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National Monuments Of Singapore: National Museum

What is a National Monument? Who gazettes them? How many national monuments are there in Singapore? To date, the Preservation of Sites and Monuments, a division of National Heritage Board, has identified and gazetted 75 buildings, structures and sites of national significance as an integral part of Singapore’s built heritage.

And we're here to tell you all about them - one National Monument at a time!

You've probably passed by or stepped into more than a few of them without realising they were National Monuments: Al-Abrar Mosque, Asian Civilisations Museum, the Civilian War Memorial, Saint Andrew's Cathedral, the Esplanade Park Memorials, Fort Siloso on Sentosa - no need to plan an itinerary for friends visiting from overseas; just show them this article ✌️

In this edition, we spotlight the oldest existing museum on our Little Red Dot, the National Museum of Singapore.

📍 Location

The National Museum was the 30th building to be gazetted as a National Monument. Located near other National Monuments such as the Peranakan Museum and Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, the MRT stations nearest to the National Museum are Dhoby Ghaut, Bras Basah and Bencoolen.

📅 Significant dates

Date built: 

  • 1884-12 Oct 1887: Raffles Library and Museum was constructed


  • 22 Jan 1845: A small museum was set up in the then Singapore Library in the Singapore Institution (now Raffles Institution)
  • 1863: Both the library and museum were relocated to the Town Hall (today's Victoria Theatre)
  • 1960: The museum separated from the library; Raffles Museum became officially known as National Museum
  • 1993-Mar 2006: Known as the Singapore History Museum
  • 2006-Present: Known by its original name, National Museum of Singapore

Date gazetted: 14 Feb 1992

📜 History

Plans to found a museum were first mooted in 1823. However, it was only in 1843, when the Singapore Library received two gold coins presented by the Temenggong of Johor, that a concrete attempt at a museum was made. A small museum was set up within the library which was housed in Singapore’s first school, Singapore Institution (today’s Raffles Institution).

Both the museum and the library were relocated to the Town Hall in 1863. Ten years later, a committee of eight prominent citizens was appointed to organise the Exhibition of Colonial Products – an initiative launched in different colonies across the British Empire – in connection with the Exhibition Building in South Kensington, London (known as the Victoria and Albert Museum today). The committee was also tasked to oversee the establishment of an institution that would be named Raffles Library and Museum.

It was decided in 1882 that a proper museum building would be constructed. Work began in 1884 and the building was completed three years later. Governor of the Straits Settlements Sir Frederick Weld ceremoniously unlocked the front door on 12 Oct 1887. The museum was intended to be primarily a repository of zoological specimens, documenting the natural history of Singapore and the region.


Despite the grandeur of the new edifice, the museum’s initial years were plagued by numerous problems and challenges. Zoological specimens kept in the museum often suffered mould growth, while termite invasions rendered part of the roof structurally unsound. Moreover, exhibits were found to be covered with dust from the streets outside, as no glazing was installed on the windows of the building.

Still, the museum grew steadily. By 1910, Raffles Library and Museum was a highly regarded and established institution. The museum boasted an immense collection of specimens and artefacts from a wide range of fields including zoology, botany, geology, ethnology, and numismatics (the study of coins, banknotes, and medals), collected from the Malayan region.

A parallel block was constructed behind the museum and was officially opened on the Lunar New Year of 1907. In 1916, a library wing was added. The architecture of these extensions was consistent with that of the original museum block.

Subsequently, Dr Karl R. Hanitsch, the curator and director of Raffles Library and Museum, started a Singapore history collection. The German-born entomologist, who served in the institution between 1895 and 1919, was instrumental in starting a collection of portraits, plans, and photographs of old Singapore.


In 1960, the museum separated from the library, and its name was formally changed from Raffles Museum to National Museum. Following Singapore’s independence in 1965, the museum shifted its focus to reflect the fledgling nation’s cultural and academic interests, which helped to define its new position on the international stage.

The zoological specimens were transferred to the Zoology Department of the University of Singapore (now National University of Singapore) in 1972, allowing the museum to devote itself solely to the history, ethnology, and art of Singapore.

The National Museum was renamed the Singapore History Museum from 1993 to 2006. When the museum building began redevelopment and renovation in 2003, the museum was temporarily moved to Riverside Point. In 2006, the museum returned to its home and became officially known as the National Museum of Singapore.


📐 Design and architecture

Designed by Colonial Engineer Sir Henry E. McCallum, the original structure (the front block of the present building) is largely Neo-Palladian in style. This architectural style is characterised by a highly symmetrical facade and the use of pediments (triangular tops) above the windows.


The large triangular pediments capping each end of the front block are adorned with the coat of arms of Queen Victoria, most likely to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of the monarch’s reign in 1887 – the same year the building was declared open.


Other Neoclassical features are also incorporated into the building’s facade, such as Doric columns and pilasters (rectangular columns) on the ground level and Ionic (scroll-like) pilasters on the second level. Neat rows of large windows ensured ample ventilation, which was very much needed in tropical Singapore before air-conditioners were installed.


One of the building’s most outstanding features is its rotunda, which is crowned with a dome covered with fish-scale tiles on. Coloured glass panels and arched windows on the dome allowed the interior space to be naturally illuminated.

🕖 Opening hours

Regular visiting hours are from 10am to 7pm daily.

🎟️ Admission

Entry is free for Singaporeans and Permanent Residents. Find out more here.

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