Merdeka means ‘free’ or ‘independent’ in the Malay language and Merdeka Square is place where, at midnight on the 31 August 1957, the British Flag was lowered and the flag of the newly independent Malaysian Federated States was raised. Every year a parade is held at Merdeka Square to commemorate the moment.
The location of the flag raising was carefully thought out and is itself highly symbolic. Merdeka Square is centrally positioned near to the buildings most closely associated with British colonial rule. Raising the flag in Kuala Lumpur’s China Town area, for example, would not have had the same meaning as a declaration of independence in the part of the city which the British authorities had chosen as their administrative centre.
About Merdeka Square
Before Malaysia became independent Merdeka Square had been a cricket pitch belonging to the Selangor Club, which was a social and sporting club for the elite of the British armed forces and government in Malaysia. This arrangement, allowing the square to be used as a sports ground by the club, actually carried on for a number of years after independence as well (until 1987), with the cricket pitch not being renamed Dataran Merdeka (Merdeka Square) until October 1989.
The square is now used for important civic events, and when these are not being held there is little to be seen in the square itself except for a 95 metre tall flag pole and pictures of the six people to have held the post of Prime Minister since 1957. Current PM Mahathir Mohamad looks comparatively youthful in his picture as it shows his image from the last time he was Malaysia’s Prime Minister.
Sultan Abdul Samad Building
The Sultan Abdul Samad Building is on the east side of Merdeka Square and it runs about two thirds of the length of square. This is an impressively large building which is 137.2 metres wide. The Sultan Abdul Samad Building was constructed in 1894 as Government Offices for the British. The building was designed by three British architects, each one added to and amending the others earlier design. The building is in what is known as the ‘Indo-Saracenic’ style which the British adopted for public structures in India, and decided to use in Malaysia as well. The style is a combination of classic English architecture fused with a romanticised blend of Indian (Hindu and Mughal) architecture and Islamic architecture from period of the Moorish Empire. The central tower of the building is reminiscent of Big Ben in London but with an Moorish style onion dome roof and Mughal style stone facade. This is a brilliant and beautiful building although stylistically it has borrowed little from the architectural history of the Malay peninsula.
The name Sultan Abdul Samad was given to the building after independence and the building also ceased to be the centre of authority from which the country was run. For a while the building housed the Supreme Court and it is now being used to house two Government Ministries: the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia and the Ministry of Tourism and Culture.
Royal Selangor Club
The Selangor Club was a private members club established by the British in 1884, with members with high standing in the British Government and armed forces, as well as a small number of non-British members such the German Count Bernstorff (who famously absconded with club funds) and the wealthy Indian businessmen K. Thamboosamy Pillay who funded the construction of the Sri Mahamariamman Temple in Kuala Lumpur. The original mock Tudor building was erected in 1910 and rebuilt and extended following flooding and fires in the 1970s.
Despite being a primarily British institution the Selangor Club kept going after the end of British rule, largely thanks to the patronage of the Sultan of Selangor, hence the name change to the Royal Selangor Club. The club now has a new sports field a few kilometres away in another part of Kuala Lumpur and they still play British sports such as cricket and rugby, and have maintained long standing British traditions such as not allowing women into the Long Bar where the male members of the club drink and socialise.
Old High Court
This fine Indo-Saracenic style building is located on the East side of Merdeka Square on the north side of the Sultan Abdul Samad Building.
The building was completed in 1915 and was designed by Arthur Benison Hubback who was also the architect responsible for the design of the Old Kuala Lumpur Railway Station. It is currently being used to house the Sessions and Magistrates Court.
National Textile Museum
The National Textile Museum is housed in another building designed by English Architect Arthur Benison Hubback. The building was finished in 1905 and originally used as the headquarters of the Federated Malay States Railways.
Before being converted for use as a museum in 2009, the building had housed the Malaysian Central Bank and the High Court. The textile museum itself is open daily from 09:00 – 18:00 and has some interesting displays relating to the traditional costumes and jewellery of the peoples of East and West Malaysia.
Kuala Lumpur City Gallery
Kuala Lumpur City Gallery is an information centre about Kuala Lumpur rather than an art gallery and its open from 08:00 to 18:00 every day and admission costs 5 MYR. The main attraction at this gallery is the large scale model of Kuala Lumpur City. This a good place to come to orientate yourself if its your first time in Kuala Lumpur.
The Kuala Lumpur City Gallery is located on the South side of Merdeka Square in what used to the Government Printing Office, built in 1899 and designed by Britsh Architect AC Norman.
The Jamek Mosque is not on Merdeka Square although its close by, behind the Sultan Abdul Samad Building at the confluence of the Gombak and Klang Rivers. This beautiful mosque is another building designed by the great Arthur Benison Hubback, and in our view its his finest work with a cluster of 3 onion domes housing the main prayer hall and two minarets framing the main entrance to the mosque. The building is reminiscent of the Taj Mahal if you look at it from the entrance end, but with banded brickwork construction which is a distinctively English architectural style.
The Jamek Mosque was the main mosque in Kuala Lumpur until the National Mosque (the Masjid Negara Malaysia) was completed in 1965. The National Mosque is built in a completely different style to Jamek Mosque as a conscious break with the past and the buildings left behind the British Colonial Government.
Location of Merdeka Square
- Merdeka Square is located at Jalan Raja, Kuala Lumpur City Centre, 50050 Kuala Lumpur, Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.