Travel in time back to Penang’s early-British-colonial roots when you visit Fort Cornwallis, the largest British fort in Malaysia. Guides in the typical red uniforms of the time will show you what it was like to live in the fort back in the early 1800s. The buildings within its star-shaped walls are all intact, giving visitors an impressively accurate idea of the area’s past.
Your historic journey starts immediately upon entering Fort Cornwallis at the bronze statue of brave Sir Captain Francis Light. It was Light who took possession of the island from the Sultan of Kedah in 1786. The British East India Company sent Light to secure the north-eastern coast as a stopover for its spice and silk trading route. He got straight to work and erected the fort to protect the area from foreign military forces, pirates and Kedah itself. The fort was originally made of palm trunks, but builders years later laid bricks to reinforce the 3-metre-high structure. Covering 39 square metres, this small space still holds lots to see.
Three important structures will particularly capture your attention: the first Christian chapel in Penang, the gunpowder magazine and the jail. Because no one ever actually attacked the fort, just about everything here is in its original form. You can really get a feel for how it would have been to get thrown in the clink for misbehaviour or to hear fellow guards snoring alongside you in the barracks. The cannons lined up against the north-west wall facing the sea make for ideal photo opportunities. Don’t be surprised if you see flowers on the Seri Rambai cannon; legend has it that leaving blooms will bring women luck with fertility.
The fort’s open-air amphitheatre regularly holds concerts as well as festival celebrations. It takes only about an hour to see the whole thing, so pop in any day of the week for a fast but fascinating history lesson. The fort is open from 8:30am to 7pm and charges a small entry fee.