Inside the Sultan Abdul Samad Building


The stately, copper-domed Sultan Abdul Samad Building on Merdeka Square is one of Kuala Lumpur’s most famous landmarks. Although tourists flock to take photos from the outside, the interior has been off-limits for years as it serves as a government department.

This year however, the Ministry of Tourism’s Department of National Heritage has been staging an exhibition in one section of the building, allowing the public to take a sneak peek inside.

Inside the Sultan Abdul Samad Building
Part of the ‘Our Heritage is World Heritage’ exhibition.

The exhibition, called Our Heritage is World Heritage comprises displays featuring Malaysia’s four UNESCO World Heritage Sites, namely:

  • Archaeological Heritage of the Lenggong Valley
  • Gunung Mulu National Park
  • Kinabalu Park
  • Melaka and George Town, Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca

The exhibition runs daily from 9am to 5pm until 31 December 2015 and is free admission.

The exhibition was not very exciting and I was more interested to see what else they have inside this historic building. Security guards did not allow me to wander about but I was able to take a few pictures.

This interior corridor is in fine condition for an 118 year old building. The marble floor looks recent.
This interior corridor is in fine condition for a 118 year old building. The marble floor looks recent.
Main entrance lobby.
Main entrance lobby and atrium.
From this artist's impression it appears that more space is to be opened up to the public.
From this artist’s impression it appears that more space is to be opened up to the public.
This painting on one of the interior walls shows events in Malaysia's history.
This painting shows events in Malaysia’s history.

While in the vicinity, I also took a look inside the foyer of the neighbouring City Theatre which is housed in the former City Hall, a building designed by AB Hubback and completed in 1896.

Attractive foyer to the City Theatre, also at Merdeka Square in KL
Attractive foyer to the City Theatre, also at Merdeka Square in KL

It is good that the Malaysian and KL Governments are finding ways to breathe new life into these old heritage buildings.

Macau’s Historic Centre

Macau's Historic Centre

When the Portuguese packed their bags and departed Macau for good in 1999 they left behind a rich cultural heritage stretching back nearly 450 years. Rather than try to expunge all traces of Portuguese influence from Macau’s history, the new Macau Special Administrative Region government has instead accentuated its past and has preserved and restored nearly all of the historic buildings and spaces that make Macau unique. These efforts were recognised by UNESCO in 2005 when The Historic Centre of Macau was added to the list of World Heritage Sites.

Map Showing The Historic Centre of Macau

The Historic Centre of Macau comprises twelve core buildings (shown on the map) and a number of other buildings and spaces of historical and architectural importance. These can be covered on foot as part of a Macau Heritage Trail for an enjoyable day’s outing (excluding Guia Fortress which is a taxi ride away).

A-Ma Temple

1. A-Ma Temple (1488).

This temple, after which Macau is named, is the only building on the list which pre-dates the arrival of the Portuguese in 1556 when Macau was just a small fishing village. The temple’s numerous pavilions follow Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian and traditional Chinese folk beliefs.


2. Moorish Barracks (1874).

This building housed two hundred soldiers recruited from Goa (a Portuguese possession at the time) to help support Macau’s police force. The Quartel dos Mouros is now the head office of the Macao Port Authority.

Mandarin's House

3. Mandarin’s House (1869-1881)

This sprawling compound made up of several courtyard houses was the residence of prominent Chinese literary figure Zheng Guanying. It is located adjacent to Lilau Square, a Portuguese style piazza. They say that one who drinks from the natural spring in Lilau Square never forgets Macau (dysentery perhaps)?


4. St. Joseph’s Seminary Building and Church (1728)

From this seminary, Jesuit missionaries fanned out across China, Japan and around the region to spread Christianity, with varying results. The Church (1758) is a fine example of baroque architecture. Inside the Church lies one of Macau’s most valuable religious relics, a piece of bone from the arm of St. Francis Xavier who died on the southern Chinese island of Shanchuan in 1552.

There are a number of other historic churches in Macau which, though not appearing on this list, are well worth visiting.


5. Dom Pedro V Theatre (1860)

Built as the first Western-style theatre in China. It is still used for cultural events.

