Fort Canning

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Coordinates: 1°17′40″N 103°50′49″E / 1.29444°N 103.84694°E / 1.29444; 103.84694

Fort Canning
Fort Canning Park Hill St.JPG
The entrance of Fort Canning Park at Hill Street.
Type City and heritage park
Location Museum Planning Area, Singapore
Area 18 hectares (180,000 m2)
Created 1822
Operated by National Parks Board
Status Opened
Website Fort Canning Park

Fort Canning (Malay: Bukit Larangan) is a small hill slightly more than 60 metres high in the southeast portion of the island city-state of Singapore, within the Central Area that forms Singapore's central business district. Although small in physical size, it has a long history intertwined with that of the city-state due to its location as the highest elevation within walking distance to the city's civic district within the Downtown Core. It is also a popular venue for music shows and concerts.

The Malays called the hill Bukit Larangan or Forbidden Hill since olden times. This is due to the belief that it is the place where the kings of ancient Singapore were laid to rest, and it was believed to be haunted.[1] It was also believed that a palace once stood on the hill. A settlement on the hill in the 14th century was named Ban Zu (from the Malay pancur) by the Yuan dynasty traveller Wang Dayuan. Later Sir Stamford Raffles built his residence there, which was also used by other Residents and Governors. It became known as Government Hill until it was renamed Fort Canning in 1861 when a fort was built on the site.[1] Today it is the location of the Fort Canning Park.


Fort Canning viewed from the Singapore River at the end of the 19th century

In around 1330, the Chinese traveller Wang Dayuan visited the island of Singapore, then called Temasek. Wang described in his work Daoyi Zhilüe the two distinct settlements of Temasek: Long Ya Men, and Ban Zu. Ban Zu, located on a hill behind Long Ya Men, is thought to be today's Fort Canning Hill. In contrast to the inhabitants of Long Ya Men who were described as being prone to acts of piracy, the people of Ban Zu were described as honest. The people were said to "wear their hair short, with turban of gold-brocaded satin", and they also wore red-coloured cloths and had a leader.[2][3] It is now believed that the Fort Canning Hill area was once occupied by a palace with various buildings of political, religious and commercial significance.[4]

Jewelry found at Fort Canning Hill dating to the mid-14th century

Historical sources also indicate that around the end of the 14th century, Singapura was attacked by either the Majapahit or the Siamese, forcing its ruler Parameswara to move on to Melaka where he founded the Sultanate of Malacca.[5] Archaeological evidence suggests that the settlement on Fort Canning was abandoned around this time, although a small trading settlement continued in Singapore for some time afterwards.[6] Ruins of the settlement on Fort Canning Hill were still visible in the early 19th century and described by the Resident John Crawfurd who also found shards of pottery and Chinese coins, the earliest of which dating to 10th century Song Dynasty.[7] Crawfurd described the ruins of a square terrace of 40 feet (12 m) square that may have been a temple near the top of the hill, with another terrace almost as big on the northern slope of the hill said to the tombs of a Malay king, Iskandar Shah.[8] In 1928, a cache of Javanese-style gold ornaments dating to the mid-14th century were discovered at Fort Canning Hill while workers were excavating for a reservoir.[9][10]

Ban Zu is likely a transcription of the Malay word pancur meaning a spring or stream. A spring used to exist on the west side of the hill, called pancur larangan or "forbidden spring", where the women of the ruler's household were said to bathe in ancient times. In the early period of the 19th century Singapore, the stream was used to provide clean drinking water for all ships stopping at the port until the demand exceeded the capacity, and the spring dried up as wells were dug around the hill.[11]

Raffles, impressed by the historic significance of the hill and the commanding view it offered over the colony he had established, built his first residence on the hill. The residence was also used by other Residents and Governors of Singapore, thus the location gained the name Government Hill. A keen botanist, Raffles also established Singapore's first botanical garden there in 1822. 48 acres of land were set aside for experimental crop cultivation, but the experiment failed and the garden was then abandoned in 1829.[12]

A Christian cemetery used to exist on the hill, serving as the burial ground for early Europeans in Singapore. Later the cemetery was moved further down the hill. A Gothic gateways built by Captain Charles Edward Faber in 1846, two classical monuments, and some headstones placed along brick walls remain at the site.[13]


The Gate of Fort Canning

By 1859, increased security concerns led to the hill taking on a military role with the demolition of the governor's residence, and the building of a fort with an arms store, barracks and a hospital. The fort was completed in 1861, and was named Fort Canning after Viscount Charles John Canning, who was then Governor-General and the first Viceroy of India.[1]

