When Sir Stamford Raffles first sailed up the Singapore River, he saw a small fishing and trading village along the banks and a thick overgrowth of jungle and mangrove forest creeping up a gentle hill that overlooked the harbor. Over the years to follow, the left bank of the river would become the nerve center for sea trade, and the right bank, at the foot of the hill, would be cleared for the center of government activity.

Raffles's Town Plan of 1822 had special plans for this district, referred to in this guide as the Historic District but also called the City Centre. The center point was the Padang, a large field for sports and ceremonies. Around the field, government buildings were erected, each reflecting preferred British tastes of the day. European hotels popped up, as well as cultural centers, and the park along the marina became a lively focal point for the European social scene.

The oldest part of the city is Fort Canning Park, the hill where Raffles built his home. Its history predates Raffles, with excavation sites unearthing artifacts and small treasures from earlier trading settlements, and a sacred shrine that's believed to be the final resting place of Iskander Shah, founder of the Sultanate of Melaka.

Along the River -- The Singapore River had always been the heart of Singapore even before Raffles landed, but for many years during the 20th century, life here was dead -- quite literally. Rapid urban development that began in the 1950s turned the river into a giant sewer, killing all plant and animal life in it. In the mid-1980s, though, the government began a large and very successful cleanup project; shortly thereafter, the buildings at Boat Quay and Clarke Quay, and later Robertson Quay, were restored. A display on the second floor of the Asian Civilisation Museum relates the story of the river and its cleanup. Now the areas on both banks of the river offer entertainment, food, and pubs day and night, and the river bank is dotted with life-size bronze sculptures of the "people of the river."

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