George Town’s Esplanade, also known as Padang Kota Lama, is a large open space in the heritage zone of the city. The Esplanade marks the spot where the city’s founder, Sir Francis Light, first landed in Penang to claim the island for the British Empire taking control of the island from the Sultanate of Kedah.
The Esplanade was used in the 19th Century as a military parade ground and a sports field, now its used as a park by the residents of Penang, the location for a weekend night market and for major events such as the celebration which takes place on the last day of Chinese New Year. The Esplanade is basically a field with short grass and is not, in itself, particularly interesting as a place to visit. What is worth visiting, however, are the building and monuments around the Esplanade: Penang City Hall, Penang Town Hall, the Cenotaph War Memorial and Fort Cornwallis.
Penang City Hall was completed in 1903. The building was originally intended as to provide further office space for the Municipal Government based in the Town Hall, which is located next door. These Municipal Offices were renamed ‘City Hall’ when in 1957 the British Government granted Penang city status.
Penang City Hall is now the main administrative offices of the Penang Island City Council, which is a local government body that is responsible for both George Town and the remainder of Penang Island. This where the Mayor and his Councillors take decisions about urban planning, waste management, traffic management and a long list of other local matters. If you want to put in a planning application or complain about litter on the road then you need to go to the much less glamorous City Council offices in the Komtar Tower.
Built in 1880, the Town Hall is Penang’s old local government building originally housing the Municipal Commission of George Town, which was a British organisation. Upon completion of the City Hall next door in 1903, Penang’s Town Hall was used for exclusive social functions to which Asian people were denied entry, leading the local community to refer to the Town Hall as the ‘European Club’.
The Town Hall is still used for social function and community events except its now mostly Malaysian citizens who attend. This grand building has required a lot of repair work over the years, and currently (2018) part of the building has scaffolding erected to repair cracks in the render of the side wall. There were plans to demolish the Town Hall in 1993 (on account of the need to constantly repair the building) which were opposed by the Malaysian National Museum which used its powers under the Antiquities Act 1976 to grant the Town Hall protected status.
Cenotaph War Memorial
The Cenotaph on the Esplanade, known as the Penang War Memorial, was constructed in 1948 and is a near exact replica of the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London, built to commemorate those who died in World War I.
The original Cenotaph which stood on this site was destroyed by Allied Bombers in 1945 seeking to dislodge the occupying Imperial Japanese forces. Remembrance Day commemorations are still held annually at the Cenotaph in Penang to remember those died in World War 1, World War II and during fighting between Malay people and British forces in period before Independence, although as time passes the number of people attending has dwindled.
Fort Cornwallis was originally established by Sir Francis Light in 1786. The original fort has a wooden wall made from the trunks of palm trees. The brick fort that is currently standing was built in 1810 to defend the colony after the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars in Europe. As it turned out the fort ended up being of little military use and ended up being principally for administrative functions. The fort housed the Supreme Court of Penang when it was first established in 1808 and later in the 1920s it was used as a base for the Sikh Police force brought to the colony from India to maintain law and order amongst the competing immigrant groups who inhabited George Town.
For Cornwallis is the only one of the historic building around the Esplanade which is open to visitors. The opening hours are from 09:00 to 18:30 everyday and the entrance fee is 20 MYR for adults and 10 MYR for children. We recommend that visitors take advantage of the guided tours, which are included in the ticket price and are scheduled to take place to 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, 13:00, 15:00, 16:00, 17:00 and 18:00, as they make a visit to the fort a lot more interesting.
Location of George Town Esplanade
- The Esplanade is located at 1, Light Street, Georgetown, 10450 George Town, Penang, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia.