Fort Canning Park – an iconic hilltop landmark in downtown Singapore

Fort Canning Park, an iconic hilltop landmark conveniently located in central Singapore, is a park rich in history, having witnessed many of the nation’s historic milestones.  Its name has been changed a few times, according to what I found on Wikipedia below:

Prior to the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819, the hill was recorded as Bukit Larangan, meaning “Forbidden Hill” in Malay language.  Local settlers were wary of ascending the hill as they believed it was the site of palaces built by their ancestral kings in the 14th century.  Raffles decided to build his first residence on the hill as he was impressed with the commanding view it offered over the colony he has established as well as its historic significance.  Singapore’s first botanical garden was also built here in 1822.  Since then, Bukit Larangan became “Government Hill” because of the governor’s residence.  By late 1859, increased security concerns led to the hill taking on a military role with the demolition of the governor’s residence, & the building of a fort with an arms store, barracks and a hospital. The fort was named Fort Canning after Viscount Charles John Canning, who was then Governor-General. Government Hill was thus named after the fort, & has remained so ever since even after the end of its military role more than a century later.

Now a park overlooking Orchard Road & set in the heart of the Civic & Cultural District of Singapore, Fort Canning is a venue for celebrations.  Its expansive green lawns play host to concerts, theatre productions & festivals such as Ballet Under the Stars, & weddings & parties are commonly seen in the park. WOMAD, Singapore’s largest music festival, has been a regular feature of the park’s calendar of events since 1998. The Registry of Marriage & the Fort Canning Hotel are also located on the hill, side by side with the ancient artefacts & lush greenery.

I have been to Fort Canning Park a number of times over the years, be it to catch a concert or join in the arts festival, or chilling out with friends.  However, it was only from about 2 years ago that I began to see the park as a serene place to retreat to, to get away from the ever-busy & crowded downtown.  You can go on a DIY walk on one of the 5 trails, with the suggested routes listed on National Parks website.  Below are some of the landmarks/ sights on my most recent walk in the park (March 2015).

We gathered at Dhoby Ghaut MRT station exit B facing Park Mall, so that we could take an elevator to its level 4 carpark where we would arrive in front of the YWCA Fort Canning Lodge.  Thereafter we headed to the Sculpture Garden with several interesting sculptures:

Do you see a man's face in this sculpture? ;)

Do you see a man’s face in this sculpture? 😉

Beautiful tree trunk with intertwining branches & artificial dragonflies/ butterflies flying around

Beautiful tree trunk with intertwining branches & artificial dragonflies/ butterflies flying around

Next we walked to the Fort Gate, a remnant of the fortress that once occupied Fort Canning Hill from 1861 to 1926. The fort served 2 purposes – to protect Singapore from a sea-borne attack, & to give the European population a refuge in the event of local disturbances.  The low, thick wall was meant to withstand artillery bombardment.  I recalled that I walked past this gate previously, without knowing there is actually a narrow stairway up to the fort behind the heavy door!  Luckily this time I walked with an experienced hiker to gain new knowledge…

The Fort Gate

The Fort Gate

(Left) Narrow stairway (Right) Small openings outside the fort wall

(Left) Dark & narrow stairway
(Right) Small opening outside the fort wall

The dark & narrow stairway can only allow 1 person walking in 1 direction each time, so that enemies trying to get up to the fort would not succeed & the British troop would be able to defend against them easily.  On the other hand, with small openings outside the fort wall and wide openings inside, it allowed the troop to point their rifles/ guns at the enemies out there while they would not be able to see clearly the rifles given the limited view outside.

After this, we left the fort through the only remaining Sally Port on this hill – a small door leading in & out of the fort.  There were supposed to be 2 more, 1 located on the south near Hill Street, while another on the northwest side of the hill, but they have disappeared.

Sally Port

Sally Port

Then we proceeded to Spice Garden, a small replica of Singapore’s first experimental and botanical garden, where we found many herbs and spices such as ginger, nutmeg, clove and cocoa.  The Keramat –  an old tomb that purportedly contains the remains of Sri Sultan Iskandar Shah, the 5th & last ruler of precolonial Singapore, is located near the entrance of the Spice Garden.


Cocoa Tree

Cocoa Tree

Torch Ginger

Torch Ginger

We also walked through the Fort Canning Green, where the Gothic Gates in the First Christian Cemetery as well as the 2 dome-shaped Cupolas are.  Thereafter, we walked back to the archaeological dig and exhibition area, located in between the Keramat and the Spice Garden.  On display are several 14th-century artefacts uncovered by researchers at the site. These artefacts show that, long before the arrival of the British in 1819, Chinese merchants were already engaging in trade in the region, & the site was possibly used by palace craftsmen to manufacture glass and gold items.

Finally, we reached the other end of the park with linkage to Clarke Quay where the lighthouse and Raffles Terrace are.

Raffles Terrace and Lighthouse

 You will be able to see the overhead bridge to Clarke Quay along River Valley Road once you walk down to the foot of the hill. The River Valley Swimming Pool used to reside here from 1959 till 2003.  Our national swimmer, Mr Ang Peng Siong, who once held the world no.1 ranking in the 50 m freestyle in 1982, used to train at this pool.  Now all that is left of the pool is only the turnstile gate…

Turnstile gate of River Valley Swimming Pool

Turnstile gate of River Valley Swimming Pool

If you have not tried one of the trails in Fort Canning Park, don’t hesitate anymore!  It is not that difficult a walk & very accessible via Dhoby Ghaut, Clarke Quay, Bras Basah or City Hall MRT stations.  I shall end my post here with a photo of the huge heritage rain tree at Fort Canning. 🙂


This was written after the latest visit in late March 2015.

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