The historic city of George Town comprises a rich collection of colonial buildings, pre-war shop houses and religious buildings such as mosques, churches and temples. These icons have witnessed the evolution of this olden city, from the time it was established as the first British Straits Settlement in the late 18th century by Sir Francis Light, to the present colourful city with preserved legacy, distinctive cultures that harmoniously co-exist with each other, and a living history.
George Town has more than 200 years of unique history and multi-cultural heritage which makes it a worthy recipient, together with Melaka, as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site on 7 July 2008. The city has the most number of pre-war buildings in South East Asia which are still surviving to this day, befitting its title as Penang Heritage City.
The heritage enclave consists of two zones. The Core Zone which covers an area of 109.38 hectares enclosed by the Straits of Malacca on the north-eastern point of Penang Island, Love Lane to the north-west and bounded by Jalan Dr Lim Chwee and Leong Gat Lebuh Melayu on the south-west corner.
The Core Zone boasts of over 1700 historic architectures on the four main streets of Pengkalan Weld, Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, Lebuh Pantai and Love Lane, and the perpendicular streets inside the zone.
The 150.04 hectares of Buffer Zone protects the Core Zone. It is bounded by the stretch of sea area around the port, Jalan Transfer to the northwest corner and Jalan Perangin to the south-west corner.
The heritage trail was the initial project commenced by the local council in trying to qualify Penang as a world heritage city. Inside the enclave, the trails are clearly marked so they are easy to follow. There are sufficient signboards that explain the history of the structures on the route. There are customised trails that showcase different interests, be it the religious buildings, rows of shop houses or the elegant mansions from the pre-war era.
Most people start the trail at the Penang Heritage Centre headquarters located at the junction of Carnarvon and Acheen streets. From here you can walk to the Penang Islamic Museum (formerly Syed Al-Atas’ Mansion), Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s Penang Base, Yap Kongsi Temple, Masjid Melayu Lebuh Acheh, Khoo Kongsi, Cheah Kongsi, Teochew Temple and Kapitan Keling Mosque. You can spot the famous street murals in Armenian Street. You can also walk towards the clan jetties in the Pengkalan Weld.
Going up to north east, there is a famous trail named Street of Harmony where you will see 4 religious structures along one street – Kapitan Keling Mosque, Sri Mariamman Temple, Goddess of Mercy Temple and the St. George’s Church. The nearness of these buildings to each other shows the high respect among the communities despite their different beliefs.
You can also have a sight of the Pinang Peranakan Mansion, Penang State Museum, the House of Yeap Chor Ee, Court buildings, Town Hall, City Hall, the War Memorial, Fort Cornwallis and the Clock Tower. The Beach Street is well known as the main banking district and you can find here the main offices of the premier banks in the island.
The other famous heritage buildings are found in the buffer zone, like the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, Saint Francis Xavier Church, Hainan Temple, Goldsmiths Guild and the Carpenters Guild.
So how do you explore these heritage trails?
These heritage trails are best explored by foot to get a better insight into the multi-cultural history of Penang. It is the best way to discover and appreciate the old world charisma of these historic places.
It is easier to move around with a map of George Town in your hand. You can take your own sweet time, just follow the routes. Remember to wear comfortable walking shoes, sunglasses, an umbrella or a hat (it can be very hot outside). You must have a bottle of drinking water; you don’t want to get dehydrated during the tour. You also need to wear decent clothes when entering mosques and other places of worship. And don’t forget to bring your camera!
If you get tired in the middle of the tour, or the heat is too much to handle, you can ride a trishaw along the way. You could almost always see one available at the bus stops or at any popular corner in the city. You can also take the free CAT shuttle bus that stops over some of the historic sites, so you get a free city tour. So go ahead and have fun exploring these heritage trails!