Kota Kinabalu is Sabah’s most important city. It is bustling with all sorts of events, commerce and industry. Tourists and backpackers from several parts of the world come here, as this modern city is getting so much attention for its cultural centers, rocking nightlife, modern shopping malls, friendly people, and breath-taking natural resources such as soft white-sand beaches, clear azure waters, mystical dive sites, exotic rainforests, and lush hillsides. In the heart of this amazing city is Padang Merdeka also referred to as Town Padang, Merdeka Square, Independence Square or Dataran Merdeka.
“Merdeka” is Bahasa for “freedom” or “independence”, while “padang” is “field”, so quite literally the place is a grassy field with several facilities that represent Malaysia’s independence from British rule. Structures and landmarks within the park are the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, National History Museum, Royal Selangor Club, and the 100-meter tall flagpole that stands exactly on where the Malaysian Flag was first hoisted in 1957.
British control began in the 18th Century and during that time the city was simply called the Straits Settlements. It was later renamed Jesselton after Charles Jessel, vice chairman of the British North Borneo Chartered Company. In the 1860s, the Chinese settlers cleared the area, cultivated the land and planted vegetables on which the Town Padang is to be located in the future. After a decade, the vegetables were removed and the land was converted into a padang (field) for police parades. It was called the Parade Ground or simply the Padang, and the police headquarters was first built on Bluff Road where Bukid Aman is now located. The Padang was also a popular venue for national cricket and rugby events. In 1897, the Sultan Abdul Samad Building was built to house different government departments controlled by the British. It was one of the most beautiful structures during its day, with a clock tower and copper domes that illuminated the night. Recently, it hosted important offices such as the Federal Court of Malaysia, Court of Appeals, and the High Court of Malaya.
In 1926, Kuala Lumpur was devastated by one of the worst floods in the history of Malaysia. The Padang played an important role in the recovery since it was here where currency notes from the Chartered Bank were laid to dry under the sun. During World War II, the Japanese shooed away the British as the Japanese Empire took over Malaysia and the rest of Southeast Asia. After the war, several states belonging to the Malayan Peninsula unified to form the Malayan Union in 1946, which was then converted into the Federation of Malaya in 1948. On August 31, 1957, Padang Merdeka played its most important role ever in the country’s history. It was here where the Malaysian flag was first raised to celebrate the country’s newly found independence. On January 1, 1990, Padang Merdeka was officially named Dataran Merdeka or Independence Square and underwent renovation in connection with Visit Malaysia 1990, which was officially opened by no less than the former Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohammad.