History lessons in the city: 5 heritage trails for you to explore

The Fort Gate at Fort Canning.
The Fort Gate at Fort Canning.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Some of the Civic District's trees, such as the angsana and rain tree, are to get greater recognition as part of a 3km-long Civic District Tree Trail to be launched by the National Parks Board (NParks) on May 1.

They have been awarded Heritage Tree status, under the Heritage Tree Scheme, which identifies mature and historically significant trees.

The Civic District Tree Trail will include monthly guided walks and markers at all 20 stops along the route,which starts at the entrance of the Istana and ends at the Raffles' Landing Site.

Visitors can choose between a guided tour or explore the Civic District Tree Trail on their own, with the help of a brochure created by NParks.

More details of the guided tours and the downloadable DIY trail e-guide will be available later on the NParks website.

Brochures for other NParks trails are available here.

We take a close look at five NParks trails in the city, from the Ancient History Trail in Fort Canning Park to the Pioneers Trail in Ann Siang Hill Park.

1. Colonial History Trail in Fort Canning Park


The Colonial History Trail in Fort Canning Park covers 2km and takes 45 minutes to complete on foot. PHOTO: ST FILE

Key facts: Beginning at Fort Canning Centre, the trail winds around the Fort Canning Service Reservoir and ends at Stamford Green. The trail covers 2km and takes 45 minutes to complete on foot.


The map of the Colonial History Trail in Fort Canning Park. PHOTO: NPARKS

What's special about it: Fort Canning is home to Singapore's first experimental and botanical garden. In 1822, Sir Stamford Raffles grew nutmeg and clove at this site because these spices had great economic value. At that time, colonial powers seeking monetary gain wanted a share of the lucrative spice trade in South-east Asia.

One of the Heritage Trees here is the ear-pod tree (Enterolobium Cyclocarpum) which has round pods resembling ears. The bark and pods produce tannin, a substance used to make soap. There are a few ear-pod trees scattered throughout the park.

The Flame Of The Forest (Delonix Regia), named for its striking bright red flowers and spreading canopy, is another Heritage Tree. It is located near the Time Ball, a replica of the device used in colonial times to mark time. The ball would be raised and dropped at exactly 1pm.

Behind the name: Fort Canning was named after Viscount Charles John Canning in 1860, who was both the last Governor-General of India and its first Viceroy. His new role marked a change in colonial rule in India. The British government took over from the East India Company, the powerful British company that controlled India's trade.

2. Pioneers Trail in Ann Siang Hill Park and Telok Ayer Green


Worshippers at the Thian Hock Keng Temple
on Telok Ayer Street. PHOTO: ST FILE

Key facts: The trail begins at Telok Ayer Street and ends at Club Street. It goes through Ann Siang Hill Park, a Chinese enclave stepped in history. The trail is 0.6km long and the walk lasts 30 minutes.


The map of the Pioneers Trail in Ann Siang Hill Park and Telok Ayer Green. PHOTO: NPARKS

What's special about it: Two Yellow Rain Trees (Samanea Saman) stand at Telok Ayer Green. The tree has yellow leaves and they fold up before a rain storm.

Visitors can also find nutmeg, cinnamon, tamarind and breadfruit trees.

Behind the name: Telok Ayer Street was the landing site for immigrants in the 1820s. Telok Ayer means "water bay" in Malay, as the area was only a few metres away from the original shoreline of the Singapore River.

Upon landing, the immigrants set up places of worship here to pray for safe journeys.

On the street, two National Monuments, Thian Hock Keng Temple and Nagore Dargah Indian Muslim Heritage Centre, are located next to Telok Ayer Green.

Hokkien immigrants built the temple in 1842, making it the oldest temple in Singapore. Further down Telok Ayer Street, Muslim immigrants from South India built the Nagore Dargah shrine in 1830. The shrine was reopened in 2011 as the Nagore Dargah Heritage Centre and it showcases the artefacts of the Indian Muslim community.

3. Monument Trail in Empress Place, Esplanade Park and War Memorial Park


The statue of Sir Stamford Raffles at Empress Place. PHOTO: ST FILE

Key facts: The trail begins at Cavenagh Bridge and ends at the Civilian War Memorial. Visitors can walk past Empress Place, Esplanade Park and War Memorial Park. The trail is 1.5km long and takes 45 minutes to complete.


The map of the Monument Trail in Empress Place, Esplanade Park and War Memorial Park. PHOTO: NPARKS

What's special about it: The Cannonball Tree (Couroupita Guianensis) is found behind the bus stop on Connaught Drive. The tree is named for its large, round fruits that resemble cannonballs.

A unique sight is the Leopard Tree (Libidibia Ferrea). Its trunk comes in many shades of brown due to its peeling bark. The tree is just behind the Cannonball Tree.

Behind the name: Empress Place, situated between Asian Civilisations Museum and the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, was named in memory of Queen Victoria of England in 1907.

4. Ancient History Trail in Fort Canning Park


The Terap tree at Fort Canning Park. PHOTO: ST FILE

Key facts: The trail begins at the Rain Tree, a Heritage Tree near the Fort Canning Centre, and ends at the former summit of Fort Canning Hill. The trail covers 2km and you need to set aside 45 minutes to explore it on foot.


The map of the Ancient History Trail in Fort Canning Park. PHOTO: NPARKS

What's special about it: The Terap (Artocarpus Elasticus) produces elastic latex, hence its Latin name. This latex was applied on branches of trees in the area to trap birds that land there. The young leaves are pointed and become oval-shaped as they mature. This Heritage Tree can be found near the Fort Canning Service Reservoir.

The Rain Tree at the beginning of the trail is also a Heritage Tree.

Behind the name: Fort Canning Hill was known as Bukit Larangan, which means "forbidden hill" in Malay . The Malay Annals described the hill as the resting place of the legendary kings of Temasek, who were thought to have ruled Singapore in the 14th century. The Malays were afraid of disturbing the spirits, so they avoided the area.

The Forbidden Spring, located on the west side of Fort Canning Hill, was once reserved only for the wife and consorts of the kings.

5. Rain Forest Walking Trail at Botanic Gardens


An aerial view of the Singapore Botanic Gardens. PHOTO: ST FILE

Key facts: The trail begins near the Visitor Centre, near Nassim Gate. Visitors can leave by the Burkill Gate after their last stop at the Giant Mahang, a tree also known as Elephant's Ears for its ear-like leaves. The trail is 600m long and it takes approximately 30 to 40 minutes to complete.


The map of the Rain Forest Walking Trail at Botanic Gardens. PHOTO: NPARKS

What's special about it: Singapore Botanic Gardens' rainforest is home to the largest native ferns in Singapore. These ferns can measure up to about 3m tall. They grow on trees so they are high enough to get enough sunlight to flourish. They do not have flowers or fruit, reproducing by spores that are found under the fronds.

Behind the name: Nature enthusiasts, inspired by Sir Stamford Raffles' first experimental garden in Fort Canning Park, established the Singapore Botanic Gardens at Tanglin in 1859. The gardens first started as an ornamental one, and once housed a zoo and a band parade area.

After the British government took over in 1874, the gardens also had a scientific role. Its director Henry Nicholas Ridley experimented on rubber trees and invented the herring-bone method of tapping. This method involved a section of the bark being removed, allowing the tree to be tapped for many years without it dying. Rubber tree plantations in Malaya later adopted his techniques, transforming the country into the world's leading rubber producer.

Source: National Parks Board, Singapore Botanic Gardens, National Library Board