Not merely repositories of artifacts, the museums of Malacca serve to educate and promote the richness and importance of Malaysian history.
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It comes as no surprise that Malacca, with its historical significance, has the highest number of museums in the country, even surpassing the capital city of Kuala Lumpur. The majority of the museums are overseen by Melaka Museums Corporation, also known as its Malay acronym PERZIM, a state government agency, while other smaller museums are run by private concerns and local communities. The first museum established by the state was in 1954, and was known locally as Sekolah Gambar, or Pictorial School, as it exhibited the history of Malacca through a series of pictures and photographs.
Since the 1980s, the number of museums under Melaka Museums Corporation has been steadily increasing, up to 22 museums and five galleries in 2010. Although most of the initial museums were centred around important aspects of Malacca's history and culture, museums focusing on more contemporary themes and local subjects have been added through the years. A large number of the museums are located in two of Malacca's most famous areas, the old Portuguese fort of Porta de Santiago, and the iconic Malacca Dutch Square. These museums are housed in restored heritage buildings, providing visitors with the added bonus of being able to appreciate the architectural styles of a bygone era while delving into history.
The main museums are located at the Stadthuys Museum Complex, comprised of five museums, within the famous Stadthuys building and other buildings surrounding it along the slopes of St. Paul's Hill. The world renowned A Famosa gate on the opposite side of St Paul's Hill is flanked by the Malacca Sultanate Palace Museum on its left, and a series of smaller museums on its right. These museums are laid out in a curve along the base of the hill, fronting the road that leads back to the Dutch Square. Another museum complex, the Maritime Museums complex, complete with an actual sized replica of a Portuguese ship, is located just by the Malacca river. Three museums, along with a decommissioned warship, carry exhibits that focus on maritime and naval subjects.
The emphasis on museums is part of the plans by authorities to turn Malacca into a 'museum state', with the various museums providing detailed explanations and exhibits relating to Malacca's historical sites, and also as a chronology of Malaysia's civilisation. Free guided tours featuring some of the museums are held during weekends and other programmes are held throughout the year in an effort to promote the museums and the importance of the history of this region.
A modern addition, the Maritime Museum, has risen to become an attraction on its own. The museum, cleverly housed in a specially built replica of the Flor De Lamar, a famous Portuguese ship that sunk on its way back to Portugal, is a hit among visitors and is now one of Malacca's most popular tourist destinations.