A whitewashed spire emerged from the greenery amid a bevy of sleek and modern skyscrapers. Its Gothic-inspired windows were each fitted with wooden shutters, letting just enough tropical sun light penetrate into its nave. As the church of the Anglican Diocese of Singapore, also the country’s largest, the 19th century Saint Andrew’s Cathedral is strategically located at downtown Singapore in a neighborhood filled with the country’s finest colonial buildings.
Just around the corner a railing mounted with lamps followed the curves of a multi lane road, a part of the street circuit used for the annual Singapore F1 Night Grand Prix.
Within a short walking distance northeast another beautiful vestige from the past rested at a busy intersection. Its name bespoke its reputation, well-known beyond the tiny country’s geographical borders. Many come to this beautifully designed hotel for its signature drink: the Singapore Sling. But some simply look for an authentic experience of a time long gone when the British still ruled the island. Under its latticework-laden veranda a mid-aged man dressed up in colonial attire welcomed every guest as his predecessors had done for generations. Raffles Hotel is in and of itself one of Singapore’s true icons.
We then walked southwest, down St Andrew Road where a few minutes later we discovered an even more impressive grand structure from the past. Right across a cricket ground at Padang, the Old Supreme Court of Singapore stood gracefully despite the revitalization work it was undergoing. Its turquoise-colored cupola sat above ornate allegorical sculptures supported by six Corinthian capitals, giving the early 20th century building a true neo-classical appearance.
Still within Singapore’s Civic District where most of the city’s best-preserved and most opulent colonial edifices were concentrated, a smaller but nothing short of impressive monument beckoned to us. Its slender dome-topped clock tower rose prominently among other British-era buildings, overlooking a statue of Sir Stamford Raffles in front of the newly refurbished heritage complex. Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall has seen darker days in its history, but the only feeling it provokes today is that of admiration from its visitors.
However not all historical buildings were built in a scale to impress. A small church built in neoclassical style in the early 19th century was hidden from plain sight on a leafy street in the city. At a glance it might have just looked like another old church. But in fact it was the oldest church in Singapore, built by the Armenian community during a period when the then British colony saw rapid developments of education and religious institutions across the island. The Armenian Church of Saint Gregory the Illuminator was such a delightful retreat from Singapore’s more well-known colonial heritage. No one was present when we arrived, yet the church was rather deserted, its doors wide open, allowing us to learn about its history written on tablets mounted all over the walls.
The unique Armenian alphabet was one of the most intriguing things I found at the church. But beyond that, the church was such an invaluable legacy of a foreign society who had left remarkable heritage in their new land and made the island more alluring. The government of modern Singapore, in turn, made a right decision to preserve most of them despite its ongoing effort to add more futuristic, stylish, impressive and sometimes peculiar structures to the city’s constantly changing skyline. A decision which we all know only brings benefit for its people and curious visitors.
Singapore had done a better job in preserving colonial buildings than Hong Kong, James reckoned.