The Short Yet Unique History of Johor Bahru

History of Johor Bahru

August 15, 2016

Johor certainly isn't among the world's oldest cities, being formed just a little over 150 years ago in 1855. Sultan Sir Abu Bakar Ibni Al-Marhum Tun Temenggung Raja Daing Ibrahim founded Johor and set up a small headquarters. He named his cozy little fishing village Tanjung Puteri.

Just 3 years later, the village that would later transform to modern day Johor, was renamed Iskandar Puteri in 1858.

Jump ahead to 1866 and Ibrahaim's son, Bakar, gave the village its current name of Johor Bahru. The final naming was part of the opening day ceremony of the Istana Besar; The Grand Palace.

Istana Besar Johor Bahru

The new name also marked the opening ceremony of the village's renowned Grand Palace, the Istana Besar overlooking the Straits of Johor. Today the palace houses the Royal Abu Bakar Museum which is filled with many historical artifacts and heirlooms from Johor's history.

Development Throughout the 1900's

After Sultan Abu Bakar took over from his father, the village of Johor quickly grew to a thriving town, yet still held strong to its foundation as a place where many Malay fisherman laid down family roots.

  • Famous Landmarks: Several of the landmarks that draw in modern tourists were built during the late 1800's and through the first two decades of the 20th century. These included the famous Sultan Abu Bakar State Mosque and the Istana Besar (home of Great Minister, Menteri Besar).
  • Chinese Immigration: Largely due to its increasing popularity as a thriving fishing hub, it was during these early decades that the Chinese started to immigrate here, laying down roots and infusing Johor with their unique cultural and architectural influences.
  • Malay Peninsula Railway: After nearly five years of work, the railway connecting Johor to Singapore was finally opened to the public. While the now city and its inhabitants are owed much credit for Johor's development; the railway opening would later lead to rapid changes to the population and economy of the town post WWII.
  • Japanese Invasion: In January 1942, Japan invaded Johor and took over control. They claimed the Sultan's Istana Bukit Serene property as their official headquarters and military base prior to the famous Battle of Singapore. Sadly, the location of this transformed base and it's proximity to the British Allies' headquarters situated in Singapore, was so strategic it led to the slaughter of an entire colony of English troops. British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill called the dishonorable fall of Singapore to the Japanese the “worst disaster” in British military history.
  • Sultan Ibrahim Building: The state secretariat building was finished in the early 1940's as WWII drew to a close.

Johor Transforms Into a Symbol of Malay Independence Post WWII

Just one year after the end of WWII, the town of Johor was now gaining recognition as a symbol of independence from British rule. To this point, Malaysia had been in British territory for over 100 years, since 1824 when the Anglo-Dutch Treaty was signed.

Anglo-Dutch Treaty

Dato Sir Onn bin Jaafar, who would later go on to become Great Minister of Johor, formed the United Malay National Organization to contest Britain's overzealous citizenship laws for non-Malay people. During the next few years, Malaysia would gain its independence, while nearby Singapore would later separate from Malaysia entirely in 1965.

Singapore would later separate from Malaysia entirely in 1965

Johor: Modern Day Metropolis

After its independence, Johor continued expansion efforts, building infrastructure such as industrial factories and began adding the modern suburbs in the city; namely Tebrau and Plentong.

By 1994, the capital city of Johor Bahru was officially named a city on New Year's day of that year. The Dataran Bandaraya (the city's main public plaza) was built to commemorate this change in status and is a symbol of pride for many born before and shortly after this time-frame.

Dataran Bandaraya

Skip forward to 21st century Johor, and the city is continuing to build and thrive and attract tourists from all over the world. As one of the third largest urban centers in all of Malaysia; Johor; its government and its people have no intention of slowing down their growth, with billions of dollars in development planned for the coming decades.

Read also "Best Buffet Restaurant In Johor Bahru (JB)"

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