Singapore National Museum
The oldest and possibly most significant museum in Singapore
, housed in a centrally located landmark colonial building, plus in a modern annex, with several thematic subsections of which the History Gallery is the one of most interest to dark tourists.
More background info:
For general historical background see under Singapore
The museum originally dates back to the year 1849 when it first started in a section of a library at the Singapore Institution under the name Raffles Library and Museum. It moved several times and eventually ended up in its present location in 1887. It was named the National Museum of Singapore in 1965. For a period of time from 1993 it was renamed Singapore History Museum, but reverted back to the more general name in 2006.
Also in 2006 a major refurbishing and expansion programme was completed and the revamped museum opened in December, with a new modern annex twice the size of the old colonial-era building with its iconic dome.
More changes have been made to the interior since. I went to visit the museum in 2014, but the floor-plan leaflet I picked up then, in several parts no longer matches the information given on the museum's website.
The historical part described below seems to be in place still, but a lot has been changed in the other galleries. And more changes may well be coming. At the moment (as of October 2017), four “Life in Singapore” galleries supplement the main exhibition, and one of them is also on the dark WWII
theme “surviving Syonan” (the latter is the name Japan
imposed on Singapore during the occupation).
Moreover a temporary exhibition “Witness to War: Remembering 1942” has been added to mark the 75th anniversary of the fall of Singapore
. It's accompanied by special programmes as well. All of this is running until March 2018. What will come after that, remains to be seen.
What there is to see: The core part of the museum is the large Singapore History Gallery. This contains the main aspects that are of interest from a dark-tourism perspective. So the following text will focus on those.
The history exhibition is accessed from the glass atrium
of the modern annex. When I visited it, the entry was through the glass rotunda where a wild video 360-degree projection pulled you into the urban cityscape and culture of Singapore
. It was quite an onslaught on the senses but I found it quite mesmerizing. However, when I last checked the museum's website it seemed that this has been replaced by a different projection (called “Story of the Forest”) and that access to the history section is no longer via the rotunda.
The Singapore History Gallery is organized primarily in a chronological fashion. Early history is followed by a focus on the colonial period, with furniture and all manner of other bits and pieces from that era on display. There are also some general large art installations such as a weird cluster of old bicycles.
It gets interesting from a dark point of view in the WWII part
. On display are various propaganda posters from the time, rusty machine gun parts, flags, photos and drawings and so on, all illustrating the fall of Singapore
and the occupation by Imperial Japan
, when the city was renamed Syonan
A special subsection is about POW
s and especially Changi prison
. On display here are an old original cell door from the prison
, letters and drawings by prisoners and some personal items such as pipes or wallets.
A glass display case contains personal items found in some archaeological dig projects near Changi and include bracelets, earrings, watches, hairpins, etc. – and the museum raises the question whether these can be seen as indication that the Sook Ching massacres
(see under Singapore
) may also have included women amongst the victims (officially only ethnic Chinese men were targeted).
Moving into the post-WWII phase
, there are still various quite dark aspects, such as the race riots and strikes (see again under Singapore
in general), and various items from the police force's riot squad are on display.
In addition to static displays there are also plenty of audiovisual elements, including a whole ensemble of screens attached to metal bars showing period film footage.
The rest of the History Gallery illustrates Singapore's move into the modern age
. This part is mostly celebratory, but I must say I found some of the footage of stadium performances of amassed dancers/gymnasts rather chillingly reminiscent of the Mass Games
in North Korea
The rest of the museum didn't really have any particular dark things to offer (though that's changed later – see above
), but I enjoyed the photo gallery with some excellent shots of modern Singaporean architecture. But I think this exhibition is no longer in place.
All in all: the museum is certainly worth a visit. It's very modern, very visual, very immersing. From the dark angle, only part of it is relevant, but you can always be selective. The building as such, with its impressive dome, and the modern artwork outside is noteworthy too.
right in the centre of Singapore
, on the north-eastern hillside of Fort Canning Park and just a short distance south-east of the lower end of Orchard Road. The address is: 93, Stamford Road, Singapore 178897.
Access and costs: easy to get to, free for locals, but a bit pricey for foreign tourists.
The museum is easy to find. In fact there are two ways of getting there. One is from the back, namely from the north-eastern side of Fort Canning Hill (see under Singapore
). The regular main entrance, on the other hand, is at the top of Stamford Road, reached by a short walk from the City Hall MRT station (green east-west line EW13/red north-south line NS25), from the bottom end of Orchard Road and Dhoby Ghaut MRT station (yellow circle line CC1) or from Bras Basah (CC2) one block east of Stamford Road at the Art Museum.
Admission to the museum: S$15 for foreign tourists (a few concessions apply), but free for Singaporeans and foreign permanent residents.
Opening times: daily 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., last admission at 6:15.
Time required: Between one and two hours, or even longer if you want to go through the sections beyond the history part.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
Fort Canning and the “Battle Box” (see under Singapore
) make the most natural combination, for sheer proximity alone, the latter is a mere 300 yards from the museum's Canning Entrance at Level 3. From the front entrance, the Civilian War Memorial in the park at the bottom end of Stamford Road is the nearest sight with a dark connection.
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
The museum itself has its non-dark elements, and given its central location is also very close to many of Singapore's main tourist attractions such as St Andrew's cathedral or the Raffles Hotel. The going-out area of Clarke Quay is pretty close too, as is Singapore's main shopping street Orchard Road.
- National Museum 01 - outside
- National Museum 02 - inside
- National Museum 03 - animated intro
- National Museum 04 - olden days
- National Museum 05 - bicycle cluster
- National Museum 06 - Japanese flag
- National Museum 07 - battle
- National Museum 08 - Changi prison
- National Museum 09 - Changi prison door
- National Museum 10 - personal items
- National Museum 11 - shirt and knives
- National Museum 12 - hardship
- National Museum 13 - very visual
- National Museum 14 - into modernity
- National Museum 15 - central dome
- National Museum 16 - big chilli sculpture outside
- Singapore 08 - in Fort Canning Park