Being separated from the rest of Malaysia, not much is known to Westerners about Penang's early history. But on 12th August 1786, the British East India Company occupied the island, and renamed it Prince of Wales Island in honour of the then Prince of Wales' birthday. The capital was called George Town in honour of King George III. George Town's commercial centre was built on what was originally marshy land that had to be drained and cleared. Yet the port became the hub of this growing trading post, and the island's population rapidly increased. George Town continued to prosper over the years, and in 2008 the historic centre - which remains largely intact - was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Penang Peranakan Mansion
One of George Town's best-loved attractions is the Penang Peranakan Mansion. Originally commissioned by Chinese immigrant Chung Keng Quee, the mansion is now a fascinating museum detailing the history and culture of the Peranakan Chinese people. Also sometimes known as the "Straits Chinese", the Peranakan were the communities of Chinese people that settled in places such as modern-day Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, and the mansion contains more than 1,000 treasured antiques and relics from when these people first settled in the area.
The beautiful building itself boasts carved, Chinese-style wood carvings and panelling, along with decorative ironworks, and every room is filled with objects recalling an earlier age in the Peranakan's history. All manner of objects, from everyday items such as the decorated furniture to historic glasswork and elaborate wall hangings, are on display here. Built as a strong showcase of Peranakan architectural design, the mansion has been a firm favourite with tourists ever since its opening.