National Museum of Singapore

National Museum of Singapore (35)

This beautiful colonial building houses the National Museum of Singapore, the oldest in the city. Inside you will find all of the secrets of the history and culture of Singapore, as well as the so-called 11National Treasures.

The first museum, the origin of the one you see today, was created in 1849 as the Raffles Library and Museum, with items of great historical value from Singapore and Asia. At that time, the museum occupied only a part of the library of the Singapore Institution, later renamed Raffles Institution. In 1874 the museum moved to City Hall, now the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, but as the collection grew, it soon returned here before moving to a new building on Stamford Road in 1882. 

Finally, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the reign of Queen Victoria, on 12 October,1887, the governor of the British Straits colonies, Sir Frederick Weld, opened the Raffles Library and Museum, with an extensive natural history , ethnology and archeology collection from Southeast Asia. The building was designed by Sir Henry McCallum, but after his first proposal was rejected by the authorities, Mayor McNair also collaborated on the project.

In the twentieth century, the number of objects and books vastly increased, so several reform and expansion projects were needed. Thus, the space was adapted and renovated in 1906, 1916, 1926 and again in 1934. Thanks to the reputation of the Raffles collection and its research, the building was fortunate enough to remain intact even during the difficult years of World War II.

In 1960 the museum finally left the library and five years later, after Singapore's independence, it was renamed the National Museum, to reflect its important role in building the new nation.

In 1985 the museum was restored yet again and it was declared a national monument on 14 February 1992. The following year, it was renamed the Singapore History Museum before being closed again for extension and renovation work the same year. This remodelling lasted three and a half years and cost more than 130 million Singapore dollars but it ended up doubling the size of the museum.

Finally, in 2004 it was again renamed the National Museum and in December 2006 it reopened its doors. A few days later, one of its most important wings was opened, and this was called the Singapore History Gallery.

Today, the museum combines the best of Sir McCallum’s neo-classical colonial architecture of with a new glass and metal extension, giving it a total of 18,400 square meters. Today it is the largest museum in all of Singapore.

The new design is the work of W Architects of Singapore and the new glass rotunda was inspired by the Chinese American Ieoh Ming Pei, a genius of modern architecture, known by his initials IM Pei. The idea for using glass came from a desire to maintain the old building’s visual dominance.

The truth is that the result is amazing. Notice the Glass Passage that links the old building to the new extension. It is an 11 meter high glass corridor and it is one of the largest outdoor glass structures in the world, allowing visitors to admire the old building as if they were in an art gallery. Although it may seem like a simple structure, it took engineers from four different countries and a whole year to build. An interesting fact:  some of the glass is optical glass so as to improve the transparency.

Also, admire the building’s two rotundas. The older one, for its 50 new windows, and the new one because it is the real jewel of this extension. It is designed as an interpretation of the old rotunda, but it is made of glass. It is 16 meters high and 24 in diameter. During the day cylindrical images are projected onto it so as to completely surround the visitor. At night, however, it becomes a giant lantern visible from the outside.

But obviously, the most important thing is the museum inside.

Here you will learn about Singapore’s history and culture. In addition to a very comprehensive History Gallery, we recommend visiting its various Living Galleries.  For example, in the Fashion Gallery you will begin to understand the Singaporeans’ passion for clothes and shopping.  In the Food Gallery you will learn about the cuisine and the local hybrid dishes, a product of the area’s cultural mix. In the Film & Wayang Gallery you will see Singapore’s first films, as well as demonstrations of Wayang, or Chinese opera.

Be sure not to miss the so-called 11 National Treasures. Here we will only tell you that these treasures include daguerreotypes of the city, William Farquhar’s illustrations of local flora and fauna, the Malay writer Munshi Abdullah’s last will and testament, gold ornaments from Eastern Java and a stone that puzzles historians to this day. This so-called Singapore Stone is a true enigma. It’s a fragment of a sandstone slab discovered in 1819 at the mouth of the river. According to most experts, it dates back to the thirteenth century, while others believe it goes back as far as the tenth century. On this stone you will see a 50 line inscription that nobody has ever been able to decipher.

To complete your visit and for a little rest, you can eat in one of its two restaurants, or at least have a cool drink in its Novus Café.

Undoubtedly, the Singapore National Museum contains a huge historical, ethnological and archaeological collection.  Moreover, it is framed by a unique architecture that perfectly combines classicism and modernity. In the words of the administrators themselves, it is the oldest museum, but with a young and innovative spirit.

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