Thursday, July 24, 2008

Seeing Singapore

Bugis is one of my favourite parts of Singapore. It has everything, good coffee at Sleepy Sams, great food at Alaturk, cheap Malay material and decor knick knacks and some beautiful art and traditional homeware at Melor's Curios. Bugis is also home to Singapores Sultan's Mosque and Istana Kampong Glam which houses the Malay Heritage Centre places I had been meaning to visit since we moved to Singapore.

The area around Kampong Glam has some wonderful street names.
There is Bali Lane, Muscat street, Baghdad street, Sultan Gate and Haji lane. I love the ironic juxtaposition of these signs.

The terracotta paving on Bassorah street leads to one of Singapores most important mosques, Sultans Mosque, named after Sultan Hussain. This masjid (arabic for mosque which is an english word) was erected in 1924 using donations from the Muslim community as a replacement for the original masjid which was built in 1826. It can hold 5000 faithful during prayers, men on the ground floor and women on the shrouded mezzanine. Architecturally it is a mixture of classical Persian, Moorish and Turkish design in a design called Saracenic style. At the base of its huge golden dome are hundreds of glass bottles stacked four or five rows deep.
M and I borrowed long buttoned gowns and took a stroll around the perimeter of the huge red prayer carpet.

The green tiles are etched with quranic verse 'enjoin in prayer will be rewarded' and the minbar or pulpit is said to be the finest in Singapore. The carpet itself was donated by a Saudi Arabian prince and bears his emblem. There are a number of clocks in the masjid so proper prayer times can be observed, you can just see one above Ms head.

Next we went to Istana Kampong Glam or Istana Kampong Gelam, or Gelam Palace(named after the Gelam tree in its compound), the former Malay palace. The original house, which was a more traditional wooden design (they think) was built by the same Sultan Hussain in 1819 and had a much bigger compound than it does now. The Sultan's son commissioned the palace, as it stands now, in 1836 and it was completed in 1843. In 1896 there was a succession dispute after Sultan Ali's (Hussain's son)death and the compound was handed to the crown and later to the state of Singapore after its independence.

After paying 4 SD each we wandered around the two storied museum which although small has artifacts including some very old qurans, interactive computer displays and a very cool reconstruction of a traditional wooden house the areas people would have lived in and a living room in an HDB (Housing Development Board) flat as most people in Singapore live today. The difference was quite striking but all things considered in this climate I think I would rather live in a wooden house on stilts (with a vege garden, a few chickens and possibly a pig or a cow) than a hot, charmless concrete bunker.
We weren't allowed to take any pictures inside the museum but in the stairwell I couldn't resist the wonderful huge windows.
Both these places are worth while shoudl you find yhourself in Bugis as is stopping for a snack at one of the many eatries on Bassorah or Kandahar street.

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