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8 Iconic buildings around Malaysia: Then and Now


In the spirit of Malaysia Day, let’s take a look at the rare black and white images of the nation’s most historical structures – all of which are still standing today!

Malaysia has a rich, hotbed of diverse architectural influence over the course of its history. The many colonies and foreign influence that had resided in Malaysia in the past, strongly influenced the architectural style of Malaysian buildings.

From Dutch to Anglo, to local Malayan – the amalgamation of these distinctive influences into a single pot has helped many of the buildings here in Malaysia achieve a kind of iconic status because of the interesting way they look and the rich history behind them.

But how did these now-iconic structures look like years ago? If you could hop into a time machine to view them, what would you see and how different will they look, as compared to the present-day structures?

Thankfully you don’t need to pull a Michael J Fox to step back in time (Back to the future, anyone?), because we’ve compiled some old photographs of these buildings and contrasted them between then and now. Enjoy!

1. Penang Free School (Penang)

(Left) Image: © Arkib Negara. (Right) Source:

Not only is Penang Free School considered as one of the more iconic schools in Malaysia, but it is also one of the oldest in Southeast Asia. Currently located at Green Lane in George Town, the school was first founded way back in 1816 at Love Lane. The school then outgrew its original building and eventually settled at its current site in 1928.

Remarkably, the school is still running even until today, more than 200 years after its inception. Older students of the school have a vibrant alumnus all over the country.

Interesting fact: The original school building on Love Lane, at Farquhar Street, currently houses the Penang State Museum and Art Gallery.

2. Christ Church (Malacca)

(Left) Image: © Arkib Negara. (Right) Image: © ojogabonitoo | 123rf

No, this is not a place in New Zealand. Christ Church in Malacca is an 18th-century Anglican church and is one of the oldest functioning protestant church in Malaysia. Its red walls, together with the post office and the clock tower, has become synonymous with Malacca town’s skyline (yes, those red buildings).

Located just next to the famous Stadthuys building, Christ Church was built in 1753. This structure remains one of the most prominent hallmarks of Dutch architectural influence here in Malaysia.

Interesting fact: The building was originally painted white. It was only given its distinctive red coat in 1911.

CHECK OUT: Merdeka Special: The untold stories of 5 historical Malaysian structures

3. Taiping/Port Weld Railway Station (Perak)

(Left) The Taiping Railway Station is the first railway station ever built in Malaysia. Image: © Arkib Negara.

The Taiping Railway Station is the first railway station ever built in Malaysia. It was opened in 1885 to service the Taiping-Port Weld Railway Line. While the original station, where the King Edward VII Primary School now stands, no longer exists; a second station was built in the Jalan Stesen site between 1890s to early 1900s, and this is where the old station building is still standing and is being preserved.

This is not Taiping’s current railway station though. A third one was built (and completed in February 2014) just next to its predecessor, as part of the Ipoh-Padang Besar Electrification and Double-Tracking Project.

Interesting fact: In 1894, during its operation, an elephant is said to have gallantly refused to move off the railway tracks in defence of its herd, against what it believed was an intruder into its territory. The driver could not stop the train in time and unfortunately, the elephant was killed. In tribute to this historic event, the elephant’s skull and ivory were kept in the Taiping Museum and was later moved to the National Museum to make it easier for the public to view.

4. Masjid Jamek

(Left) Image: © Arkib Negara. (Right) Image: © bloodua | 123rf

Frequent users of the LRT would no doubt be familiar with the ‘Masjid Jamek’ stop in KL city centre. That is because mere steps away, sits the iconic Jamek Mosque (recently renamed to the Sultan Abdul Samad Jamek Mosque).

The mosque is more than a century old and was both designed and built by Arthur Benison Hubback in 1909. It is the first large mosque to be built in Kuala Lumpur. Hubback designed the mosque in the Indian Muslim Mughal architectural style.

Interesting fact: The mosque served as Kuala Lumpur’s main mosque until Masjid Negara was built in 1965.

5. Istana Besar Johor (Johor)

(Left) Image: © Arkib Negara. (Right) Source: Aussie_traveller63

The ‘Istana Besar’ or Grand Palace of Johor is currently the Royal Palace of the Sultan of Johor. Located in Johor Bahru, the palace was built by Sultan Abu Bakar back in 1866. The most distinctive characteristic of the palace’s architecture is the strong Anglo-Malay influence – most notable in the marrying of the dome feature which is Malay-inspired and the blue roofs which are clearly Anglo-influenced.

Interesting fact: The palace currently also hosts the Royal Abu Bakar Museum. It was renovated in 1982 and opened in 1990. The museum is filled with information and rare artefacts of the Johor Royal Family, with an interesting section on traditional Malaysian weaponry.

6. Perak Museum (Perak)

(Left) Image: © Arkib Negara. (Right) Image: © nizamkem | 123rf

The Perak Museum is the first and oldest museum here in Malaysia. Located in Taiping, it was founded in 1883 by Hugh Low, the fourth British Resident of Perak. The main building was only completed in 1886, with the museum being housed initially in a renovated government office. The museum has a distinctive Neo-classical design and is located right across the road from the Taiping Prison, which also happens to be the oldest prison in Malaysia!

Interesting fact: Be careful not to confuse this museum with the Perak Museum in Ipoh, which was built in 1926 by a successful tin miner. That said, these days, the Ipoh Museum is known as the Darul Ridzuan Museum.

7. The Eastern & Oriental Hotel (Penang)

(Left) Image: © Arkib Negara. (Right) Image: Source by Jos Bisschop

Established in 1885 by the Sarkies Brothers, The Eastern & Oriental Hotel remains even until today, not only a shining testament of architectural beauty, but is also still the top luxury hotel in Penang.

Although most of the original building has either been gutted or rebuilt over the years, the current iteration remains faithful to the heritage and colonial architectural style of the original building. The hotel was closed in 1996 but was renovated and reopened to the public in 2001.

Interesting fact: The hotel is a merge of two hotels and yes, you guessed it, Eastern Hotel and Oriental Hotel. Eastern Hotel was first founded in 1884 but its popularity grew quickly and so, within a year, a second hotel, Oriental Hotel was founded, leading to a merger between both hotels into what it is today.

MORE: 7 properties in Penang you can afford with RM 2, 500 monthly instalment

8. Kampung Laut Mosque (Kelantan)

(Left)Laying of foundation stone by the Prime Minister, Tun Abdul Razak Bin Hussein. Image: © Arkib Negara. (Right) Image: © nizamkem | 123rf

The Kampung Laut Mosque in Kelantan is the oldest surviving mosque in this country, dating back to the 18th-century. Located in Jalan Krai Nilam Puri in Kota Bharu, the mosque was originally built by fishers on the Pattani, Jawa and Brunei routes. The building boasts a strong local, traditional architecture style and still retains that look and feel until today.

Interesting fact: Around 1859 till the early 1900s, the mosque became an important meeting point for Sultans and religious leaders. The mosque has also withstood two major floods during its time, in 1926 and 1966.

And there you have it, folks. Hope you enjoyed the walk down memory lane and wishing all of you a very happy Malaysia Day.#SayangiMalaysiaku!

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