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M.I ZainalAbidin a, *, A. Bridges a, & A. Razak b

Department of Architecture, University of Strathclyde, 131 Rottenrow G4 0NG UK –
(mohamad.zainal-abidin , a.h.bridges),
Faculty of IT, Multimedia University, Cyberjaya, 63100 Malaysia -

KEY WORDS: Digital archaeological reconstruction, fortress, cultural heritage, 3D model, virtual world


The “A Famosa Fortress” is one of the oldest partially extant European buildings in Malaysia. Its origins may be traced back to a
fortress built by the Portuguese in 1511. The fortress is located in the city of Melaka and was largely destroyed during the British
occupation of 1824. Throughout that 300 years period of occupation it went through several architectural developments and
changes. At the moment there is no major action taken to fully preserve this heritage. Additionally, with the complex logistic
condition and geographical factor of the Melaka city today, it is impossible to fully reconstruct this fortress in its physical
context. As an alternative solution, we propose to digitally reconstruct the development of this fortress in various eras. There are
several challenges to be overcome in developing the digital archaeological reconstruction of the A Famosa Fortress such as the
long timescale of development and rebuilding on the site; the minimal amount of authoritative documentation and the variety of
measurement systems and graphical projections used in the early descriptions of the fortress. This paper presents some findings
on the architectural information of the fortress based on various data sources and some preliminary approaches that we have done
to verify the consistency, similarity and integrity of the data. This verification of data is the most important process in this
research considering the remaining of the fortress is no longer available. From the result, we found that the fortress undergo
different development stages under different occupation and a lot of data still need to be collected to get an accurate measurement
of the fortress. In the future work, we proposed to use the traditional 3D polygonal modelling for the digital reconstruction of the

1. INTRODUCTION fortress of Melaka continued its architectural development

over this time. Prior to the occupation of the Dutch, they
1.1 Background heavily bombarded the fortress which has critically destroyed
part of the fortress. After they succeeded to conquer Melaka in
Historically, Melaka’s strategic position in South East Asia 1641, the Dutch carried out major reconstruction on the
has made it as an important centre of commerce (Thomaz & fortress as part of their strategy to strengthen their power. This
Pintado, 2000). The traders used to trade various items such as reconstruction involved the extension of the fortress walls and
spices, cloth, tin, silk, porcelain and many more. These traders bastions (Leupe & Hacobian, 1936). When the British took
came from all over the world: India, China, Borneo, Arabia over the Dutch’s position in 1824, the British captain in
and Europe. Melaka’s popularity attracted the Portuguese to Melaka, William Farquhar instructed the fortress to be
expand their power in commercial dealings, military destroyed. As the result, the only evidence left today is a gate
occupation and religion. The Portuguese believed that by to access the fortress which is known as Porta de Santiago
controlling Melaka, they could monopolise spice trading (Figure 1). The entire occupation timeline can be summarised
which was a very valuable item in Europe and expand their in the table below (Table 1):
military power. One said that whoever is lord of Melaka has
his hand on the throat of Venice (Pires & Rodrigues, 1944). Conqueror Occupation
Besides, one of the Portuguese’s objectives was to expand the Portuguese 1511-1641
influence of Christianity in this region and this could only be Dutch 1641-1824
done by seizing Melaka. British 1824-1957
In 1511, the Portuguese, with fifteen small and great sails and
Table 1: A timeline of occupation in Malaysia
with sixteen hundred fighting men laid siege to Melaka (Ryan,
N. J. 1960). With advanced strategy and weapons, the
Portuguese managed to capture Melaka within three weeks
and, on August 10th, 1511 Melaka fell into Portuguese hands
(Noonan, L. A. 1989). Albuquerque was the captain for the
new Portuguese government in Melaka. He immediately
ordered a fortress to be built for defensive purpose (Eredia &
Mills, 1997). With this success, it also attracted the Dutch
with the monopoly of the trading in South East Asia. The

Corresponding author.
2. It is inarguable that the lack of authoritative
documentation is the main obstacle in this research.
Most of the documents are scattered all over the
world. To trace these documents requires us to
contact related bodies in the countries that were
involved in the past occupation in Melaka such as
Portugal, Netherlands and Britain. Additionally
these documents are very old and require translation.
3. The variety of measurement systems and graphical
projections used in the early descriptions of the
fortress requires us to translate them into standard
units. Other than that we also need to compare its
old graphical projections and match with other
graphical and textual resources. Any similarity in
these findings will strongly support our rationale.

