There are some interesting legends surrounding the foundation and naming of Malacca. According to the 16th century Malay Annals, the city was founded by Parameswara, a fourteenth century fugitive prince from nearby Sumatra. The legend goes that Parameswara was out on a hunt in the region and had stopped to refresh himself near what is now the Malacca River. Standing near a melaka (Indian gooseberry) tree he was surprised to witness one of his hunting dogs so startled by a mouse deer that it fell into the river. Parameswara took this as a propitious sign of the weak overcoming the powerful and decided to build the capital of his new kingdom where he stood, naming it for the tree under which he had been resting.
Although its origin is as much romance as history, the fact is that Parameswara's new city was situated at a point of enormous strategic importance. Midway along the straits that linked China to India and the Near East, Malacca was perfectly positioned as a centre for maritime trade. The city grew rapidly, and soon became a wealthy and influential hub of international commerce, the seat of the one of the most powerful sultanates in Southeast Asia.
It was during this period of Malacca's history that Islam was introduced to the Malay world, arriving along with Gujarati traders from western India. By the first decade of the 16th century Malacca was a bustling, cosmopolitan port, attracting hundreds of ships each year. The city was known worldwide as a centre for the trade of silk and porcelain from China, textiles from Gujarat and Coromandel in India, nutmeg, mace, and cloves from the Moluccas, gold and pepper from Sumatra, camphor from Borneo, sandalwood from Timor, and tin from western Malaya.
Malacca's strategic importance soon drew the attention of the European powers and in 1511 it was invaded by the Portuguese under the leadership of Alfonso d'Albequerque, the Portuguese Viceroy of India. This initiated a 450-year colonial presence in Malacca that included the Dutch followed by the British. Portuguese control of the city continued for the next one hundred and fifty years, ensured by the massive fortification of A Famosa, only a small portion of which remains today.
When the Dutch conquered the city in 1641, they employed it largely as a military base, using its strategic location to control the Straits of Malacca. Many of the Dutch buildings still stand, including the oldest Dutch structure in Asia, the town hall or Stadthuys, which housed the Dutch East India Company.
The British took over control of the city at the turn of the 19th century, and Malacca was incorporated into the Straits Settlements. Independence for Malacca and the rest of the nation was finally proclaimed on August 31, 1957.
Many believe Malacca provided the impetus for the development of what would eventually become Malaysia. The city's rich history is the soul of Malacca, and its roots are reflected in the buildings and the streets you walk. Chinese, Thai, Arab, Portuguese, Dutch and British have all left their imprint, making it Malaysia's most historically interesting city. You can sense a more elegant age as you gaze about you, the essence of which is exquisitely captured in The Majestic Malacca.