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Heritage Buildings Penang

Heritage buildings Penang can be found all over George Town. There are many of them and there are many types of them.

Penang Supreme Courthouse
This is Penang's Supreme Court building,
a major renovation was done in 2007.

Naturally, the English heritage buildings are the most imposing. Penang was part of the British Empire for almost two hundred years.

The clock tower of the former FMS building in George Town. The building is now used as Penang's Custom Department.

The style of architecture is neo-classical which stays true to the order of architecture. A lot of fine examples can be found at the banking district at Beach Street.

Government buildings that house lawyers and decision-makers are perfect examples of British-style heritage buildings.

These buildings have massive Doric columns modeled after the Parthenon of the ancient Greek. They become fine examples of heritage buildings in Penang.

Besides the buildings, there are monuments to commemorate soldiers who fell during the war, places of worship, private mansions and also some other landmarks.

Next, come the Chinese clans. There are five major clans (kongsi) which have their own areas where the leaders hold court. This is a self-sustained community, complete with temples, mansions , residences and lecture halls.

The biggest clan house is the Khoo Kongsi. It is located in the heritage enclave. Once, it was burned down because its similarity to the Royal Palace of the Emperor of China was too close. Later, the building was rebuilt, nonetheless, the beauty of its carvings are stunning. The next one worth mentioning is the Cheah Kongsi. It is also located within the heritage zone of the inner George Town. Once inside the walls of this Kongsi, the hustle and bustle of the city outside is miraculously toned down.

Khoo Kongsi intricate details
Intricate and rich details of Khoo Kongsi's Ancestral Worship Hall.

Beautiful, intricately built temples serve as dramatic background to spacious courtyards. Life revolves around spiritual beliefs, elaborate customs, desire to prosper by trading and amassing wealth.

The beauty of the carvings came by importing Chinese artisans to come and work in Penang itself.

The last two points show how the Chinese Straits shop houses are so important to the business community in George Town. For almost two hundred years, the shophouses have played the major part in fuelling the trade on the island.

The styles of the shophouses have changed tremendously, in step with the growth of the city. Without them, the city would have lost its trademark identity. That is why a sample of a shop house graces the logo of Penang Heritage City web site.

Besides those shophouses, private mansions deserve accolades for massive restoration works like the ] Cheong Fatt Tze mansion.

Rich and powerful Muslim traders that came from India, the Middle East and Indonesia also played a significant role in building the city in the 19th century. Before air transport became available, Penang was the meeting place for pilgrims who were waiting for the trade wind to sail to Mecca. So, the city became a significant learning center for Islam. Beautiful mosques and shrines were built in the area designated by the British ruler for this group. They are also recognized as heritage buildings in Penang.

Kapitan Keling Mosque at Pitt Street
Masjid Kapitan Keling at the Street of Harmony

Other minority groups also have their special places. The Armenian Sarkies brothers, notably, built the fame Eastern and Oriental Hotel (E&O). Without doubt, it is one of the finest example of heritage hotels. The Burmese and Thais built their temples near Gurney Drive. The Hindus who are mainly from South India have their own temples all around the city. The South Indians also maintain the rows of shop houses along Chulia Street, King Street and Queen Street. So, it is hardly surprising that these streets are given the nickname "Little India".

How could UNESCO Heritage World Cities program refuse such a rich mix of history, culture and human achievement? Even then, it took us over ten years to restore a large number of heritage buildings in Penang. The streets are re-organized and the state spent a lot of resources and did plenty of research before the status of historic city was accorded to George Town on July 7th, 2008.

This process is by no means complete. With the title, comes a huge responsibility! Now we have to help maintain these treasures. By education, creating awareness and doing the right things so that the heritage buildings in Penang are cherished forever.

Kuan Yin temple at the street of harmony
Kuan Yin Goddess of Mercy Temple at the Street of Harmony is the oldest Chinese temple in Penang.

You should know that the main thing that won UNESCO officials over was the "Street of Harmony".

What is the "Street of Harmony"?

It is the presence of four major religions places of worship in one street. Notably the Jalan Kapitan Keling (formerly known as Pitt Street).

In this street, if you walk from the Heritage Enclave towards the Esplanade, you will encounter a Chinese temple (Yap Temple), a Muslim mosque (Masjid Kapitan Keling), an Indian Temple (Sri Mahamariamman Temple), another Chinese temple (Kuan Yin Temple) and St George Church. All within 2 kilometers distance in a straight line.

Actually if you walk around the city, you will see many more fine examples of Streets of Harmony, besides the "official one". You will see people can live together in peaceful conduct and respecting each others' beliefs.

Read my story on the first anniversary of George Town as a world heritage site. I walked the Street of Harmony to collect 12 stamps from these heritage buildings on the map.

Around the world, a lot of governments are more aware of the needs to restore heritage buildings. Some are already listed with UNESCO in its heritage cities of the world program, but some are not. There are some good examples, like in Scotland. In Scotland, there are historical buildings worth visiting. Here you can see how these buildings are preserved despite the harsh weather of cold winter and strong winds.

If you want to know more in details about the status of any heritage buildings in Penang, guidelines for restoration, its techniques or the history, the following organizations can be referred to:

Also, here is a photos page of heritage buildings at Beach Street for your viewing pleasure.

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