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The Singapore River Heritage Trail

By: markhsx on 08 Feb 2012
Boat Quay, Clarke Quay and Robertson Quay, Singapore

The Singapore River Heritage Trail takes you on a journey along a small river with great historical significance: the Singapore River.

This guided introduction will highlight monuments and sites of historical importance along the banks of the river, an important waterway spanning 6km. Storyboards and markers along the river complement this enriching journey of discovery, which covers the three quays of the Singapore River: Boat Quay, Clarke Quay, and Robertson Quay.

The Singapore River has been cast in the main role throughout Singapore's history. In the 14th century, the river was the area of settlement of an important trading post that served ships from India, China, and Southeast Asia before going into decline after that century.

The arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819 revived the island's fortunes. He established in Singapore the first free port in the region and, in time, the island turned into a key port of call for ships from all around the world, bringing cargo that would be unloaded on the shores the Singapore River.

Over time, however, the river grew polluted, a result of heavy marine traffic and burgeoning urbanisation. It took 10 years, some time after Singapore's independence, to clean up the mess, making possible the exciting waterfront activities that exist along the river today.

The Singapore River has been a lifeline for Singaporeans since ancient times, through the colonial era and the early days of the nation's independence. Today, the river is a prime spot for residents and tourists alike to appreciate a blossoming arts scene, enjoy the bustling nightlife, or simply take a breather.

Nearest MRT Stations: City Hall [NS25/EW13], Raffles Place [NS26/EW14], Clarke Quay [NE5]

View The Singapore River Heritage Trail in a larger map

As shown in the map above, the various sites of interest in this area have been arranged into a walking route from Raffles' Landing Site to Ord Bridge, which would take around two and a half hours to complete. Each site of interest is listed below with a brief description of the site's history and significance.

Around Boat Quay

B1 Raffles' Landing Site
At this spot stands the statue of Sir Stamford Raffles, considered to be the founder of modern Singapore. He is believed to have first set foot here in 1819. This polymarble statue was cast from the original 1887 bronze figure, which now stands outside the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall. A man of many passions, Raffles made his mark in disciplines ranging from botany to zoology, archaeology and history.

B2 Cavenagh Bridge
The oldest bridge over the Singapore River that exists in its original form, Cavenagh Bridge was built in 1869 to link the Civic District on the north bank to the Commercial District on the south bank. The bridge remains today in its original form. Before its construction, access between the two districts was possible only by taking a detour over Elgin Bridge or by paying one cent for a boat ride across the river.

B3 The Fullerton Singapore
Completed in 1928, the Fullerton Building was the largest structure in Singapore at the time, costing over $4 million to construct. With its 400-ft frontage along the waterfront, 120-ft walls and monumental columns and a lighthouse on its rooftop, it was once a symbol of British power in Singapore. Having housed the General Post Office, The Exchange, Singapore Town Club and other government agencies, the building was painstakingly restored and converted into a luxury hotel in 2001.

B4 Merlion Park
An imaginary creature with the head of a lion and the body of a fish, the Merlion is the national mascot of Singapore. The fish body harkens back to the island's ancient roots as a fishing village known as Temasek, which means 'Sea Town' in Javanese. The lion head represents Singapore's original name — Singapura, which means 'Lion City'. Crafted by Singaporean sculptor Lim Nang Seng, the Merlion stands at 8.6m, weighs 70 tonnes, and was unveiled on 15 September 1972.

B5 The Fullerton Waterboat House
This is believed to be the site of the Master Attendant’s Office in the late 19th Century. The Master Attendant supervised all harbour activities, including the registration of vessels and their cargoes, collection of anchorage and port-clearance fees, and providing fresh water and firewood. The Office also served as the post office for the early Singapore. The Port of Singapore Authority took over the building in 1960 and continued to provide fresh water to incoming ships until 1990. 

B6 Raffles' Town Plan
Disappointed by the haphazard growth of the settlement upon his return to Singapore in 1822, Raffles drew up a town plan that allocated land according to functional and ethnic divisions. The north bank was reserved for government use, while the south bank was put to financial and commercial use. The legacy of Raffles' town plan remains today. The north bank is still the Civic District, while on the south bank, Raffles Place remains the heart of the Central Business District. The various ethnic enclaves earmarked in the plan, such as Chinatown and Little India, are still regarded today as cultural centres of their respective ethnic groups.

B7 Boat Quay
Once a hub of commerce and trade, and the busiest part of the old port of Singapore, Boat Quay is now a choice destination for al-fresco dining and merry-making, with restaurants and pubs lining the promenade. Most of the 19th century shophouses found in Boat Quay were initially two-storey buildings with simple facades. They were home to businesses on the ground floor, while the upper floors were residential quarters, mainly for the merchants and labourers (known as coolies).

B8 Elgin Bridge
A footbridge is believed to have existed here as early as 1819, and many bridges have been built on this spot since then. The current Elgin Bridge features elegant cast-iron lamps and medallions on the Singapore Lion, which were designed by the famous Italian sculptor Cavalari Rudolfo Nolli, whose signature is inscribed on the Singapore Municipality plaque found beneath the lamps.

Around Clarke Quay and Robertson Quay

C9 Coleman Bridge
Coleman Bridge was the second bridge in the Singapore River after Elgin Bridge, and has similarly been replaced many times since its original construction in 1840. An iron bridge stood here for about a century, and was considered one of the most attractive bridges spanning the Singapore River. Several features of the iron bridge, such as the decorative lamp posts and iron railings, were incorporated into the current structure, in recognition of its historical significance. 

C10 Clarke Quay
Prior to Clarke Quay’s transformation into a godown centre during the second half of the 19th Century, the colonial government’s stores and private properties were located there. With wells located nearby, Clarke Quay also served as a fresh-water distribution point for ships and the growing settlement downstream. Today's Clarke Quay is vastly different — the five blocks of restored warehouses here house various restaurants and nightclubs, serving as one of the many centres of Singapore's nightlife.

C11 Read Bridge
Once also known as Malacca Bridge due to its proximity to the Malay Kampong Melaka, Read Bridge was also the collection point of fuel and other imports from Malacca, and the Masjid Omar Kampong Melaka, the oldest mosque in Singapore. It was built in 1820 and still stands today. Chinese migrant workers also gathered here at the end of their work day to listen to storytellers who spun tales of folk heroes and legends, and who read the news to their largely illiterate clients.

C12 Ord Bridge
Built in 1886, Ord Bridge was named after Colonel Sir Harry George Ord, the first Governor of the Straits Settlements (1867-1873), after it was conferred Crown Colony status. This meant that the Straits Settlements Administration, instead of the British Administration in India, had the right to make its own laws. There was previously a foot bridge on this site called ABC Bridge or Ordnance Bridge, as it was the landing point for weapons and ammunition to be stored in Magazine Road.

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