Leal Senado

6. Leal Senado Building (1784)

This was, and still is, Macau’s municipal chamber and it was from here that most of the important decisions concerning the city were made and they resented interference from their political masters in Portugal and Goa. Dubbed Leal Senado (Loyal Senate) in reference to Portuguese King João IV’s praise of Macau in 1654 that “there is None More Loyal”. The building retains original features including a courtyard garden where there are busts of Camilo Pessanha and Luís Vaz de Camões, Portugal’s national poet. There is also an ornate library on the first floor and a small chapel.


7. Holy House of Mercy (1569 – 18th century)

Santa Casa da Misericordia was established by the first Bishop of Macau, modelled after one of the oldest charitable institutions in Portugal and provided the first medical clinic and other social welfare structures that still function to this day.


8. Ruins of St. Paul’s (1637-40)

This granite facade is all that remains of the Church of Mater Dei which was destroyed by fire in 1835. This is now Macau’s most famous landmark and symbolically appears on the logo of the Macau Tourist Office. It is continually besieged by hordes of selfie-taking tourists.


9. Na Tcha Temple (1888) 

This tiny temple to the irreverent god Na Tcha was built adjacent to St. Paul’s Ruins after the Church of Mater Dei was destroyed by the fire of 1835. The fact that a traditional Chinese temple stands close to the remains of the main Jesuit institution of the region is held up as an example of Macao’s multicultural identity and religious tolerance.

The Historic Centre of Macau

 10. Section of the Old City Walls (1632)

The temple adjoins one of the last surviving sections of the Old City Walls. Fortification of Macau began in the early 1600’s to defend the city against the Dutch who were threatening to invade. The wall is made of a solid compound named chunambo, an elaborate mixture of clay, soil, sand, rice straw, crushed rocks and oyster shells compacted in successive layers.

Mount Fortress

11. Mount Fortress (1617-1626)

This square of strong fortress walls was built by the Jesuits and played a key role in repelling the tentative Dutch invasion of 1622. The ramparts were lined with cannons which were made in a foundry in Macau, producing the finest weapons of their kind in Asia. The fortress now contains the Macau Museum. 

Guia Fortress

12. Guia Fortress (1622-1638) (including the Chapel, pre 1622, and Lighthouse 1864)

Guia Lighthouse is believed to be the oldest lighthouse of the South-China seas. Guia Chapel was established by nuns, who resided at the site before establishing the Convent of St. Clara. In 1998 frescoes were uncovered inside Guia Chapel during routine conservation work. These frescoes depict both Western and Chinese themes and are an example of Macau’s unique multiculturalism.

Matchbox Cover in Macau Museum

Hard Rock Cafe and Melaka Town Planning

On my recent visit to Melaka I noticed that a newly built Hard Rock Cafe is nearing completion on First Cross Street facing the river and Dutch Square.


The architects have made a good effort to blend in the design with the surrounding heritage buildings and I imagine a seat by the window will give diners a good view overlooking the river and the historic heart of this UNESCO World Heritage City.


It is disappointing though that the lower floor of the building, at street level, is going to be a rather ugly car park, which is out of keeping with all the other buildings in the core heritage zone, none of which have car parks. Melaka really does not need to encourage more cars into the city centre which is already choked with traffic. The combination of narrow traffic-clogged streets and cars parked everywhere means that ambling along lanes like Heeren Street is not as pleasurable as it should be.

In my opinion , the whole of the core heritage area should be permanently closed to traffic except emergency services vehicles, bicycles, trishaws, hand-carts or horse-drawn carriages. The streets should be resurfaced with fancy paving and provided with seating  and landscaped planting. This would greatly enhance the tourists’ experience.

To compensate the residents and business owners in the zone for the loss of their on-street parking places, a multi-storey car park could be built outside the perimeter of the heritage area with spaces reserved for the residents.

Other Suggestions:

  • Make more use of the river. The Melaka River Cruise boats seem to be doing good business but it is only a round trip tour and not suitable as a means of getting from A to B. They should introduce low cost river taxis, similar to Dubai’s abras, with multiple stops along the river where people can hop on and off.
  • The old buildings in the core zone and the buffer zone are protected from demolition but a lot of them appear to be empty or under-utilized. Imaginative ideas for attracting tenants into these buildings and breathing life into the city need to be conceived.  They cannot all be converted into hotels and restaurants.


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