George Town UNESCO World Heritage Day
7 July 2021 marks the 13th anniversary of the recognition of George Town, together with Malacca City, as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage Site since 2008. But what exactly does it mean to be recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site? This means that George Town has legal protection by an international convention, the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. This makes it a very big deal as the preservation of George Town’s cultural and historical status is no longer just limited to its people or the government of Malaysia; it is now a matter of global effort, participated by various countries around the world.
Having said that, let’s take a look at what makes George Town worthy of being recognised as a World Heritage Site by none other than UNESCO itself.
History of George Town
Up until the 18th century, Penang Island was under the Kedah Sultanate. In the 1770s, the British East India Company sent Francis Light to form trade relations with the Malay Peninsula. At that time, Kedah was a vassal state under Siam and was facing threats from both Siam and Burma, so Francis Light offered British military protection to Sultan Muhammad Jiwa Zainal Adilin II, the Sultan of Kedah at that time, and was offered Penang Island in return. It wasn’t until 1786 that the British East India Company instructed Francis Light to take hold of Penang Island as a trading post between China and India in addition to being used as a Royal Navy base, so Francis Light returned to negotiate with the new Sultan of Kedah, Sultan Abdullah Mukarram Shah, who was the son of the previous Sultan of Kedah. An agreement was signed, and the British East India Company officially took over Penang Island and renamed it the Prince of Wales Island in honour of the future King George IV while George Town was founded in honour of King George III. George Town was founded as a free port, becoming the first British settlement in Southeast Asia. Thanks to Francis Light’s efforts, it prospered greatly during the 19th century as an important British entrepôt, even briefly becoming the capital of the Straits Settlements. Light Street, which is within the UNESCO World Heritage Site in George Town, is named after him.
At the height of World War II, Penang became the first state of Malaya to be liberated from the Japanese occupation under Operation Jurist, following the surrender of Imperial Japan.
On 1 January 1957, George Town was granted city status by a Royal Charter from Queen Elizabeth II, making it the first city of Malaya and, by extension, Malaysia.
Culture of George Town
Thanks to its operations as a free port, George Town saw extensive interactions between traders from China and India, and many Chinese and Indian merchants have also decided to settle here. This has given birth to various new forms of culture, such as Peranakan, and the subsequent recognition of George Town as the food capital of Malaysia. Hameediyah Restaurant, located in Lebuh Campbell a.k.a. Campbell Street in George Town, boasts itself to be the oldest nasi kandar in Malaysia, which is indisputable given that they were founded in 1907. CNN Travel even called George Town “Asia’s greatest street food city”, a sentiment shared by TIME Magazine when they declared Penang to have the Best Street Food of Asia in 2004. Ever since 2012, street art has become more prolific throughout George Town, depicting local cultures and lifestyles. This is thanks to the work of Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic who, as part of the annual George Town Festival, created a series of wall murals which now stand as celebrated cultural landmarks of George Town, especially the famous Children on a Bicycle mural. The core zone of 109.38 hectares and buffer zone of 150.04 hectares contain a total of over 5,000 buildings, including shophouses and a number of places of worship which are evidence of the multicultural influences and harmonious co-existence in George Town.
George Town World Heritage Incorporated
In 2010, the Penang State Government established George Town World Heritage Incorporated as a state heritage agency for the purpose of safeguarding the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the George Town UNESCO World Heritage Site. Every year, they would announce the recipients of the George Town World Heritage Incorporated Heritage Recognition and Awards, which recognises individuals, organisations and businesses that have contributed significantly to the OUV of George Town. The awards are separated into four general categories: Conservation, Enhancement and Adaptation; Cultural Heritage Events and Activities; Lifetime Achievement; Cultural Continuity Recognition. This year’s awards recipients have been announced.
So there you have it, these are just some of the reasons why UNESCO has recognised George Town in Penang as a World Heritage Site. Can you think of what’s your favourite thing about George Town? To make this question a bit more challenging, give us a non-food-related reason! Give us your answer in the comments section below!
Your Gateways to Getaways,