History (1)

Since the second century, the area that is now Singapore, experienced a great deal of commercial activity with Malays, Chinese and Indians sailing through the Straits of Malacca.

An ancient legend tells us how in the thirteenth century Prince Sri Tri Buana, also known as Sang Nila Utama, thought he saw a strange lion-shaped creature from his boat, so he founded here a settlement called Singapura, which means lion city in the Indian language Sanskrit.

Recent archaeological excavations, especially in Fort Canning Park, have shown that the island had a great deal of commercial activity , visited by Chinese, Javanese and even the Mughal Empire during the fourteenth century.

Towards the end of that century, the prince Parameswara fled to this island after being overthrown by the Javanese Majapahit Empire.  He ruled the island for several years until he was expelled to Malacca, where he founded the Malacca Sultanate in the early fifteenth century.

Thanks to both the Malaccan and the Johor Sultanates, Singapore became an important commercial port, which unfortunately was burned down by Portuguese pirates in 1613 and virtually disappeared. It was then that Europeans began to inhabit the Malay Peninsula. In the sixteenth century, it was the Portuguese. In the seventeenth century it was the Dutch, who took over the trade monopoly of the archipelago, controlling all the ports and imposing very steep tariffs.

In the nineteenth century, the arrival of a very interesting British figure changed history. Thomas Stamford Raffles began to exploit the trade route between China and British India and, to challenge the Dutch, he persuaded the governor general of the British East India Company itself to finance the construction of a new port in the Strait of Malacca.

Raffles landed in Singapore on 29 January 1819, and found a small Malay village led by Temenggong Abdu'r Rahman. At that time, the island happened to be going through a politically difficult period, a very favourable situation for the British.  The ruler here was Tengku Rahman, Sultan of Johore, but he was losing power in the area, as Temenggong Abdu'r Rahman and his officers were loyal to the exiled Tengku Hussein, their leaders’ elder brother. Therefore, it was relatively easy for Raffles to convince Tengku Hussein to return to the island to be recognized as the real Sultan of Johore, in exchange for an annuity, the transfer of some land and permission to build a commercial port.

Thus, on 6 February, 1819 a treaty was signed that marked the birth of modern Singapore.

Raffles wanted a free port. The news spread quickly and soon Arab and Chinese merchants flocked here to avoid Dutch port taxes. To give you an idea, in 2 years the population increased from a few hundred inhabitants to over 5,000. And in 4 years it increased to over 25,000 inhabitants. But Raffles did not want a disorganized city. Therefore in 1822 he started drafting a policy to govern the city. The policy called for no gambling and no opium dealers.  The famous Raffles Plan even divided the city into different ethnic neighbourhoods. 

On 7 June 1823, Raffles signed a treaty with the Sultan and Temenggong giving the ownership of the island to the British Empire in return for some administrative rights and a monthly annuity.  This allowed the island to be governed by the British but to hold on to its roots.

Singapore soon became an important commercial port, helped by the 1824 Anglo-Dutch Treaty which divided up the Malay archipelago. The northern region of the Malacca Strait would be under British rule and what is now Indonesia under Dutch domain. In 1826, Singapore, Penang and Malacca were joined to form the Straits Settlements.

The fact that it was a free port, the arrival of the steamboat, the opening of the Chinese market, the rubber production and even the opening of the Suez Canal helped Singapore become one of Southeast Asia’s major ports.  Already in 1880 over 1.5 million tons of goods a year passed through this port.

In the twentieth century, war began in the Pacific following the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. A day later, the Japanese set out to conquer Southeast Asia and landed in the north of what is now Malaysia. Two days later the British battleship Prince of Wales and the battle cruiser Repulse, sent to defend Singapore, sank as the aircraft carrier Indomitable was unable to give air support due to a breakdown. Without a doubt, it was the worst British naval defeat of the entire Second World War. After this, Singapore and the Malay peninsula endured constant air attacks, even in civilian areas.

The Japanese called Singapore Syonan, which means light of the south island. The occupation lasted until 1945, when on 12 September the Japanese General Seishiro Itagaki surrendered to Lord Mountbatten thus ending the Second World War in Singapore.

The disastrous British defense of Singapore made them lose all their leadership credibility and in the post war years there was a surge in anti-imperialist and nationalist sentiment. This period is known for the slogan Merdeka which in Malay means independence.

Gradually, Singapore started to achieve higher levels of self-government until July 9, 1963, it was annexed to the Malaysia Federation to form Malaysia, even though this union lasted only a short period.  2 years and 1 month to be exact. On 9 August 1965, Singapore became an independent republic.

Today, Singapore is a city-state that is envied by all. Its 630 square miles include a unique blend of cultures.  You can ride the world's largest Ferris wheel, admire Norman Foster skyscrapers, enjoy internationally renowned shows, visit a World War II bunker, shop till you drop, enjoy multi-ethnic food and night time Forumal 1 racing, as well as learning more about  Singapore’s newly opened first zero emission building.

Although surely Singapore’s most surprising aspect is its people, a mix of Malay, Chinese, Indians, Arabs and Europeans all living in perfect harmony. On the streets mosques mingle with Hindu temples, churches and Buddhist temples sit side by side, electronics stores coexist with soothsayers and international fashion houses with traditional tailors.  You will also see the chicest restaurants next to typical Arab bars with men smoking sheesha water pipes. It has  also had a very  rapid growth rate, with the highest GDP in all of Asia, very clean streets and a very low crime rate. 

Maybe that's why over 7 million tourists visit each year. And surely, when you leave Singapore, you will already be planning when to return.

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