(CNN) — It was once often called Pulau Blakang Mati. Some translate the title politely as “the island of woe,” however probably the most cited translation is “the island behind which lies death.”
Now, it is referred to as Sentosa, from the Malay phrase for peaceable. Filled with theme parks, seashores, luxurious resorts, casinos and different amusements, it is Singapore’s main island for staycations and is without doubt one of the metropolis’s hottest locations for worldwide vacationers.
But how did all of it start?
Fifty years in the past this September, the nascent nation of Singapore fashioned the Singapore Development Corporation (SDC), which — as its title signifies — was designed to remodel a then rural, largely uninhabited island into an city playground.
A Malay island
The 500-hectare island is formed like the massive finish of a smoking pipe, curving across the southern aspect of what’s now Singapore. Its form and place made it a good spot for merchants touring to and from Malaysia — and a common hideout for the pirates who raided these ships.
There have been three main kampongs (villages) right here: Ayer Bandera, Serapong and Blakan Mati. Residents of the island have been a mixture of Chinese, Malay and Bugis (from Indonesia’s Sulawesi island).
Then, in 1819, Sir Stamford Raffles arrived in what would change into the Lion City.
The British statesman left an indelible stamp not solely on Singapore however on a lot of East Asia, which he explored and wrote about throughout his diplomatic posts there.
Sentosa has a smaller model of Singapore’s well-known Merlion statue.
Sentosa Development Corporation
During the second half of the nineteenth century, the British started constructing fortifications round Singapore. On Sentosa, there have been 4 of those — Fort Serapong (close to the middle of the island), Fort Connaught, the Imbiah Battery and Fort Siloso (on the far northwest tip).
While Singapore was managed by the British, troopers lived on Pulau Blakang Mati. Malay, Chinese and Indian laborers did laundry, steered sampan boats and cleared land for the White navy members.
Although Sentosa’s moniker was modified in 1970, history buffs will nonetheless acknowledge the names of most of the locations dotted across the island. Fort Siloso — now a public park and history museum — continues to be there, however a seashore, elevated walkway via the jungle and a tram station all bear the Siloso title too.
The onetime Imbiah Battery is now a lookout spot for hikers, whereas the deserted buildings of Fort Serapong are fashionable for followers of city exploration and “ruin porn.”
Meanwhile, the elegant The Barracks resort was, as its title signifies, as soon as the house to British artillerymen. While the lodging are considerably extra comfortable today, friends can nonetheless solar themselves on the previous parade grounds.
A Singaporean island
Much of Sentosa’s history parallels the history of the nation of Singapore.
In 1965, Singapore formally declared independence from Malaysia and commenced to determine what sort of a nation it needed to be.
As commerce and business grew on Singapore, Sentosa remained largely rural and uninhabited. Most of the residents trickled away within the Seventies and resettled on Singapore.
Changes got here shortly and dramatically. In the Seventies, guests to the island may take a cable automobile, however inside a decade there was additionally an above-ground tram that made it simple to get from place to position. Then, in 1992, the Sentosa Causeway, linking the 2 islands, was unveiled.
Tourist points of interest got here and went as fashionable developments modified.
Underwater World, on the time the biggest oceanarium in Asia, was as a result of open in 1989 however did not open till 1991. Visitor numbers fluctuated over time, and Underwater World finally closed in 2016.
Another relic of the previous was The Asian Village. This attraction was much like Disney World’s Epcot, with completely different “villages” representing Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and different Asian nations, plus some rides. It shut down in 2000.
The Apollo Hotel was the primary vacationer lodging on the island. It opened in 1978 and closed in 1986.
Meanwhile, the primary seashore resort on the island was the Shangri-La, which welcomed its inaugural friends in 1993. It took a decade, however finally different large luxurious manufacturers catering to worldwide vacationers adopted — the Capella in 2009, the W in 2012 and Sofitel in 2015.
A musical fountain mild present was one casualty of improvement, because it was knocked all the way down to make room for the Resorts World complicated that features Southeast Asia’s solely Universal Studios theme park and a few 1,700 resort rooms throughout a number of properties.
Also on the best way out is Sentosa’s personal Merlion, a sibling to the well-known one throughout the water in Singapore.
These days, he says, vacationers are extra interested by experiences than in landmarks.
The metropolis’s fixed warmth and humidity have additionally created a marketplace for nighttime actions. Digital creations and light-weight reveals are on the listing of attainable additions.
Ferries used to deliver friends to Sentosa, however today most individuals come by automobile.
Sentosa Development Corporation
So a lot of what exists on Sentosa is new and glossy that it is comprehensible why the widespread “it was a manmade island” false impression retains going round.
Land reclamation could be the supply of the confusion. Pulau Blakang Mati was about 280 hectares in dimension, and since 1972 Sentosa has grown to about 500 hectares.
Despite all of the bustle, it is attainable to search out that peacefulness that Sentosa’s title guarantees, particularly when staying at one of many island’s motels. The Capella Resort is surrounded by greenery and is a fashionable spot for sundown cocktails.
One main change was bringing again full-time residents to the island. However, the trendy residents of Sentosa bear virtually zero resemblance to the communities who lived on Pulau Blakang Mati.
Sentosa Cove, on the island’s japanese coast, is the one gated luxurious neighborhood in Singapore. In a place the place many individuals reside in cramped quarters, this shortly turned among the most sought-after actual property within the nation.
An artist’s rendering of Sentosa Sensoryscape, coming to the island in 2023.
Courtesy Sentosa Development Corporation
What comes subsequent
Singapore, at all times looking out for brand spanking new improvement alternatives, is already considering past Sentosa.
The new Sentosa is prone to be Palau Brani, a trapezoidal land mass and former Navy base between Singapore and Sentosa. These days, most guests merely discover Brani out of the nook of their eye as they drive from one island to the opposite, however the bold Sentosa-Brani Master Plan will join the 2 with a $90 million Singaporean ($63 million US) hyperlink.
This “Greater Southern Waterfront” initiative is a multi-decade challenge that can push out among the city-state’s business port areas in favor of extra vacationer points of interest and resorts.
Like practically each different large infrastructure challenge on the planet, this one was held up by the coronavirus pandemic however has restarted as Singapore has dropped restrictions and adopted a “living with the virus” technique.
The plan sees the 2 islands divided into 5 sections — waterfront, island coronary heart, beachfront, vibrant cluster (suppose thrill points of interest, occasion house, and the like) and ridgefront.
The first main initiative, a two-tiered “sensory walkway” via Sentosa that connects the northern and southern elements of the island, is because of open subsequent 12 months.