Fort Canning is a small hill slightly more than 60 metres high located in the Central Area that forms Singapore’s central business district. Although small in physical size, it has a long history intertwined with that of the city-state due to its location as the highest elevation point within walking distance to the city’s civic district within the Downtown Core.
The hill was recorded as Bukit Larangan prior to the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819, which means “Forbidden Hill” in Malay language. Raffles was told of how local settlers were wary of ascending the hill as they believed it was the site of palaces built by their ancestral kings. The Keramat Iskandar Shah at the foot of the hill was believed to be the resting place of the last Malay king of the island, Iskandar Shah, and was venerated by Muslims.
Impressed by the historic significance of the hill and the commanding view it offered over the colony he had established, Raffles built his first residence on the hill. A keen botanist, he also built Singapore’s first botanical garden there in 1822. The residence served as the colony’s governors, thus subsequently earning the name Government Hill.
By late 1859, increased security concerns led to the hill taking on a military role with the demolition of the governor’s residence, and the building of a fort with an arms store, barracks and a hospital. The fort was named Fort Canning and has remained so ever since even after the end of its military role more than a century later.
Under the British Army, the fort served as the headquarters of the Singapore Base District until the spread of World War II into the Asia Pacific in 1941. In February 1942, Lieutenant-General Arthur Ernest Percival established his command post of the Malayan Command at the fort in his ill-fated attempts to defend the island from the invading Japanese forces. The Japanese also used the fort for its military until the end of the occupation in 1945, whereby the British army resumed control. The bunker is now a visitor attraction known as The Battle Box.
Now a park overlooking Orchard Road and set in the heart of the Civic and Cultural District of Singapore, Fort Canning offers a variety of recreational activities, historical, educational, entertainment and cultural experiences. The park also serves as an important green lung for Singapore’s downtown city area. The unique blend of historical relics, lush greenery and expansive lawns has made Fort Canning a hub of cultural and artistic activity. It has been a venue of choice for staging a myriad of outdoor events and activities like theatre carnivals, art festivals, starlight cinemas and Ballet Under the Stars performances. WOMAD, Singapore’s largest music festival, has been a regular feature of the park’s calendar of events since 1998.