The old fort was later demolished, and a military headquarters was built with underground rooms serving as operations centre.[12] Under the British Army, it served as the headquarters of the Singapore Base District until the spread of World War II into the Asia Pacific in 1941. In February 1942, Lieutenant-General Arthur Ernest Percival established his command post of the Malayan Command at the fort in his ill-fated attempts to defend the island from the invading Japanese forces. The Japanese also used the buildings above and below the ground for its military until the end of the occupation in 1945, whereby the British army resumed control. The underground bunker however was abandoned, but it was re-opened on 31 January 1992 as a tourist attraction and is now known as The Battle Box.[14]

As the island moved towards self-determination, the British handed over control of the fort to the Singaporean military in 1963, and was home to the headquarters of the 4th Malaysian Infantry Brigade until December 1966 when it was in turn handed over to the Singapore Armed Forces. The SAF proceeded to build the Singapore Command and Staff College on the fort, which officially opened on 13 February 1970.

Fort Canning Park[edit]

Fort Canning Park, River Valley Road entrance

The area became known as Central Park in 1972 when the land previously used by the British armed forces was combined with King George V Park. The park was then renamed Fort Canning Park on 1 November 1981 by Lee Kuan Yew, and converted into an historical park.[1]

Fort Canning today[edit]

The park overlooks Orchard Road and is set in the heart of the Civic and Cultural District of Singapore, and it now offers a variety of recreational activities as well as historical, educational, entertainment and cultural experiences, and is also used as a place for social events.[15] The park also serves as an important green lung for Singapore's downtown city area. The unique blend of historical relics, lush greenery and expansive lawns has made Fort Canning a hub of cultural and artistic activity. It has been a venue of choice for staging myriad outdoor events and activities like theatre carnivals, art festivals, starlight cinemas and Ballet Under the Stars performances.[16] WOMAD, Singapore's largest music festival, was a regular feature of the park's calendar of events from 1998 to 2007.[17] The Fort Canning Tunnel passes directly under the hill.[18]


The Battle Box, Underground Far East Command Centre

Some points of interest that may be found in the park:[19][20]

