Istana Satu

The beautiful, traditional Malay house adorning the grounds of Muzium Negara is Istana Satu, a palace belonging to the Terengganu royalty, which was acquired in 1972 by the Federation of Museums. Its reconstruction on the grounds of Muzium Negara was completed in April 1974.

Built high on pillars, it conforms to the long roofed, 12-pillared architectural style of Terengganu. Traditional houses in Terengganu are generally 6-pillared or 12-pillared, a reference to the number of pillars holding the roof structure. These tall pillars, which can raise the floor of the house as high as eight feet, not only protected the house from wild animals and floods but also warded off ground dampness prevalent in our humid climate.

Seven steps lead to the verandah of the palace. This number is intentionally odd as, according to Malay superstitious practice, a person should leave the house with his/her right foot first. With an odd number of steps, the journey away from the house will again start with the right foot.

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Malay craftsmanship is evident through the beautiful wood-carvings, both inside and outside the palace. The tiered roof is unique to the northeast states of Terengganu and Kelantan.

A traditional 12-pillared Terengganu house has three sections – the serambi (verandah where guests are also received and entertained), Rumah Ibu (Mother’s house, comprising the living and sleeping areas), and Dapor (kitchen, which also includes the dining area). Rumah Ibu, the main section of the house, is named as such as the mother occupies an important position in Malay culture.

Istana Satu originally comprised two units: the Federation of Museums only acquired one unit while the other unit was purchased by a private individual. In the original palace, the Rumah Ibu would have been a  structure separate from the Dapor but linked with it.

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The royal bedroom. Tekat needlework can be seen on the pillows. This technique uses gold or silver thread to create embroidery on satin silk and velvet. Tekat became part of the royal Malay tradition.

The Sultan’s palace in Kuala Terengganu has traditionally been located at the foot of Bukit Puteri. Sultan Baginda Omar (r. 1831, 1839-1876), wresting control of Terengganu in 1839, initially stayed in a fort on Bukit Puteri but later moved down the hill to this traditional site. He built a timber palace, Istana Hijau, on this site but it was gutted in 1882 by a fire that also destroyed 1600 other houses. This incident occurred during the reign of Sultan Zainal Abidin III (r. 1881-1918) who then built Istana Satu (First Palace) enclosed in a large compound known as Kota (fort). Other buildings were added within Kota and in 1895, the imposing Istana Maziah became the official residence of the Sultan.

Do saunter into Istana Satu the next time you visit the museum, leaving your shoes at the base of the steps.

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Kota, circa 1895. Taken from the Federation Museums Journal, Vol VII, 1962, pg 93. Istana Satu was connected via a bridge to Rumah Tele making it convenient for the Sultan to visit the occupants. Rumah Tele was built in 1888, in time for the King of Thailand to occupy it during his visit to Terengganu in February 1889. This building has been reconstructed on the grounds of the Terengganu State Museum.
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Author: Museum Volunteers, JMM

Museum Volunteers, JMM Taking the Mystery out of History

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