Singapore’s latest national monument is a grass patch – and it’s apparently where Sang Nila Utama saw that lion

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The Padang (pictured) and three bridges across the Singapore River have been gazetted as National Monuments in honour of the country’s bicentennial year.
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Singapore Press Holdings

For the first time in Singapore’s history, bridges and a grass field are being designated as national monuments.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced on Sunday (Aug 5) that the National Heritage Board (NHB) will be gazetting the Padang and three nearby bridges – Cavenagh, Anderson and Elgin – as part of the country’s bicentennial year.

A national monument gazette is the highest form of recognition for a structure or site’s significance to Singapore.

The bridges – which are the most architecturally significant of Singapore’s 14 bridges – are being gazetted as an ensemble, NHB said in a statement, adding that use of the four sites will not change.

Business Insider rounded up 10 cool facts about the soon-to-be monuments:


#1: The British made the Padang to prove they could tame Southeast Asia’s jungles

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The Straits Times

The Padang was first created in 1822 when the British flattened land to create an “open, manicured square” of space in the city centre, historian Lai Chee Kien wrote in an article for BiblioAsia, the National Library’s (NLB) heritage-focused journal.

They copied the idea for this square off the Persian maidan to show colonies that they could impose order on the wild landscapes of Southeast Asia, he added.

When finally completed in 1939, the Padang was a tremendous display of colonial power and discipline, surrounded on all sides by the neoclassical facades of Parliament House, St Andrew’s Church, the old Supreme Court, and Victoria Theatre, Lai said.


#2: Raffles’ statue was located there – until it kept getting hit by footballs

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The Straits Times 

In the colonial days, the Padang was used for military drills and sports events. It was also where an 8-foot bronze statue of Sir Stamford Raffles was first installed.

The statue, which was initially facing seaward and meant to depict Raffles as “surveying the physical manifestations of his legacy” – had to be moved to a “more dignified” spot near Victoria Memorial Hall after being constantly hit by stray footballs during matches on the field, Lai said.


#3: The Padang’s first name was actually “the Esplanade”

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Singapore Press Holdings

While the Esplanade today refers to the iconic durian-shaped concert venue, the British used to call the Padang by that name based on the latin word explanare, which means “to make level”, according to an article by heritage site Roots.sg.

It added that the Padang was also known by the names Cantonment Plain and Raffles Plain before being renamed in 1907.


#4: It’s apparently where Sang Nila Utama saw that lion (or tiger)

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Singapore Press Holdings

The Padang is believed to be the place where the Srivijayan price who named Singapore saw its namesake beast.

Apart from its iconic role as the spot for the first-ever National Day Parade, the Padang has also played host to other historic moments in Singapore’s history: negotiations for the setting up of the British East India Company here; the signed surrender of the Japanese; the announcement for the official merger with Malaysia; and the inauguration of Singapore’s first president, Yusof Ishak.


#5: The engineer of Cavenagh Bridge messed up by designing it too low

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Singapore Press Holdings

Cavenagh Bridge – the oldest surviving bridge across the Singapore River – was built in 1869 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of Singapore, according to Infopedia, NLB’s online encyclopaedia on Singapore.

It was named after Colonel Cavenagh, the last governor of the Straits Settlements.

The bridge’s engineer, Rowland Mason Ordish, unfortunately did not design it high enough to allow bumboats to pass through during high tide.

According to a paper on Singapore bridges by conservation architect Ian Tan, Ordish based the bridge off his earlier design for Prague’s Stefanik Bridge. He later used this same template to design Albert Bridge over London’s Thames River.


#6: Cavenagh bridge is considered Singapore’s “love bridge”

According to Challenge, the Singapore Public Service’s publication, Cavenagh Bridge is known unofficially as the “love bridge” as it is a popular spot for proposals and wedding photos.

It is also one of the spots where Chinese women would once throw oranges in the river on the 15th day of the New Year to wish for a good husband, it added.


#7: Anderson Bridge cost S$10 million to build…

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The Straits Times

Completed In 1909, Anderson Bridge was named after another Straits Settlements governor, Sir John Anderson. According to Infopedia, it used to have an electric tram – which ran between Bras Basah and Tanjong Pagar – crossing it.

An article by Remember Singapore said the bridge cost £50,000 to build  – the equivalent to S$10 million dollars today, it claimed,

Conservation architect Tan said the bridge initially resembled Brisbane’s Victoria Bridge, but was later simplified due to a lack of funds.


#8: …and it used to be decorated with severed human heads

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The Straits Times

According to Challenge, Japanese soldiers used to display the severed heads of suspected spies and criminals on the bridge’s three steel arches during World War II.

The gory sight was a warning to those defiant toward Japanese rule.


#9: Elgin Bridge started out as a super-dangerous wood bridge

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Lianhe Zaobao

Completed in 1929, the bridge started its life as Presentment Bridge, which locals dubbed the “Monkey Bridge” for how agile you needed to be to get across in one piece, according to Infopedia.

The wooden bridge, which had just 12 piles, was rebuilt using iron imported from Calcutta and named after James Bruce Elgin, the Governor-General of India. It was considered an engineering feat, as poor soil conditions meant its foundations needed to go 80 feet below water.


#10: Its lion medallions were designed by an Italian sculptor

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Wikicommons

Renowned Italian sculptor Rodolfo Nolli made the cast-iron lamp posts and decorative lion medallions on Elgin Bridge and later, Crawford Bridge.

Nolli also worked on the facade of the old Supreme Court, the Fullerton Building, and other buildings in Malaysia, Thailand and Brunei.

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