A sally port on Fort Canning Hill
  • Sally Port: The sally port is a small hidden door that leads into or out of a fort, allowing occupants to escape from the fort undetected. Fort Canning had at least three sally ports but only one remains today.
  • Fort Wall and Gate: Raffles, in a letter to William Farquhar in 1819, on the suitability of building a fortress on Government Hill: " ...On the hill overlooking the Settlement, and commanding it and a considerable portion of the anchorage, a small Fort, capable of mounting 8 or 10 pounders and of containing a magazine of brick or stone, together with a barrack for the permanent residence of 30 European artillery, and of temporary accommodation of the rest of the garrison in case of emergency."
9-Pound Cannon
  • 9-Pound Cannon: One of a pair of cannons that was meant to shoot 9-pound balls. Playing a decorative role rather than a defensive one, the cannon was fired three times a day at 5 a.m., 1 p.m., and 9 p.m. to announce the hour. It was also fired as a salute and warning of town fires. Next to the cannon is South Battery, the site at which the main battery of guns was mounted to defend Singapore in the 19th century.
  • Spice Garden: The garden is a replica of the first experimental botanical garden in Singapore established by Sir Stamford Raffles. Raffles had noble ambitions for Singapore's agricultural development, and had sent from Bencoolen spices like clove plants and nutmeg seeds to be planted in the garden.
  • Gothic Gates: These imposing and sombre gateways in gothic style lead the visitor into Fort Canning Green, where a Christian cemetery used to stand. Built in 1846, these gates have since become a landmark of Fort Canning Hill. The letters above both gates, "IHS" are iota, eta and sigma, the first three letters of the Greek word for Jesus.
Gravestones in Fort Canning Green, relocated from Bukit Timah Cemetery
  • Fort Canning Green: The frequent outdoor concerts and carnivals now held at Fort Canning Green belie the fact that the area was once a graveyard for some 600 Christian graves. The only graves left are at the far end of the Green (near the Drama Centre). Some tombstones that were removed were set into the walls surrounding Fort Canning Green.
  • Cupolas: The cupolas, designed by George Drumgoole Coleman, were probably places of rest. The word 'cupola' means a small dome-shaped roof or ceiling. George Coleman was a talented architect who left his mark on the urban landscape of Singapore. He was Raffles' consultant on Singapore's first town plan. As Superintendent of Public Works, he oversaw projects of land reclamation and construction of roads and landmarks such as the Armenian Church.
  • James Brooke Napier Memorial: Dedicated to James Brooke Napier, the infant son of William Napier, who was Singapore's first Law Agent, and Maria Frances Napier, the widow of George Coleman. The memorial was the largest erected in the cemetery, reflecting the status of William Napier.
Fort Canning Arts Centre
  • Fort Canning Arts Centre: Fort Canning Arts Centre used to be the barracks of the British Army. The British Army chose Fort Canning as its headquarters of its defence bases in the 1920s to protect British interests in Southeast Asia.
Raffles' House, the original house of Raffles was actually a wood and atap structure.
  • Raffles' House: Raffles built his house on Government Hill on his third and last visit to Singapore. "We have lately built a small bungalow on Singapore Hill where, though the height is inconsiderable, we find a great difference in climate. Nothing can be more interesting and beautiful than the view from this spot. The tombs of the Malay Kings are close at hand, and I have settled that if it is my fate to die here I shall take my place amongst them: this will at any rate be better than leaving my bones at Bencoolen..." – Raffles in a letter to William Marsden in 1823.
Keramat Iskandar Shah
  • Keramat Iskandar Shah: Keramat Iskandar Shah is a sacred place dedicated to Iskandar Shah (also known as Parameswara before he converted to Islam), the last ruler of 14th century Singapore before he fled to Melaka to escape an attack from the Siamese. Although named after him, scholars thought that the keramat could not be Iskandar Shah's tomb as he had died in Melaka. No evidence of burial was found here.
  • Archaeological Excavation Site: In 1984, archaeologist John Miksic and his team began an archaeological excavation that continues until today. Among the artefacts recovered were porcelain, earthenware and glass shards. These artefacts show that there could have been a palace of a Malay kingdom on Fort Canning Hill, with possibility of glass and gold workshops.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Fort Canning Park". Singapore Infopedia. Natinonal Library Board. 
  2. ^ Paul Wheatley (1961). The Golden Khersonese: Studies in the Historical Geography of the Malay Peninsula before A.D. 1500. Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya Press. pp. 83–84. OCLC 504030596. 
  3. ^ "島夷誌略: 班卒".  Full original text: 地勢連龍牙門後山,若纏若斷,起凹峯而盤結,故民環居焉。田瘠,穀少登。氣候不齊,夏則多雨而微寒。俗質,披短髮,緞錦纏頭,紅紬布繫身。煮海為鹽,釀米為酒,名明家西。有酋長。地產上等鶴頂、中等降眞、木綿花。貿易之貨,用絲布、鐵條、土印布、赤金、甆器、鐵鼎之屬。 (There are some slight variations in the text from different sources.)
  4. ^ Derek Heng Thiam Soon (2002). "Reconstructing Banzu, a Fourteenth-Century Port Settlement in Singapore". Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. 75, No. 1 (282): 69–90. 
  5. ^ John N. Miksic (15 November 2013). Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea, 1300–1800. NUS Press. pp. 155–163. ISBN 978-9971695743. 
  6. ^ C.M. Turnbull (30 October 2009). A History of Modern Singapore, 1819–2005. NUS Press. pp. 21–22. ISBN 978-9971694302. 
  7. ^ Paul Wheatley (1961). The Golden Khersonese: Studies in the Historical Geography of the Malay Peninsula before A.D. 1500. Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya Press. pp. 120–122. OCLC 504030596. 
  8. ^ John Miksic (15 November 2013). Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea, 1300–1800. NUS Press. p. 214. ISBN 978-9971695743. 
  9. ^ "The Archaeology". World of Temasek. Archived from the original on 15 February 2017. 
  10. ^ "Javanese-style gold jewellery discovered at Bukit Larangan (Fort Canning Hill)". Roots. National Heritage Board. 
  11. ^ John Miksic (15 November 2013). Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea, 1300–1800. NUS Press. p. 216. ISBN 978-9971695743. 
  12. ^ a b Singapore's 100 Historic Places. National Heritage Board. Archipelago Press. 2002. p. 28–29. ISBN 981-4068-23-3. 
  13. ^ "The remnants of the Christian Cemetery on Fort Canning Hill". Roots. National Heritage Board. 
  14. ^ "Fort Canning Bunker". Singapore Infopedia. Natinonal Library Board. 
  15. ^ "For Canning Park". National Parks. 
  16. ^ "Singapore Dance Theatre presents Ballet Under the Stars 2016" (PDF). SDT. 
  17. ^ "World of Music, Arts and Dance (WOMAD) Singapore". Singapore Infopedia. National Library Board. 
  18. ^ Lin Yanqin (2006-03-30). "Cutting through the hill to Orchard". TODAYonline. MediaCorp Press. Archived from the original on 2006-05-30. Retrieved 2006-11-25. 
  19. ^ "Your Guide to Colonial History Trail in Fort Canning Park" (PDF). National Parks. 
  20. ^ "Your Guide to Sculpture Trail in Fort Canning Park" (PDF). National Parks. 

External links[edit]