Thursday, November 26, 2009

Malaysia: George Town and Penang's British colonial heritage

The cities of the Straits Settlements represent various periods in Malaysia's history. Melaka covers the period from the 15th century Malay sultanate to the Portuguese and Dutch periods beginning in the early 16th century. George Town on the other hand is a testament to the British era from the end of the 18th century.

Near St. George's Church and the Church of the Assumption and close to the sea are an ensemble of structures that remind us that George Town was once a British city. In between the two churches is the Penang State Museum. Built in 1906, it was once the home of the Penang Free School and the Hutchings School. Across the street is the Supreme Court Building built in 1905.

My personal favorite is the magnificently-white City Hall Building, a neo-Palladian building completed in 1903 to serve as the seat of government of Penang. Right beside it is the Town Hall Building which was completed in 1880.

Right beside these buildings is the Penang War Memorial. This cenotaph to commemorate war dead is something I've seen in many British colonial cities.

Like many colonial cities, George Town also has fortifications. Fort Cornwallis was built by Sir Francis Light immediately after his landing on the island, with its present star-shaped structure completed in the early 19th century. Beside it is the Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee Clocktower built in 1902.

Facing the port in Pengkalan Weld (Weld Quay) are the Boustead and German merchant houses that were built between 1890 to 1910. The Customs Building with clocktower, built in 1907, once housed the F.M.S. Railways. Near Convent Light Street is the Eastern & Oriental Hotel, a grand colonial hotel established in 1885 by Armenian hoteliers. Check out the 1920s echo dome and Otis cage elevator. It's now a luxury all-suites heritage hotel.

Finally, a Christian Cemetery that dates back to 1790 still exists. It has both Protestant and Catholic sections and is the final resting place of many of Penang's governors, administrators and other pioneers.

Part 1: Bus trip from Kuala Lumpur to Penang, Malaysia
Part 2: Exploring the Penang heritage trail on foot

Related entries
Following the heritage trail in Penang
Melaka, Malaysia is a historic city of the Straits of Malacca
More Straits Settlements history in Malacca

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