The small colonial district, which developed around the confluence of the Gombak and Klang rivers in the 1880s, is the area of KL that best retains its historic character. At its heart on the west bank of the Klang, the beautifully tended open padang (field) of Merdeka Square is where on August 31, 1957, Malaysia’s first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, hauled down the British flag and declared merdeka, or independence. The 95m-high flagpole to the south is supposedly the tallest in the world, and the tiled square below is a popular spot for people to gather in the evenings.
East across Jalan Raja, the superbly florid 1897 Sultan Abdul Samad Building is a fine example of Anthony Norman’s Moorish-style architecture. Its elegant two-storey grey-and-red-brick colonnade frontage, pierced by arches and windows, supports a facade topped by a 41m-high clock tower and copper cupolas. Formerly the headquarters of the colonial administration, then law courts, it currently houses the Information, Communication and Culture Department; come here at night to see it outlined in fairy lights.