Malacca: the Key to the East

George Woodcock describes how Malacca was once a city so rich that “its merchants valued garlic more highly than gold,” and how it has slowly dwindled in wealth and importance since the middle of the seventeenth century.

Malaysia is a land where history has left few monuments. Unlike the neighbouring countries of Siam and Cambodia and Burma, it shelters no great extinct cities within its jungles. Even its ancient Buddhist kingdoms, Langkasuka and Sri Vijaya, provide a scanty harvest, on Malayan soil at least, for the archaeologist; and, by the time the peninsula comes clearly into historical focus during the middle ages, it is a region of petty local rulers whose capitals on the coasts or rivers are little more than villages built of wood and palm-leaf.

With a single exception, Malaya’s modern cities are creations of the British domination—Penang dating from the end of the eighteenth century, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur from the nineteenth century. Only in Malacca, with its Portuguese ruins, its surviving Dutch buildings, and the ornate temples and patrician houses of its old Chinese quarter, does one feel the impact of a long and historic past.

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