Text by Kelly Koh
Right in the middle of Kampong Glam, Kandahar Street is flanked by colourful restored shophouses in the Late Shop House and Art Deco style. It’s central location is further imposed by the Malay Heritage Centre and Masjid Sultan to its east and west respectively.
Located in the heart of the Kampong Glam Conservation Area, Kandahar Street was originally part of a greater Javanese and Malay district which gradually shrank after redevelopment projects such as Precinct North 1 and the Golden Mile commenced in the 1960s.
Despite their names, Kandahar Street, and the neighbouring Baghdad Street and Muscat Street, have little immediate “Arab” origins. Instead, their names are believed to reflect the popularity of Perso-Arabic romances depicted in the predominantly Javanese performed Malay bangsawan theatre. What’s more, although the architecture of the adjacent Masjid Sultan is decidedly Indo-Saracenic, it was actually designed by an Irish architect as a replacement for a century-old, South-East Asian, tiered-roof structure which had fallen into disrepair.
The significance of the street has grown over the years. With an upgrading project in 2012, a direct link across Kandahar Street was established between Masjid Sultan and the Malay Heritage Centre (formerly known as Istana Kampong Glam), two popular tourist attractions. An entry along the side wall of the Istana compound was created, with the street fronting the mosque retiled and a tiled arch erected at either end of the street. Although this connection, perpendicular to Kandahar Street, could now be seen as the most important in Kampong Glam, one should not forget the grand entrance to the old Istana from Sultan Gate. Fronted by the Bendahara House, the residence of the Sultan’s heir, the magnificence of the Istana was amplified by the two large banyan trees, one of which still stands today.