Our first trip to Malaysia and our first stop on the road in Penang. Although this post is about the three famous mansions of Penang, namely the Pinang Pernakan, Blue Mansion and the Macalister Mansion, I will dwelve into the history of this beautiful island. The story behind the formation of Penang is a heart wrenching tale of imperialistic ambition and Western European trickery. Located in the straights of Malacca, this small island acted as a stop for the traders of the 16th century. The island was a part of the Kedah Sultanate. The story follows a similar pattern as a cunning opportunist Brit landed on the island, Captain Francis Light.
The usual trickery continued as the simple thinking King of Kedah, offered the island of Penang in return for protection against neighbours. The first order of business by Captain Light was to stamp his authority all over the island. The ominous Union Jack was hoisted and named the island” The Prince of Wales island”. Soon after realising his trickery, the Sultan tried to capture back his land but the British wasn’t going to give in so easily. A treaty was signed for a paltry sum as Penang came under the British colonial rule. The settlement was known as George Town after King George III.
As I have already mentioned a historical this trip of ours is going to be about the beautiful mansions of Penang. These majestic architectural behemoths belonged to a group of Chinese merchants who settled here during the British empire. Most of them had migrated over from the Straits Settlements (commonly known as Singapore today). The unique fusion of Malay, English and Chinese culture is what I’ll show you.
Pinang Pernakan Mansion
The first of these mansions is the Pinang Pernakan Mansion. A stately home which has been restored into a museum showcasing artefacts of the Baba-Nyonya era. Built by the Kapitan Cina Chung Keng Kwee at the turn of the 19th century, this Chinese courtyard house had a very eclectic style. It incorporated Chinese wood panelings along with English floors and Scottish ironworks. As you enter the front hall, you will encounter an ornately carved wooden screen. Although it’s main use was to separate this part of the house from the rest, spiritually this “Spirit Wall” blocks the entry of bad spirits into the house.
An ornately carved staircase leads you to the dining hall. The classic use of wrought iron staircase with a fleur-de-lis paneling is reminiscent of the Scottish highlands. It leads to the tastefully decorated Dining Hall, which unlike the rest of the house is done in more of an European style. As the Babas used to confer with the Britishers and Europeans on a regular basis, entertaining them in their own surroundings sounded logical. The dinner service includes porcelain, glass and silverware, all imported from Europe.
Where: 29, Church St, George Town, 10200 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
When: Monday to Sunday, 9:30AM-5PM
How Much: RM 20
Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion (Blue Mansion)
Located at the heart of Penang, the Blue Mansion was the virtual nerve centre of the region in its heydays. Built by the famous merchant Cheong Fatt Tze, he wanted a house that would not only preserve his culture, but also cement his place in history. He built his home in a traditional Chinese style, unlike many of his neighbours who preferred an Anglo-Indian style. Although the mansion fell into disuse after the death of Fatt Tze in 1916, it has now been restored into a boutique hotel much like the fort hotels of Rajasthan. It incorporates a seamless blend of old world architecture and heritage along with modern technology to keep the building standing.
The mansion offers a cornucopia of cultures seamlessly merging with each other. Scotland supplies cast iron balusters which are contrasted with timber lattices from Canton. British stained glass is accompanied by porcelain works from Hokkien. But the most endearing part are the Chinese calligraphy against the backdrop of trompe l’oeil timber beams. The building in itself takes root from the 3000 year old traditions of Su Chow dynasty. It is divided into two components: the main house and two side wings. The central Main hall is adorned with the traditional Feng Shui elements of Metal, Timber, Water, Fire and Earth while forming the central structure around which the whole mansion is built. This is where Cheong Fatt Tze used to conduct his daily matters of business.
The hotel also offers a medley of restaurants to choose from. Indigo typifies the life of Fatt Tze by offering a cuisine which offers a mix of both East and West. But the best meal that you can have at the Blue Mansion is at The Courtyard. Occupying one of the five majestic courtyards that adorn the mansion, it offers you a breakfast under open skies. The mansion also offers daily tours starting at 11AM, 2 PM and 3:30PM.
Where: 14, Leith St, Georgetown, 10200 George Town, Penang, Malaysia
How Much: RM 17.00
MacAlister Mansion, on the other hand pays homage to British architecture. Named after Sir Norman Macalister who was one of the first governers of Penang, this restored colonial mansion was built in the early 20th century. A huge bust of Sir Macalister welcomes you as you step into an era when the British Empire ruled. The bright white façade of the mansion is offset with soft blue lights giving it an ethereal appearance.
The walls are covered with paintings reminiscent of the evolution of Penang. There are charts and maps, flora and fauna along with people depicted on these walls. The murals on the main hall are a contemporary take on the classic European Living Room. Done in black line art, it depicts furniture found in a living room fireplaces and bookshelves. The dining room is one of the most enthralling places that you can visit. A fine dine restaurant set out in a stark colour of white but offset with a dreamy fairy-tale like pastel coloured animals. Some deer graze around a tree while squirrels and birds perch on its branches. The Cellar and The Den are two well stocked bars made in an old colonial style.
Where: 228, Jalan Macalister, George Town, 11400 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
The three mansions of Penang offers you an insight into the multicultural soul that runs through this city.