So you’ve stumbled onto an enclave of restaurants and bars in the middle of the city. Except that it’s a quite different from the usual mall or restored shophouses.

No, CHIJMES (pronounced ‘chimes’) – with its green lawns, marble waterfalls, courtyards and neoclassical buildings – harks back to a bygone, more gracious age.

Once a school and chapel

Photo by Sanjay Kewlani – www.skewedeye.com

It makes sense when you realise it used to be a Catholic school for girls.

CHIJMES began with one building – Caldwell House – which was designed by prominent colonial architect George Coleman (who also designed Old Parliament House) as a home for a Senior Magistrate’s clerk.

The property was bought over by Father Beurel in 1853, in addition to surrounding parcels of land, for the purpose for building a girls’ school.

Other structures slowly sprung up around Caldwell House, most notably a grand Anglo-French Gothic chapel in 1904. One of the most elaborate places of worship in Singapore, its intricate plasterwork, wall frescoes and Belgian stained glass windows still inspire wonder today.

Peaceful oasis

Photo by Sanjay Kewlani – www.skewedeye.com

Check out the capitals at the top of each chapel column – each one bears a unique impression of tropical flora or birds.

The complex also used to house an orphanage. Look out for The Gate of Hope, which still stands on Victoria Street, where unwanted babies were left for the nuns to take care of.

Despite the exciting dining and nightlife options it houses today, CHIJMES retains a sense of tranquillity and harmony, making it a peaceful oasis amid the bustle of the city.