Kampong Glam | A “Gelamorous” Place

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Facts about Kampong Glam:

  • The 1989 Urban Redevelopment Authority planned to conserve Kampong Glam.
  • Segments have been declared National Heritage Sites since the 1980s.
  • The Malay Heritage Centre refurbished the Istana Kampong Glam in 2004.
  • The Malays are about 15% of the Singapore population.
  • Malays are Singapore’s second largest ethnic group.

Yes, “Gelamorous” is misspelled and the Glam in Kampong Glam is not a shorter version of the word glamorous; Glam refers to the Gelam trees that once grew in the area in abundance, while Kampong means village.  Kampong Glam does have historical glamor though: the heritage museum that was once the former Istana Kampong Glam, a palace built by the Sultan Hussein Shah of Johor in 1819.  It is said to have been originally a wooden construction and that his eldest son, Sultan Ali Iskandar Shah of the Johor Riau-Lingga Empire, had it rebuilt in concrete in 1835.

What is Kampong Glam’s history?

The Sultan Hussein of Johor was able to build his palace because the British East India Company signed a treaty with him and the Temenggong Abdul Rahman in 1819.  Kampong Glam was the home to Singapore’s Malay aristocracy before the British colonized the area that year.  The treaty permitted the British to put up a trading post in Singapore and from that the area’s population grew in size.  At the beginning, under the 1822 Raffles Plan, the settlement was ethnically divided.  There was a European Town and kampongs for the Chinese, Chulia, Arab, and Bugis people.  The Kampong Glam, east of the European Town, was for the Sultan, along with the Malay and Arab people.  The Kampong Glam had many merchants and so the community progressed.

What is Kampong Glam now?

Upon the beginning of the twentieth century, Kampong Glam had new shops and residential buildings, creating a multi-ethnic population that included Chinese and Indians.  Today, the Kampong Glam continues to retain its Malay and Muslim cultural influence, and has even been named the “Muslim Quarter” of Singapore.  The Yayasan Warisan Melayu (Malay Heritage Foundation) was formed on July 28, 1999 to develop the Malay Heritage Center.  They chose the Istana Kampong Glam as the best site to showcase the Malay Heritage cultural programs: there are traditional dances, martial arts and musical performances using the the angklung.  There are also pottery classes and visitors can even practice batik (a fabric art).

What else is “Gelamorous” about Kampong Glam?

Modern Kampong Glam has also conserved other sites, including the Sultan Mosque and the Hajjah Fatimah Mosque.  Shophouses have been restored along Arab Street, Baghdad Street and Bussorah Street.  Working within the shophouses are a mix of contemporary and traditional businesses; there are shophouses used for graphic design and the IT industry, along with blacksmiths and carpet makers.  Visitors might find the Sultan Mosque the most “Gelamorous”.  It is the largest of its kind in Singapore and it can accommodate about 5,000 Muslims in congregational prayers.  It was built in 1928 and is located on Bussorah Street.  The Sultan Mosque’s large golden dome is an eye-catcher and there is no entrance fee.  All that is required is an open-mind and respect (visitors should not wear shorts, small skirts or sleeveless shirts).  Right in front of the mosque is Bussorah Mall.  It is there where visitors can find great handicrafts and clothing (or even furniture!).

Where should someone dine to compliment the royal architecture?

For some traditional Malay cuisine, tourists and residents can go on over to Kandahar Street.  But right beside the Istana Kampong Glam is Tepak Sireh, which is operated by Gedung Kuning (Yellow Mansion).  The Gedung Kuning was built around 1860 and sold to a wealthy Malay merchant, Haji Yusuf Mohd Noor, who converted it into a beautiful home in 1907.  Hj Yusuf was also known as “Hj Yusuf Tali Pinggang” for having become wealthy from making the wide, green fabric belt worn by Muslims who performed the haj.  The Tepak Sireh is a restored bungalow that now serves as a restaurant specializing in halal food and cultural performances.  Offering nasi padang ( rice served with a choice of dishes such as fish, chicken, eggs and vegetables), it is a beautiful place to host a Malay wedding and lucky visitors might see one once in a while.

Tips for Travelers:

  • Remember to wear appropriate clothing, especially if you plan to visit the mosques.
  • For more information on planning your trip, you might want to visit the Kampong Glam Singapore website or the Malay Heritage Centre.