SINGAPORE - A stroll along Fort Canning Park will now take visitors on a short journey through time.
Nine historical gardens, launched on Monday (May 27), recreate the days when 14th-century kings such as Sang Nila Utama had palaces perched high on the hill, while royal women bathed in a freshwater spring that used to flow down it, as well as the 1800s, when cash crops such as nutmeg trees, clove plants and rambutan trees were propagated on a 20ha plantation next to the park.
In February last year, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong announced enhancements would be made to Fort Canning Park to highlight its history and make the hill more accessible to visitors.
The gardens, spanning 8ha of the 18ha park, consist of Pancur Larangan (Forbidden Spring), Artisan's Garden, Sang Nila Utama Garden, Raffles Garden, Farquhar Garden, Jubilee Park, First Botanic Garden, Spice Garden and Armenian Street Park.
Making them more exciting, an augmented reality (AR) trail winds through the gardens, allowing visitors to view scenes from as early as 1300 on their smartphones by scanning the AR codes at eight points along the route.
The new virtual trail, developed by the National Parks Board and National Heritage Board, is an extension of their BalikSG app's Singapore River Trail launched in January.
The Sang Nila Utama Garden, named for the Palembang prince, is a re-creation of South-east Asian gardens of the 14th century. Visitors are welcomed by Javanese split gates and statues of frogs, fish and ducks - fauna that was believed to be seen in the palace gardens.
The garden also has traditional features such as a symmetric layout and reflective pools filled with lily pads that used to be a meditative refuge for royalty.
"The intent was to restore landscapes that were known to have existed or could have existed in Fort Canning Park," said Mr Wong at the opening of the gardens on Monday.
"To do so, we consulted archaeologists and historians, and scoured historical records, old photos, maps and letters."
Mr Wong also announced that the second phase of the enhancement plan will be completed in 2021. A nature play garden and a space to showcase the performing arts will be added to Jubilee Park. Fort Canning Centre will be repurposed as a heritage gallery while the Foothills will have art galleries and more dining options.
NParks is also conducting a year-long study to find out if it is possible to build a lookout point and gallery at the top of the hill.
To make Fort Canning Park more accessible to the elderly, families with young children and people with disabilities, covered escalators, pedestrian-friendly walkways and a platform lift were installed at certain points.
The covered escalators connecting Fort Canning MRT station and Bras Basah MRT station to the park were strategically positioned to increase accessibility to the park, said an NParks spokesman. Previously, visitors could access the park only by climbing the stairs.
A stretch of Canning Rise between the Registry of Marriages and the National Museum was converted to a wide footpath so that visitors do not have to cross the road to reach the park.
A platform lift will take visitors from Fort Canning Centre up to Fort Gate for the centrepiece event of the bicentennial, the Bicentennial Experience, which opens on June 1.
Fort Gate will be the site of a series of interactive pavilions as part of the show. The Bicentennial Experience - which runs from June 1 to Sept 15 - will take visitors on an immersive journey through 700 years of Singapore's history.
Mr Henry Chan, 57, who visited the historical gardens on Monday, said he enjoyed walking in the Sang Nila Utama garden, which he found peaceful. He also took away nuggets of new information, he said.
"Back when I was in school, I did not learn that Sir Stamford Raffles was a naturalist and used to grow spices in Fort Canning,"said the property manager.
He added that more shade could be provided for visitors to beat the heat. "Hopefully when the young trees in the gardens start growing more, the area will be more shaded."