Many of Malaysia’s towns and cities have a common theme standing as a legacy to their colonial past. The central clock towers in Malaysia come in all shapes and sizes from the colonial to more traditional designs. Here are our favourites and where to find them.
Sultan Abdul Samad Building Clock Tower, Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur’s central clock tower is part of the Sultan Abdul Samad Building on Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square). The structure soars to a height of 41 metres (135 feet) in the heart of the city centre. After officially opening in 1897 on Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Parade, this is a testament to their colonial heritage.
As the name suggests, this clock tower in Malaysia (like Kuala Lumpur’s) honours Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. The whitewashed structure in King Edward’s Place exhibits the type of symbolism The Da Vinci Code would be proud of. Six steps lead to the entrance representing each decade of her long reign. Each foot in its 60 feet (18.2 metre) height commemorates a year of her role as Queen.
Ipoh’s Birch Memorial is the most controversial clock tower in Malaysia. Perak’s First British Resident, James Birch, tried to expand colonial influence against the wishes of Malay communities. Three decades after Malay chiefs murdered Birch, the authorities erected the tower in 1909. The highly decorated four-tiered tower sits on a small square in front of Ipoh State Mosque. But look a little closer at the map, in particular, the street names surrounding Birch Memorial. Dato Maharajalela and Dato Sagor are the names of his assassinators! The Brits viewed Birch as a hero; the Malays saw his murderers as heroes.
Standing in Melaka’s Dutch Square, you could be excused for thinking the red Clock Tower was a legacy of the Dutch era. But despite its European flair and resemblance to the nearby Stadthuys, it was built six decades after the Dutch left Melaka. None other than a Chinese businessman commissioned the three-tiered Tang Beng Swee Clock Tower. Take note of how the white shutters contrast with its red exterior.
Sabah’s clock tower on Signal Hill honours the untimely death of Jesselton’s (today’s Kota Kinabalu) First District Officer. Francis George Atkinson died from Malaria at the age of 28. His mother ordered the Atkinson Clock Tower as a tribute to her son. The white and black wooden structure stands 15.25 metres (50 feet) boasting two clock faces. Dating back to 1905, this is both Sabah’s oldest standing building and among the most stunning examples of colonial architecture in Borneo.
The Leaning Tower of Teluk Intan is Malaysia’s version of the iconic attraction in Pisa. From a distance, it looks like an eight-storied building with a slight tilt. Stand closer and the 25-metre-tall (82 feet) tower covers three levels and shares similarities to a pagoda. Back in the late 19th century, Chinese contractor Leong Choon Chong commissioned this building to serve as a water tank. Heavy water combined with soft ground developed its distinctive slant over several decades. Town officials later added a clock face to the national monument making it among the biggest clock towers in Malaysia.
Kota Bahru in Malaysia’s northeast Kelantan State gets few visitors and hardly anyone appreciates the recently opened Royal Jetty. The three-tiered tower looks almost as if it’s balancing on the building below. While this might not be as old as some of the other clock towers in Malaysia, it still dominates the main square at 45.7 metres (150 feet).
In English, Menara Jam Besar translates to ‘Big Clock Tower’. The stubby white and yellow-gold structure sits in Alor Setar’s main square opposite the magnificent Zahir Mosque. When it first opened in 1912, the tower served as both a timekeeper for the residents and the local muezzin to call the devoted to prayer. Today, the clock tower is among the Kedah’s oldest buildings. This is one of our most photogenic clock towers in Malaysia for the blend of colonial and Islamic architecture in the surrounding square.
Sarawak on Borneo Island evolved differently from the rest of Malaysia. James Brooke governed the state as part of the three-generation White Rajah dynasty. The Astana (Palace) overlooking Kuching’s river is a legacy to the former colonial days. Look into the Astana’s grand complex and you’ll see the baroque Charles Brooke Memorial Clock Tower. This opened in 1888 to honour Sarawak’s Second White Rajah and is a prime example of colonial clock towers in Malaysia.
Kuala Klawang Merdeka Clock Tower (Kuala Klawang), Negeri Sembilan
The appeal of Kuala Klawang is slightly different to the other clock towers in Malaysia. Rather than honouring a colonial or historical figure, it commemorates Malaysia’s independence from the British in 1957. But the other significant feature comes in the style of roof. The unusual curved and pointed appearance took influence from the Minangkabau styles in nearby Sumatra.