Singapore officially the Republic of Singapore, is a sovereign city-state and island country in Southeast Asia. It lies off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula and is 137 kilometres north of the equator. Singapore consists of 63 islands, including the main island, widely known as Singapore Island or Pulau Ujong (Malay). The highest natural point is Bukit Timah Hill at 163.63 m. On-going land reclamation projects have increased Singapore's land area from 581.5 km2 in the 1960s to 718.3 km2 presently. The country is projected to grow by another 100 km2 by 2030. Close to 10 percent of Singapore's land has been set aside for parks and nature reserves.
While the earliest known historical records of Singapore are shrouded in time, a third century Chinese account describes it as "Pu-luo-chung", or the "island at the end of a peninsula". Later, the city was known as Temasek (Sea Town), when the first settlements were established from AD 1298-1299. During the 14th century, this small but strategically-located island earned a new name. According to legend, Sang Nila Utama, a Prince from Palembang (the capital of Srivijaya), was out on a hunting trip when he caught sight of an animal he had never seen before. Taking it to be a good sign, he founded a city where the animal had been spotted, naming it “The Lion City” or Singapura, from the Sanskrit words “simha” (lion) and “pura” (city). The city was then ruled by the five kings of ancient Singapura.
Modern Singapore was founded in the 19th century, thanks to politics, trade and a man known as Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. During this time, the British empire was eyeing a port of call in this region to base its merchant fleet, and to forestall any advance made by the Dutch. Singapore, already an up-and-coming trading post along the Malacca Straits, seemed ideal. Raffles, then the Lieutenant-Governor of Bencoolen in Sumatra, landed in Singapore on 29 January 1819.
Recognising the immense potential of the swamp-covered island, he helped negotiate a treaty with the local rulers and established Singapore as a trading station. The city quickly grew as an entrepot trade hub, attracting immigrants from China, India, the Malay Archipelago and beyond. In 1822, Raffles implemented the Raffles Town Plan, also known as the Jackson Plan, to address the issue of growing disorderliness in the colony. Ethnic residential areas were segregated into four areas. The European Town had residents made up of European traders, Eurasians and rich Asians, while the ethnic Chinese were located in present-day Chinatown and south-east of the Singapore River. Ethnic Indians resided at Chulia Kampong north of Chinatown, and Kampong Glam consisted of Muslims, ethnic Malays and Arabs who had migrated to Singapore.
Singapore’s prosperity suffered a major blow during World War II, when it was attacked by the Japanese on 8 December 1941. The invaders arrived from the north, confounding the British military commanders who had expected an attack by sea from the south. Despite their superior numbers, the Allied forces surrendered to the Japanese on Chinese New Year, 15 February 1942. It was the largest surrender of British-led forces in history. The island, once feted as an “impregnable fortress”, was renamed Syonan-to (Light of the South Island in Japanese). When the Japanese surrendered in 1945, the island was handed over to the British Military Administration.
In April 1946, Singapore became a British Crown Colony. In 1959, the growth of nationalism led to self-government, and the country’s first general election. The People’s Action Party (PAP) won a majority of 43 seats. In 1963, Malaysia was formed, comprising of the Federation of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak and North Borneo. The move was meant to foster closer ties. However, Singapore’s merger proved unsuccessful, and less than two years later on 9 August 1965, it left Malaysia to become an independent and sovereign democratic nation.
Since then, Singapore has developed rapidly, earning recognition as one of the Four Asian Tigers. Singapore is one of the world's major commercial hubs, with the fourth-biggest financial centre and one of the five busiest ports.
Approximately 5.4 million people live in Singapore (June 2013), of which approximately two million are foreign-born. While Singapore is diverse, ethnic Asians predominate: 75 percent of the population is Chinese, with significant minorities of Malays, Indians, and Eurasians. There are four official languages, English, Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil, and the country promotes multiculturalism through a range of official policies. Singapore is a unitary multiparty parliamentary republic, with a Westminster system of unicameral parliamentary government.