The royal town of Kuala Kangsar in Perak is famous for its beautiful palaces with their unique and beautiful architecture. One of these palaces is the Istana Kenangan, which is a short distance away from Istana Iskandariah in Bukit Chandan. Istana Kenangan was remodelled when it was converted into the Royal Museum of Kuala Kangsar. The official opening of the Royal Museum on 16 November 1986 was graced by Paduka Seri Sultan Azlan Muhibuddin Shah.
Istana Kenangan, which now houses the Royal Museum, was built in 1926 by a Malay craftsman by the name of Encik Sopian and his two sons, Zainal Abidin and Ismail, from Bukit Mertajam. The palace was built on the decree of the late Sultan Iskandar as a temporary residence while waiting for Istana Iskandariah to be completed. Prior to that, the Sultan resided in Istana Negara, which had been demolished to make way for Istana Iskandariah.
The palace was originally known as Istana Lembah (Valley Palace) befitting its location in a valley. It is also often called Istana Kuning (Yellow Palace) because of its predominantly yellow colour. The palace was given the name ‘Istana Kenangan' after the palace was restored in the 1960's on the order of YTM Tunku Abdul Rahman.
The palace which was converted into a Muzium has its own share of history. It was the residence of the late Sultan Iskandar from 1931 to 1933 before he moved to Istana Iskandariah. Istana Kenangan was often used as a guest palace, particularly during festivals and royal ceremonies such as birthdays and other celebrations. For the royal family in particular, the palace was also known as Istana Mayat (Palace of the Deceased) as it was used as a stopover for funeral preparation of deceased members of the royal family before burial.
Prior to the outbreak of the Second World War in 1941, the palace was occupied by students from the Sultan Idris Teachers' Training College (MPSI). Since the college building was then being used as a military hospital by the British Army, the late Sultan Sir Abdul Aziz had consented to MPSI students temporarily occupying Istana Kenangan and two other palaces, namely Istana Hilir and Istana Hulu. When the war ended in Malaya, the students were instructed to return to their villages.
In terms of its architectural designs, Istana Kenangan is representative of the impressive traditional Malay architecture. The overall structure of the building consists of hardwood with wickerwork walls and wooden-board roofs. Iron nails were not used in the construction of this palace. Most parts of the palace are embellished with intricate carvings of traditional patterns. The walls are made of woven wickerwork.
The two-storey palace measuring approximately 42 metres long and 11 metres wide was built on sixty pillars. The building has a quite unique shape if viewed from the top, it looks like a sword in its scabbard, which is appropriate since the sword is part of the ceremonial regalia of the Perak royalty.
The Exhibition Hall in the Royal Museum showcases a number of the palace's original rooms such as the sitting room, bed chambers, main audience hall and throne room. However, none of the royal regalia is displayed due to security reasons, and only pictures of these items are put on display.
Befitting the name ‘Istana Kenangan' (Memory Palace), the Royal Museum gives visitors a glimpse into the authentic ancient Malay civilisation and governance. This can be seen from the design of the building, intricate carvings, and historical chronological exhibits that showcase the history of Perak since the days of the Bruas Kingdom. The Royal Museum displays not only historical and cultural artefacts but also the Malay history and its past glory.