George Town UNESCO World Heritage Site comprises two enclaves within the George Town city centre in which the historical architecture and multicultural heritage are preserved under the remit of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

In 2008, George Town and Malacca, the 'Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca', were awarded the UNESCO World Heritage Site listing. Both maritime-trading cities were developed during the colonial era and are older than most cities in Malaysia. As a result, both have retained a unique cityscape and multicultural heritage that could not be found elsewhere in Malaysia. In particular, the initial development of George Town after its founding in 1786 can be attributed to the courageous and entrepreneurial spirit of its various immigrant communities, rather than British interest in maintaining a colony.

A portion of the George Town city centre was nominated by the Malaysian federal government to be gazetted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This article discusses the definition of George Town's World Heritage zones as approved by UNESCO.

UNESCO Inscription Details

View from KOMTAR 59 Sixty Restaurant, George Town, Penang

View of the George Town UNESCO World Heritage Site from the 59th. floor of KOMTAR.

On 7 July 2008, George Town and Malacca, the 'Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca', were jointly listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. According to UNESCO,

"Malacca and George Town, historic cities of the Straits of Malacca have developed over 500 years of trading and cultural exchanges between East and West in the Straits of Malacca. The influences of Asia and Europe have endowed the towns with a specific multicultural heritage that is both tangible and intangible. With its government buildings, churches, squares and fortifications, Malacca demonstrates the early stages of this history originating in the 15th.-century Malay sultanate and the Portuguese and Dutch periods beginning in the early 16th. century. Featuring residential and commercial buildings, George Town represents the British era from the end of the 18th. century. The two towns constitute a unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia."
Both cities have also fulfilled the following outstanding universal criteria.
II : Malacca and George Town represent exceptional examples of multi-cultural trading towns in East and Southeast Asia, forged from the mercantile and exchanges of Malay, Chinese, and Indian cultures and three successive European colonial powers for almost 500 years, each with its imprints on the architecture and urban form, technology and monumental art. Both towns show different stages of development and the successive changes over a long span of time and are thus complementary.
III : Malacca and George Town are living testimony to the multi-cultural heritage and tradition of Asia, and European colonial influences. This multi-cultural tangible and intangible heritage is expressed in the great variety of religious buildings of different faiths, ethnic quarters, the many languages, worship and religious festivals, dances, costumes, art and music, food, and daily life.
IV : Malacca and George Town reflect a mixture of influences which have created a unique architecture, culture and townscape without parallel anywhere in East and South Asia. In particular, they demonstrate an exceptional range of shophouses and townhouses. These buildings show many different types and stages of development of the building type, some originating in the Dutch or Portuguese periods.

Definition of George Town UNESCO World Heritage Site

George Town UNESCO World Heritage Zones, Penang

Another map depicting both the core and buffer zones within the George Town UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The definition of George Town's UNESCO World Heritage Site, as nominated by the Malaysian federal government and as approved by UNESCO, actually consists of two enclaves covering the northeastern tip of the city. The northeastern tip of George Town was where Captain Francis Light, the founder of George Town, first landed on 17 July 1786. Since then, George Town's historic northeastern core has been the administrative, cultural and financial heart of the city.

Fort Cornwallis, George Town, Penang-0

Fort Cornwallis, a prominent landmark within the core zone of George Town's UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The two enclaves are as follows.

Core Zone

Beach Street, George Town, Penang

Beach Street, the historic commercial centre of George Town, lies within the core zone of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The 109.38 hectare enclave consists of over 1,700 historic buildings, including the important administrative buildings of Penang Island such as the City Hall and the State Assembly Building. From the northwest, the zone's boundary stretches along Convent Light Street's western wall, across Farquhar Street to run along Love Lane, and across Chulia Street to run along Carnavon Street and Carnavon Lane. About 30 feet after the junction between Carnavon Lane and Carnavon Street, the boundary crosses over to Malay Street. From that point, the line goes southeast along Malay Street all the way into the sea, bisecting Beach Street and Victoria Street along the way.

Buffer Zone

Prangin Road, George Town, Penang

The boundary of the buffer zone runs along Prangin Road (Dr. Lim Chwee Leong Road). The shophouses along the northern side (left) of Prangin Road are within the UNESCO World Heritage Site, while KOMTAR and Prangin Mall along the southern side (right) of Prangin Road are outside the heritage zones altogether.

The 150.04 hectare buffer enclave surrounding the core zone is roughly delineated along the historic canal to the south that marked George Town's 19th. century city limits. From the northwest, the boundary runs along Transfer Road, before turning southeast along a short stretch of Burmah Road. Running across Penang Road, the boundary continues southeast along Prangin Road and Prangin Road Ghaut into the sea, notably separating the older cityscape of George Town on the northern side of Prangin Road from the more modern KOMTAR and the adjacent shopping malls to the south.

Protective Measures

According to UNESCO when awarding George Town and Malacca the UNESCO World Heritage Site listing in 2008,

"The protective measures for the properties are adequate. Both towns exhibit a generally acceptable state of conservation, although efforts are required to ensure the conservation of shophouses. The management plans and structures are adequate, and can be enhanced through the continuing conservation programs of the State Party."
Currently, among the restrictions in place within the UNESCO World Heritage Site is a ban on all building constructions rising above 18 metres (five storeys).


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