Larry Lam's Guide Note


Dataran Merdeka is a prominent landmark in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. It commemorates the historic event that occurred here, when at the stroke of midnight on 31 August 1957, the Union Jack was lowered for the last time and Malaya became an independent nation. Originally called the 'Parade Ground', it was later known as the 'Selangor Padang'. The Square was the focal point of colonial Kuala Lumpur. Most of the buildings which surround it date from the turn of the century.

The square consist of field planted with ornamental grass surrounded by vestiges of British presence in the country. Situated on one side of the square is Selangor Club, which once served as the social centre for British residents. Although its membership today reflects Malaysia's multiracial mix, the building itself is plucked from the merry old England of the Tudors. Close by is St Mary's Cathedral, a neo-Gothic church more than a hundred years old.

Around the 1860s, the little town of Kuala Lumpur was beginning to take shape on the low lying ground at the confluence of the Klang and Gombak rivers. Chinese farmers cleared the undergrowth on the west bank at the confluence and used this piece of (not very flat) land for vegetable cultivation.

In the late 1870s, when the state capital was moved from Klang to Kuala Lumpur this area was made the focal point of the British adminstration. The establishment of the Police Headquarters on Bluff Road (now Bukit Aman) saw the surrounding swamp drained and the land levelled for a Police parade ground.

Much of the field's later history is associated with the refurbished Selangor Club. Since 1884, the central portion of the parade ground was used for cricket. E W Birch, himself an accomplished cricketeer and captiain of the club team raised and turfed the field in 1892. A century of bowlers and batsmen have played on the field aside from other regular game of hockey, tennis and rugby. When floods hit Kuala Lumpur in 1970, much of the buildings around the area were under flood waters. After the flood subsided, the Chartered Bank dried their dollar bills on the field.

Today it is a beautiful preserve in the city centre with gardens, terraces and fountains. Beneath the Square is a food, leisure and entertainment complex called Plaza Putra, and a carpark, with 625 parking bays. Merdeka Square is still used as the venue of many important national events.

A 100m (328 ft) high flagpole, reputedly the tallest in the world, soars above the Square. At each end are the fountains, new and old. The old ornamental fountain and drinking trough was ordered from England by the Sanitary Board. The fountain was to be erected in Market Square. However, the police objected on grounds that it would obstruct the flow of traffic and suggested the site at the corner of the Parade Ground. The fountain was brought in from England and assembled locally in 1897.

Dataran Merdeka is surrounding by buildings with an interesting history that gives Kuala Lumpur its exceptional flavour. Other interesting landmarks include:-

Dataran - Malay word for 'landmark/square'.
- Malay word for 'independence'.
- Malay word for 'field'.

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Last updated: 21st June, 2009.
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