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Spiral staircase of underground crossing in tunnel at Fort Canning Park, Singapore Source: (martinhosmat083/ Adobe Stock)

Fort Canning Park, The Oasis of Singapore or Haunted Hill?

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Singapore, the remarkable city-state in Asia, is regarded as one of the most dynamic societies on earth and offers a great many sites. Fort Canning Park is located on a small hill on the island. It is an iconic area in the heart of Singapore’s business and civic center. While it has played an important role in the country’s history, the hill today boasts green spaces, cultural amenities, and is an oasis of calm in the busy city. It much loved by locals and visitors alike.

The History of Fort Canning Park, Singapore

The first known political entity on the island was the Kingdom of Singapura, established in the 13 th century. The kingdom was an Indianized Malay kingdom and a major trading center. The palace of the monarch was located on the hill and archaeological investigations have shown that the area was also home to workshops. Many locals still call it the ‘Forbidden Hill and believe it is haunted as many have reported loud noises and thumps in park at night, as well as sightings of white hooded figures.

When Singapura was attacked, the king abandoned the island of Singapore and moved to the Malacca Straits to establish a new state. It was abandoned until the early 19 th century when the British were able to lease the island and use it as a station for their ships.

Sir Stamford Raffles , the British colonial governor, is considered to be the founder of modern Singapore. He built a home on the hill as well as the governor’s official residence.

The growing prosperity of Singapore persuaded the British to establish a military presence on the island and they built a fort on the hill. It was named after Viscount Charles John Canning, first Viceroy of India . It consisted of officer headquarters, fortifications, and a number of gun platforms. Sadly, it was demolished in 1907 and little of the original structure remains.

The hill, however, continued to be used by Imperial British forces and a massive underground bunker was built to serve as headquarters of the local military district.

In 1942 the British commander of East Asia surrendered to the Japanese in the fortification. After the island became independent, the British handed over the bunker to the Singapore military. In 1982 the area was turned into a heritage park on the orders of President Lee Kuan Yew.

The Sights at Fort Canning Park

Although the area is not very large, about 18 acres, there is so much to see. Unfortunately, there are no remains of the medieval palace that once dominated the hill, but the supposed tomb of the last ruler of Singapura, Keramat Iskandar Shah, can be visited. Many specialists doubt that this is the tomb of the monarch who played such a crucial role in the history of South-East Asia.

Some remains of the 19 th-century British fort can be seen, and these include nine-inch cannons, walls, a gateway and two sally-ports. Not to be missed are the Gothic gates that once led to a former Christian cemetery.

Park architecture in Fort Canning Park, Singapore (Arndale/ Adobe Stock)

Park architecture in Fort Canning Park, Singapore ( Arndale/ Adobe Stock)

The famous Raffles House, built by the founder of modern Singapore, should feature high on any visitor’s list. This single-story stone building was built in the European neoclassical style, but it has a unique atap style roof, which was inspired by Malay architecture .

Perhaps the most popular destination at Fort Canning Hill is the British military bunker, known popularly as the ‘Battle Box’. Visitors can explore a WWII military installation as well as amble through exhibitions relating to the Fall of Singapore in 1942. In total the site has nine historical gardens as well as a beautiful botanical garden . Among the other attractions are an aquarium and the national theatre.

The Way to Fort Canning Park, Singapore

The park is easy to find. Visitors can make use of the covered escalators from Fort Canning Metro Station, which will take them to the top of the hill. It is open all day and an entry fee is charged for some of the attractions.

Fort Canning Park, Singapore (Angelika Bentin/ Adobe Stock)

Fort Canning Park, Singapore ( Angelika Bentin / Adobe Stock)

There are many fine hiking trails in the area and always something going on, such as concerts or Shakespeare in the Park. A mobile app that provides interactive information on the history of the park can be downloaded.

Top image: Spiral staircase of underground crossing in tunnel at Fort Canning Park, Singapore Source: ( martinhosmat083/ Adobe Stock)

By Ed Whelan

References

Harfield, A. G. (1961). Fort Canning Hill Singapore . Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, 39(159), 129-139

Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/44223354?seq=1

Miksic, J. (1985). Preliminary Excavation at Fort Canning, Singapore . SPAFA Digest (1980-1990), 6(1)

Available at:   https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/INFOPEDIA/articles/SIP_858_2004-12-15.html

Otokichi, Y., Faber, C. E., Press, M., Park, B. A. M. K., Park, J. C., Dyer, M., ... & Coleman, G. D. Fort Canning Cemetery ~ Recommendations

Available at:   https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_1685_2010-07-14.html

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