Figure 1: Remains of old Portuguese fortress in Melaka, Porta

de Santiago (Asia Explorers, 2003) 3. FINDINGS

1.2 Motivation 3.1 Fortress design development

Presently the Malaysian government is taking another step to At this stage, we managed to collect several drawings and
preserve some of the new findings in this fortress. The paintings from various resources (mostly during Portugese and
conservation team is reconstructing one of the bastions known Dutch era) that describe A Famosa in visual form. These
as the Middleburgh bastion which dates from the Dutch drawings have some similarities between each other. Other
occupation. Nadharaj (2003) explains, “However, work to than visuals we also found some textual descriptions about
uncover more of the buried wall, despite its historical this fortress which are very helpful to assist and support the
significance and potential to draw more tourists into the area, reconstruction process. These textual descriptions are taken
may not be feasible as it would involve tearing up the major from old letters and books. For instance, Lima, (1988) states
road that links the old town with the new commercial area”. that in 1588, Joao Baptista Cairato, an Italian military
Hence, only certain part of the fortress can be reconstructed. architect had inspected the fortress and made suggestion on
In order to solve this problem, we propose to digitally alteration for military security purpose.
reconstruct this fortress in form of 3D model which can be
navigated in the virtual world. Since the fortress itself has Based on our analysis on the collected data, we have
faced several changes in its design and layout, by categorised the design development of this fortress into 4
reconstructing it in 3D allows the researchers to investigate stages namely;
and study the development of these changes from architectural 1. The early stage: single building with a tower
and historical aspects. 2. Extension of fortress under the Portuguese
1.3 Objectives The Dutch occupation
The British occupation
There are several objectives for this research:
1. To collect and analyse all the related documents 3.1.1 The early stage: single building with a tower: In
about this fortress and translate into visual forms. the early Portuguese Malacca book, Thomaz et al., 2000,
2. To study the historical and architectural background describes figure 2, “Malacca in the first half of the 16th
of the fortress including the functions and structures from century according to a plate from ‘Lendas da India’ by
various resources. Gaspar Correia. The walls had not yet been raised and the
3. To reconstruct the fortress design development in central district, as weak as the district of Upeh is protected
3D models based on collected data from various by a simple palisade. The Famosa fortress stands out, clearly
resources. medieval, with its four storey keep and a single bastion
4. To provide reliable and standard 3D models of this facing the sea, to place artillery. All the houses are
fortress for architectural visualization and historical apparently covered by a vegetal substance.
education purpose.


There are several challenges encountered in developing the

digital archaeological reconstruction of the A Famosa
Fortress. They are as explained below:
1. The use of advanced methods such as
photogrammetry and 3D laser scanning to develop
the digital model are not possible because the
fortress has been badly destroyed. Physical
reconstruction of the fortress requires a very long Figure 2: Fortaleza de Malacca, drawing by Gaspar Correia,
timescale of development and rebuilding the entire 1527, in his manuscript works, “Lendas da India”
fortress on the site is nearly impossible because the (Correa & Felner, 1975)
fortress’s location now has been developed into a
busy city.
There are no convents yet, only the mother church, next to the
fortress, and a small chapel on the hill. The sketch is The extension of A Famosa is also supported by Thomaz et.
obviously, rather schematic and does not convey the al, 2000 which explained Figure 5 as “The walled section of
dimension of the city, which should, according to both the Malacca in 1604 according to a sketch by Manuel Godinho de
calculation of the Sejarah Melayu and Portuguese, number Eredia. The wall is already completed, encompassing the
about 200 000 souls. former fortress, with its tower, all public buildings (town hall,
bishop's place, Santa Casa da Misericordia, two hospitals, the
Figure 3 presented a more detailed plan of 'A Famosa' built school of the Jesuits and several churches and convents). The
by Alfonso de Albuquerque in 1511. The tower called wall features seven strongholds destined for artillery, both on
'Fortaleza' which served as residence of the captain, the land and sea sides (Figure 5). The sketch notes the contours of
courtyard with a well, the jail (tronco) and the magazine a new outline, broader, on the land side, that was to remain
(almazem) where guns, ammunition and navigation only a project. The walled section encompasses a green area
implements were kept. on the hillside, where the school of the Jesuits stood,
accessible through three staircases”.

Figure 3: Plan of the ‘A Famosa’ source Thomaz et al (2000)

3.1.2 Extension of fortress wall under the Portuguese

occupation (within 1568-1604): The actual date for the
drawing in Figure 4 is unknown but it was published by
Silveira, (Silveira, 1956) and Manguin (Manguin, 1988).
Manguin came out with a proper drawing that describes the
details in the fortress. The drawing noticeably shows the
wall extension of former fortress in figure 2 (marked with
black circle). Manguin has clearly indicated some of the
most important fortress elements in his reproduced drawing
such as the number and names of the bastions, hospital,
churches, fortress gates and tower bridge.
Figure 5: Eridia’s drawings (1604) of the fortress of Melaka

