Walk in the footsteps of Singapore’s history with this list. By Sharifah Nursyafiqah
We’re all familiar with the well-known attractions like the Istana, Saint Andrew’s Cathedral, Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, and the former Supreme Court. However, Singapore’s rich history begets way more national monuments than most of us might know exist.
National monuments in Singapore are gazetted as such because they are of great symbolical, cultural, and archaeological significance. Many national monuments are located in central areas of Singapore, and are the go-to places for tourists looking to delve into our nation’s history.
Here’s a list of some historical monuments that are so off the beaten track – even Singaporeans might not have heard of them!
1. Hong San See temple
29 Mohamed Sultan Road, Singapore 238973
Hong San See temple was constructed between 1908 and 1913, and was erected by migrants from Nan An county in Fujian province. It was built on a hill for good feng shui, and once overlooked the sea. The construction of the building also incorporated traditional Chinese elements, such as an exposed structure, and a roof traditionally constructed without nails (the weight of the roof is supported on the columns of the temple). The name of the place means ‘Temple on Phoenix Hill.’
Fun fact: The chief director of the temple’s Board, Lim Loh, who designed and supervised the temple’s construction, was the father of World War II hero Lim Bo Seng.
2. House of Tan Yeok Nee
101 Penang Road, Singapore 238466
Built in 1882, this unassuming building is located right in the thriving urban landscape of the Orchard Road precinct. It belonged to Chaozhou-born businessman Tan Yeok Nee, and is the last remaining building of the ‘Four Grand Mansions’ built by rich Teochew tycoons in the late 19th century in Singapore. The other three mansions were the House of Wee Ah Hood on Hill Street, the House of Tan Seng Poh on Loke Yew Road, and the House of Seah Cheo Seah on North Boat Quay – all of which have made way for redevelopment.
Fun fact: It is speculated that the House of Tan Yeok Nee’s incredible feng shui allowed it to be preserved – designed in the style of a southern Chinese courtyard, the house had its back against Oxley Hill and a stream (now known as Stamford Canal) flowed in front of it, across the low-lying grounds of Dhoby Ghaut.
3. Former Ford Factory
351 Bukit Timah Road, Singapore 588192
This building was constructed by Ford Motor Works in 1941, and was Ford’s first motor car assembly plant in Southeast Asia. Unfortunately it couldn’t fulfill its purpose right away, for it was used as a Japanese butai (facility) when the Japanese Occupation hit, and Japanese multinational company Nissan took over the plant to assemble military trucks and other vehicles for the Japanese occupying forces. Today, it has been converted into a World War II exhibition gallery and archive named Memories at Old Ford Factory.
Fun fact: This place is also the historic site of the British surrender to the Japanese on 15 February 1942, or what we now know as Total Defence Day.
4. Saint George’s Church
44 Minden Road, Singapore 248816
Formerly a nutmeg plantation, this Anglican church was first built for British Troops in the Tanglin Barracks (then the General Headquarters of the British Far East Land Forces), back in 1910. During the Japanese Occupation, the Japanese forces used it as a site for ammunition dump. Today, Saint George’s Church is still in use as a place of worship for Christians in Singapore.
Fun fact: It was alleged that Garrison Chaplain Reverend H. C. Todd removed the stained-glass pieces from the three windows behind the altar before the Japanese invaded, and packed them away for safekeeping. Unfortunately, he did not survive the war, and with him died the secret of the stained-glass panels’ location, as they were never seen again. However, because of the uncertainty over the fate of the windows, the War Damages Commission turned down the church’s claim for reimbursement after the war.
5. Command House
17 Kheam Hock Road, Singapore 298791
Constructed circa 1937, this impressive mansion was formerly known as the Flagstaff House, and meant to be the residence of Malaya’s most senior military commander. This building was constructed in a butterfly pattern, with wings of the house branching symmetrically outwards on both sides. Some notable residents of this house include Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, and in later years, Dr Yeoh Khim Seng (Speaker of Parliament from 1979 to 1989), as well as former President Ong Teng Cheong. However, it is no longer a residence for dignitaries today. Since 2007, the compound has been the site of UBS Business University.
Fun fact: Keen to visit this place? This compound is open to public once a year, during the annual Singapore Heritage Fest.
6. Maghain Aboth Synagogue
24/26 Waterloo Street, Singapore 187968
Built in 1873, this synagogue is the oldest one in Southeast Asia. It is located in the former Jewish neighbourhood, as Jewish merchants and their families used to settle in the commercial areas of Dhoby Ghaut and Bras Basah. The building has retained its Neoclassical and colonial style architecture, with traditional columns and rustic walls deliberately kept bare of any decoration or images. It is still used as a place of worship for the Jewish community today.
Fun fact: The name Maghain Aboth means ‘Shield of Our Fathers’ in Hebrew.
7. Former Nagore Dargah
140 Telok Ayer Street, Singapore 068604
Many of us might be familiar with Thian Hock Keng temple on Telok Ayer St, the oldest Hokkien temple in Singapore, and a national monument itself. However, few would know of Former Nagore Dargah, located just down the street from Thian Hock Keng temple. Nagore Dargah was built by the Chulia community in 1828, commemorating the Sufi holy man Shahul Hamid. Shahul Hamid helped spread Islam to India, and was venerated by Chulia pioneers for granting them safe passage to Singapore. The building is now under the purview of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura, MUIS). In 2011, it was turned into the Nagore Dargah Indian Muslim Heritage Centre, which documents the history of Indian Muslims and their contributions to Singapore.
Fun fact: This memorial site is a replica of a shrine in Tamil Nadu, India, that houses the remains of Shahul Hameed.