George Town, named by the British after King George III, is Penang’s capital city. The government centre and its financial heart, George Town is an interesting and bustling city with modern high rise buildings, cathedrals, mosques, government offices, temples, bazaars, shops and cafes. A myriad of delights, George Town is very compact - the older part of the city is a labyrinth of narrow lanes and alleyways, which makes it a pleasure to walk and sight-see.
Indeed, walking is highly recommended - a leisurely stroll will enable one to slowly drink in the many details that would otherwise be lost in a hurried tour. If walking is considered tiring, try a ride on the old but exciting trishaw.
Fort Cornwallis is situated at the spot where Captain Francis Light was supposed to have landed in 1786. Originally a wooden structure, the fort was rebuilt between 1808 and 1810 with convict labour. It was named after Charles Marquis Cornwallis, a distinguished Governor General of India, and designed to protect the harbour from possible French attacks.
Today, much of the old fort remains, but its precincts have been converted into a public park and an open air theater. It is still guarded by old cannons, which were retrieved by the British from pirates who had captured them from the Johore Sultanate.
The most famous of the cannons is Seri Rambai, which dates back to 1613. Local beliefs have it that childless women can become fertile by placing flowers in the barrel of the cannon and offering special prayers.
Next to Fort Cornwallis is the Esplanade, a popular waterfront promenade which stretches from the hawker stalls at one end to the clock tower at the other. Central in the Esplanade is the Padang, a huge square of town green. Standing proudly beside is the City Hall, a stately colonial building which is a fine example of British palladian architecture featuring magnificent Corinthian columns and huge windows.
Museum and Art Gallery
Located on Lebuh Farquhar, this newly-renovated museum is Malaysia’s most visited.
Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion
Cheong Fatt Tze (1840 - 1917), a Hakka from Tai Pu in the Teochew district, migrated to Java in the 1850s where he prospered and moved his base to Penang in the early 1890s. A powerful Nanyang industrialist and a first-class Mandarin in the Manchu government, he was made Consul-General in Singapore and economic advisor to the Empress Dowager.
Cheong Fatt Tze had eight wives and owned many residences throughout his trading empire but made Penang his base, where he raised his six sons.
The Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion was built over seven years from 1896 to 1904 by teams of master craftsmen from China. This mansion is only one of three of its kind left outside China. The mansion is the only stately Chinese-type dwelling representing the best of 18th and 19th century Chinese architecture in the State.
It was acquired and painstakingly restored to its original splendour by a group of conservationists several years back. To visit, go to Leith Street which is off Lebuh Farquhar, beside St. Xavier’s Institution school.
The Streets of George Town ( see John’s note on The Streets of George Town )
George Town, although multicultural in composite, is predominantly Chinese and a big portion of it is Chinatown - a noisy, crowded, delightful conglomeration of people, goods, mobile stalls and old shophouses.
For the best of George Town, walk along Love Lane, Pitt Street, King Street and Carnarvon Street. Certain streets like Chulia Street and Campbell Street are best viewed in (Not Netscape) the evening, when they burst to life with hawker stalls and nighttime activities. Incidentally, some of the best hawker food are found on these two streets. See also the Southern end of Penang Street for a taste of “Little India.” Along this street are several banana leaf rice restaurants and a Hindu temple.
For the best of colonial architecture, see Beach Street and Light Street, where financial institutions and chambers of the State Assembly are housed.