Figure 6: Sousa’s drawing on Melaka, 1660’s

Figure 6 shows another illustration of the extended wall of A

Figure 4: Anonymous Portuguese drawing of the Malacca Famosa during Portugese occupation. It is entitled “Plan of
fortress, dated 1568. The original is kept at the Malacca” by Manuel de Faria e Sousa, Portuguese chronicler,
Biblioteca Nacional, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Correa from a work entitled "Asia Portuguese", published in Madrid
& Felner, 1975). in the 1660's (Kennedy, 1962).
3.1.3 The Dutch occupation: Figure 7 illustrated A in size and shape of the fortress between the two eras. Further
Famosa during the Dutch era by Heydt which was a very study is needed to identify more detail information.
detailed drawing complete with scale and legends. This was
between 1735 – 1744. The drawing clearly shows some of
the additional elements such as walls and bastions. The
fortress itself has a few changes particularly outside the
walls which are surrounded by the moat. It is also found that
the size of the fortress has been extended during the Dutch
era as compared to during the Portuguese era.



Figure 7: The Dutch drawing, Copperplate printing of Plan

oder Grund Riss der Stadt u. Vest. Malacca by
Helydt, Johan Wolfgang

Most of the drawing during the Dutch era is more accurate,

well organised and properly described. It also includes the
measurements and elements of the fortress.

3.1.4 The British Occupation: According to the history, (c)

after Malacca fell into British’s hand, it had long since
ceased to be of any commercial importance, and in order to
avoid the expense of maintaining the fort and to prevent it
from becoming danger if it fell again into other hands, the
walls of fort were destroyed in 1824,by William Farquhar,
the British captain. As the result, the only evidence left
today is a gate to access the fortress which is known as Porta
de Santiago (Figure 1).

3.2 Comparison of drawings

As we can see from the collected drawings, it is difficult to

make a direct comparison from one source to another since the
drawing is based on different perspective and era. This is Figure 8: Projection of the Dutch era of Malacca fort onto
because the development of this fortress itself can be divided Portuguese drawings: a) the outline of Figure 7, b)
into four stages as discussed previously and most of the Projection of (a) to Figure 4, c) Projection of (a) to
drawings during Portuguese era were not properly labelled and Figure 5 and d) Projection of (a) to Figure 6.
did not include any measurement.
As one of our preliminary solution to solve the above 3.3 Fortress elements
problem, we tried to map each of the different illustrations
into one common perspective. For an initial comparison, we The major fortress elements are walls and bastions. Each
have chosen the Dutch drawing as our main plan and project it bastion has its name, based on our findings the name for each
onto several Portuguese perspective drawings as shown in bastion also being changed when the Dutch captured Melaka
Figure 4. The observations have highlighted some differences from the Portuguese. According to the Malacca Centenary
Committee the names of the bastions are as below:
into visual form. This will assist the researchers if any
Dutch names Portuguese names confusion in 3D modelling process happens. The 3D models
Fredrick Hendrick Courassa will be modelled in 3DS Max and the process of retracing the
Middleburgh plans will be done in Auto CAD.
Ernestus Casimir Hospital de Povne
Amsterdam St. Domingo
Victoria St. Domingo 5. CONCLUSIONS
Emelia Madre Deos
In our attempt to reconstruct this fortress into digital format
Henriette Louijse Ongie Mille virgines we found that it is not possible to come out with one fixed and
Wilhelmus St. Lago permanent design. This is because the studies have proven that
Mauritius Hospital del Rey ‘A Famosa’ has gone through different modifications and
physical reconstruction. Historically this fortress has changed
Table 2: Bastions in the old fort (Malacca Centenary hand from the Portuguese to the Dutch and finally to the
Committee) British. Hence, the 3D models that we proposed are to be
based on the identified development of this fortress design.
3.4 Fortress measurement Presently we have not decided about the actual 3D models to
be developed until we finalised our data collection.
As discussed earlier, it is difficult to get accurate
measurements for the fortress especially during the Another important challenge is that the early evidence such as
Portuguese era since it is not drawn up to scale and hardly perspective drawings and plans are not to scale, have incorrect
include any measurement or label. Further more, according to perspective points and no proper measurements. In order to
Eredia (1997), A Famosa had the shape of a pentagon and its reconstruct these 3D models, we need to analyse the collected
perimeter was 655 fathoms which is equal to 1.441 km. data supported by the textual descriptions from old letters,
However, the correct metric conversion of 1 fathom is equal journals and books. These facts must match and support each
to 1.8288, this means 655 fathoms is equal to 1.198 km. This other.
is another example of problems in assembling accurate data
for reconstruction.
Based on our research on various sources, we have come out
with a rough measurement of the fortress wall during the Asia Explorers., 2003. Article on Exploring the Porta de
Dutch era as presented in Figure 9. We have also done some Santiago (A Famosa) Remains of old Portuguese fort,
calculations to prove that the wall measurements and the angle Malacca, Malaysia.
connecting the wall, is consistent and correct using the law of porta_de_ santiago.htm (accessed 02 Jun. 2008)
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