A Famosa, or “The Famous” in Portuguese, is among the oldest surviving European architectural remains in Asia. Once part of a mighty fortress, this tiny gate (called the Porta de Santiago) is all that is left of a once-mighty fortress. In 1511 a Portuguese fleet arrived under the command of Alfonso de Albequerque. His forces attacked and successfully defeated the armies of the native Sultanate. Moving quickly to consolidate his gains, Albequerque had the fortress built around a natural hill near the sea. Albequerque believed that Melaka would become an important port linking Portugal to the spice trade from China. At his time other Portuguese were establishing outposts in such places as Macau, China and Goa, India in order to create a string of friendly ports for ships heading to China and returning home to Portugal.
The fortress once consisted of long ramparts and four major towers. One was a four-story keep, while the others held an ammunition’s storage room, the residence of the captain, and an officers’ quarters. As the plan below shows, most of the village clustered in town houses inside the fortress walls. As Melaka’s population expanded it outgrew the original fort and extensions were added around 1586. The fort changed hands in 1641 when the Dutch successfully drove the Portuguese out of Melaka. The Dutch renovated the gate in 1670, which explains the logo “ANNO 1670” inscribed on the gate’s arch. Above the arch is a bas-relief logo of the Dutch East India Company.
The fortress changed hands again in the early 19th century when the Dutch handed it over to the British to prevent it from falling into the hands of Napoleon’s expansionist France. The English were wary of maintaining the fortification and ordered its destruction in 1806. The fort was almost totally demolished but for the timely intervention of Sir Stanford Raffles, the founder of Singapore, who happened to visit Melaka in 1810. Because of his passion for history this small gate was spared destruction.