16 Mar The Esplanade
The Esplanade waterfront in George Town is perhaps the most striking feature of Penang Island, outside of perhaps Penang Hill. Lying at the heart of George Town, as well as the Heritage Zone, the Esplanade is notable for being the site where Captain Francis Light, the founder of George Town, first landed on the 17th of July, 1786.
Also known as Padang Kota Lama in the Malay language, the picturesque location houses many historical colonial buildings such as the famed Fort Cornwallis, which was built soon after Captain Light’s claim on the island. The adjacent field west of the Fort – similarly laid out as Singapore’s Padang and Kuala Lumpur’s Merdeka Square – was first used as a military parade ground, before becoming an area for sports and recreational activities. Today, the field is now used as a major venue for various cultural celebrations and performances, such as the annual George Town Festival, Chap Goh Meh (the final day of the lunar/Chinese New Year), the anniversary of George Town’s inclusion as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Japanese-themed Bon Odori. A night bazaar also runs through the area near Fort Cornwallis every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, where visitors can treat themselves to an abundance of local cuisine and handicrafts.
Further west of the Esplanade lay the historic Penang Town Hall and the Penang City Hall, colonial buildings with a clear Edwardian Baroque infrastructure, with the latter being built to grant George Town its city status. The westernmost path of the Esplanade itself curves towards Light Street, where an entrance for the Town Hall lies, as well as various hawker stalls reside for tourists craving a taste for local Penang cuisine, specifically the mee sotong and coconut drinks. The Cenotaph lays just within the hawker stalls’ vicinity, built to commemorate those who lost their lives during World Wars I and II, the Malayan Emergency and the Indonesian Confrontation.
Whether or not one revels in Penang’s rich history in the area, or wonders at the scenic imagery abundant along the road, one can’t deny the impact the Esplanade in George Town has on those who walk breezily along it, as they gaze upon its altered landscape in awe and wonder, the same way Francis Light did on those same shores hundreds of years ago as he discovered this new land full of potential.