Home About Chinatown Geography and Etymology

Geography and Etymology

Singapore's Chinatown is composed of several sub-districts. Kreta Ayer is one section within the larger Chinatown area. Other sections include Bukit Pasoh, (known also as the "Street of Clans") in which can be found several Chinese cultural and clan associations, and Tanjong Pagar, with many preserved pre-World War II shophouses. Finally, Telok Ayer was the original focal point of settlement in Chinatown, and is home to many Chinese temples as well as Muslim mosques.

There are also the Chinatown Heritage Centre, Chinatown Food Street, and Chinatown Night Market, which are largely maintained today for heritage and tourism purposes.

Bukit Pasoh Road is located on a hill that in the 1830s marked the western boundary of the colonial town.
In Chinese, Singapore's Chinatown is known as Niu che shui as a result of the fact that, because of its location, Chinatown's water supply was principally transported by animal-driven carts in the 19th century. The name is also echoed in the Malay name, Kreta Ayer, with the same meaning.
Street name origins
Road turning right is the entrance to Temple Street .
    * Mosque Street is named after Jamae Mosque, located on the South Bridge Road end of the street. The mosque was completed in 1830 by the Chulia Muslims from the Coromandel coast of South India. In the early years, Mosque Street was the site of ten stables.
    * Pagoda Street takes its name from the Sri Mariamman Temple. During the 1850s and 1880s, the street was one of the centres of slave traffic. It also had its share of coolie quarters and opium smoking dens. One of the traders was Kwong Hup Yuen who, it is thought, occupied No. 37, and after whom Pagoda Street is often referred to today.
    * Sago Lane and Sago Street got their name because in the 1840s there were a number of sago factories located there. Sago is taken from the pith of the rumbia palm and made into flour that is used for making cakes both sweet and savoury.
    * Smith Street was probably named after Sir Cecil Clementi Smith, who was the Governor of the Straits Settlements between 1887 and 1893.
    * Temple Street refers to the Sri Mariamman Temple, which is located at the South Bridge Road end of the street. It was formerly known as Almeida Street after Joaquim d'Almeida, son of José D'Almeida, who owned some land at the junction of Temple Street and Trengganu Street. In 1908, the Municipal Commissioners changed its name to Temple Street to avoid confusion with other streets in Singapore which were also named after D'Almeida.
    * Trengganu Street, described as "the Piccadilly of Chinese Singapore" in the past, now forms the heart of the tourist belt in Chinatown. In Chinese, it is called gu chia chui wah koi, or "the cross street of Kreta Ayer". The crossing of streets refers to Smith Street and Sago streets. The street name is derived from Terengganu, a state in present day Peninsular Malaysia.
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