SINGAPORE – They may appear unremarkable and are each barely as long as a finger, but two pieces of 14th-century ceramics found in Fort Canning Park were among the standout finds from archaeological work done in 2018 and 2019.

The two light olive-green sherds from Thailand’s Sawankhalok area are on display at a new heritage gallery in the hilltop park, along with other artefacts retrieved in recent decades from the park. Collectively, they back up the notion that Singapore’s history spans at least 700 years.

On Friday (Aug 26), the National Parks Board opened the Fort Canning Heritage Gallery, which occupies part of two levels in Fort Canning Centre, a conserved building built in 1926 as British army barracks.

The board also opened a new 350 sq m Spice Gallery in the park’s Spice Garden, which tells of the history of spice trade in Singapore.

At a launch event in the centre, National Development Minister Desmond Lee said the heritage gallery charts Fort Canning Hill’s history and the important roles that it played in Singapore’s story, from the 14th century until today.

NParks group director for Fort Canning Park and Istana division Ryan Lee said the new gallery will be a good starting point for park visitors to understand the park’s history and context, before exploring its gardens further.

He added that NParks is also planning to revamp the play areas in Jubilee Park from 2023, and that a feasibility study to have a lookout point constructed on the hilltop will be completed by year-end.

Located on a hill, Fort Canning Park is thought to have been home to ancient royalty in the 14th century, including Sang Nila Utama, the Srivijayan prince credited for naming Singapore.

In 1822, modern Singapore’s founder Sir Stamford Raffles started a botanical and experimental garden on the hill to test if economic crops such as nutmeg and cloves could withstand the island’s climate. The military fortified the hill from 1859 and used it until the 1970s, when it became a public park.

These changes are traced through the five zones in the new heritage gallery, which showcases the hill’s history through artefacts that were uncovered on it during archaeological studies since the 1980s. Archaeologists and historians John Miksic, Kwa Chong Guan and Goh Geok Yian were consulted on the gallery’s design.

Also within Fort Canning Centre, which hosted The Bicentennial Experience in 2019, is a new 210 sq m gallery that will house two free exhibitions by the Society for Chinese Ceramics between Oct and June 2023.

Meanwhile, the new Spice Gallery has more that 180 plants and tells of Singapore’s short-lived spice plantations in the 1800s which were variously wiped out by pests, or hampered by poor soil. Despite this, Singapore remained a centre for spice trade, and spices today form an important part of local food culture that visitors can learn about in the gallery.