Carcosa Seri Negara
A historical heritage mansion, the Carcosa Seri Negara claims a hilltop setting among more than 16 hectares of garden and lawns in the heart of Kuala Lumpur city, Malaysia.
The history of Carcosa Seri Negara is integral to the development and history of Malaysia.
In 1895, four Malay states were governed by hereditary Sultans, with the help of British advisors. Sir Frank Swettenham, then the British advisor to the Sultan of Perak, suggested that the four states form a single Federation. His suggestion was accepted by the Sultans and the British Foreign Office. Sir Frank himself was appointed the first Resident-General of the Federated Malay States.
Kuala Lumpur then was a simple village inhabited mainly by Chinese tin miners. But Sir Frank had loved the site ever since 1888, when he visited a jungle area on the western outskirts. Feeling that the town needed a public area, he supervised the damming of a stream on that jungle site. The stream became a lake and the jungle became what is today the Lake Gardens.
In 1896, Sir Frank started constructing his official residence above the Lake Gardens. This was Carcosa, probably a stylization of the Italian cara cosa or “dear place”.
In 1904, Sir Frank moved to Carcosa, at the same time finishing a building called “King’s House” on an adjacent hillside. King’s House, today Seri Negara (which means “beautiful country”), was to house the Governor of the Straits Settlements as well as other illustrious guests of the Malay Federation.
From 1904 until the 1941 Japanese invasion of Malaysia, Carcosa was the official residence of the highest British representative to the Malay States. The titles have varied over the years (Resident General became Chief Secretary, which became British Resident, Selangor State), but Carcosa always remained “the house on the hill”. Receptions, formal balls and holidays were always celebrated here. When guests arrived, they were housed at the King’s House.
A point of pride with the residents has always been the Lake Gardens. Malaysia has over 18,000 indigenous plants, trees and flowers. Added to these, the British planted flora from their previous postings, many of which thrived in this privileged spot.
During World War II, Carcosa became the Japanese Senior Officers’ Army Mess. In August 1945, the British Army used the mansions for their own Senior Officers until a Chief Secretary was appointed. With the independence of Malaya in 1957, Carcosa became the official residence of the British High Commissioner, while the King’s House - now renamed Seri Negara - was the official guesthouse for Malaysia’s most important visitors.
In 1987, Carcosa was returned to the Government of Malaysia, and in 1989, after Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II stayed at Carcosa during the meeting of the commonwealth nations - Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), both mansions were administered together forming what is now called Carcosa Seri Negara.
Internally, they have gone through several changes. What had once been drawing rooms, studies, and small guestrooms are now suites and function/banquet rooms. Externally, Carcosa Seri Negara preserves its original outlines. The mansions, set against the manicured lawns and the lake gardens, show a part of Malaysia which seemingly can never change.
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