Get us in your inbox

OH! Open House Kampong Gelam Art Walk
Photograph: OH! Open HouseOH! Open House Kampong Gelam Art Walk

I went on an art walk around Kampong Gelam and here are four things I have learnt

Did you know: The building behind Singapore’s $2 bill once existed where Hotel Boss currently is

Mingli Seet
Written by
Mingli Seet

Feast, shop, sightsee, enjoy live music, get a tattoo – there’s lots to do from day to night in the vibrant district of Kampong Gelam. But did you know that this must-visit destination was once a port town and trading post where goods like spices, aromatic wood and batik were brought in by traders from neighbouring countries? And this is just the tip of the iceberg. As a Singaporean myself that has frequented the area countless times, I’m curious to dive deeper into the stories that go beyond the surface of these touristy streets. 

Kampong Gelam
Photograph: OH! Open HouseOH! Open House Kampong Gelam Art Walk

Oh! Open House’s latestKampong Gelam art walk allowed me to do just that. The journey begins at Aliwal Arts Centre, and takes you through 12 site-specific art installations that will unravel Kampong Gelam’s history. Interestingly, the programming of this art walk actually started out by pairing artists and Kampong Gelam occupants such as store owners and residents, together. This is so the artists can take in the nuances of this environment before developing their proposals.

Without further ado, here are four lesser known facts I’ve learnt about Kampong Gelam. And rest assured, this is just a fraction of what’s awaiting your discovery.

RECOMMENDED: The best historical trails in Singapore and The best public art trails in Singapore

1. The actual name of the Malay Heritage Centre is ‘Istana’, and it was once a home for Malay royalty. 

Istana Kampong Gelam
Photograph: Visit Kampong GelamIstana Kampong Gelam before it became the Malay Heritage Centre

You’ll be able to learn about the Malay heritage and its culture at the Malay Heritage Centre through curated exhibitions and programmes. However, its current name is actually not its original one. First built in 1819, it was known as the Istana and was a residence for Sultan Hussein Shah, the last Sultan of Singapore.

2. The site where Aliwal Arts Centre now stands was formerly occupied by the Chong Cheng School, a Chinese educational institution.

Chong Cheng School
Photograph: 崇正学校 Chong Cheng School (Singapore)@ Aliwal Street/FacebookChong Cheng School at Aliwal Street
Aliwal Arts Centre
Photograph: EQRoy/ShutterestockAliwal Arts Centre today

The current site of the Aliwal Arts Centre was once occupied by the former Chong Cheng School on Aliwal Street. This art deco style building bears two names on its front that often goes unnoticed. Featuring converted spaces along with shared facilities like multi-purpose halls and studios, the current Aliwal Arts Centre spans 4,200 square metres and is dedicated to the performing arts today.

3. The building depicted on Singapore’s $2 bill is the former Kota Raja Malay School, which once stood where Hotel Boss is located today.

Before the existence of Hotel Boss on Jalan Sultan Road was the Kota Raja Malay School that stood in its place. If you're unfamiliar with the name, simply refer to the reverse side of the Singapore $2 bill. The school was founded in 1933, and was located on Syed Alwi Street Road, occupying the premises formerly used by Victoria School.

4. Bussorah Street was once known as Kampong Kaji, home to a tight-knit community.

Kampong Kaji
Photograph: Urban Redevelopment Authority/FacebookKampong Kaji (1968)

Bussorah Street, currently adorned with palm trees and tourist shops, was once known as Kampong Kaji before its transformation into a tourist attraction. Redevelopment efforts commenced in the 1980s, culminating in the government's acquisition of the area by 1993, and eventually leading to the establishment of present-day Bussorah Street. 

Find out more about Oh! Open House’s Kampong Gelam art walk here. And if you’re interested in diving deeper into Kampong Gelam’s history, sign up for the art walk here.

More trails

    You may also like
    You may also like