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Pitt Street, George Town, Penang

Pitt Street was one of the first streets of George Town and is now famous for the various places of worship along the street. It is also known affectionately as the Street of Harmony.

Pitt Street, within George Town's UNESCO World Heritage Site, was one of the earliest streets of George Town. Named after William Pitt the Younger, who was the British Prime Minister when Captain Francis Light founded George Town in 1786, the street is officially named Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling in Malay after an Indian Muslim mosque along it. The mosque is just one of the places of worship of various religions along the same street, which gave the street its moniker - the Street of Harmony.

Pitt Street sign, George Town, Penang

A Pitt Street sign. The official Malay name of Pitt Street is Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling.

In its initial years, Pitt Street formed the westernmost limit of George Town. The first British administrators and officers owned residences near the St. George's Church to the north.

Later in the 19th. century, as the Europeans moved further into the suburbs, Chinese millionaires bought up property along the road. Concurrently, the growth of Little India had spilled over into a section of the street, while to the south, Indian Muslims inhabited the section of the street near Kapitan Keling Mosque. This multi-religious harmony has lasted over the centuries, leading to the more cosmopolitan nature of Pitt Street.

Pitt Street runs along a northeast-southwest axis. It starts from its northernmost junction with Light Street and ends at its southernmost junction with Armenian Street.

Etymology

Pitt Street (old), George Town, Penang

An old picture of Pitt Street

Pitt Street was named after the British Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, who held the position when Captain Francis Light founded George Town. It was said that, after naming the first street in the settlement after himself, the settlement after King George III and Penang Island after the Prince of Wales, Light realised that he should also name a street after the Prime Minister so as not to offend him.

Old map of George Town, Penang

One of the earliest maps of George Town, depicting Pitt Street as the westernmost street of the newly-found settlement.

The official Malay name for the street, Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, comes from Kapitan Keling Mosque along the southern stretch of Pitt Street. Nonetheless, many Penangites still refer to the street as Pitt Street.

The Hokkien Chinese also had names for different portions of the street. The northernmost stretch between Light Street and the Kuan Yin Teng Temple was known as Tua3 Ba3 Lai4, meaning big police station; in the past, a large police station occupied the space in front of the temple. Meanwhile, the western side of Pitt Street between Buckingham Street and Kampung Kolam was called Tua3 Chooi1 Ti2 ('big water tank' in Hokkien); the big water tank actually referred to the water tank used by Muslims for ablution. As for the southernmost stretch of Pitt Street, it was known as Yah3 Kha1 ('under the coconut grove' in Hokkien), as the area used to be quite rural in the early years of George Town.

The junction between Pitt Street and Chulia Street was also called Eliam Muchanti in Tamil and Simpang Lelong in Malay, both meaning auctioneer's junction. In the past, auctions were held under the neem trees at the junction.

Due to the various ethnicities and religions along the same street, local Penangites unofficially call Pitt Street the Street of Harmony.

History

Kuan Yin Teng Temple, George Town, Penang

Kuan Yin Teng Temple, the oldest Taoist temple on Penang Island, was built in 1728. The open space in front of the temple once housed a police station, hence one of the Hokkien names for Pitt Street, Tua3 Ba3 Lai4 ('large police station').

Pitt Street was one of the first streets of George Town. It was laid out after Light Street. Pitt Street formed the westernmost boundary of George Town, and together with Light Street, Beach Street and Chulia Street, marked the earliest limits of George Town.

However, it was the Chinese who had first established their presence within the area. The Kuan Yin Teng Temple, built in 1728, is the oldest Taoist temple on Penang Island. Originally dedicated to the Goddess Mazu of the Seas, the temple has been dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy, Kuan Yin (Avalokitesvara) since 1824.

St. George's Anglican Church, George Town, Penang

St. George's Church, the oldest Anglican church in Southeast Asia, was completed in 1818.

In the early 19th. century, British administrators and officers resided around St. George's Church near the northernmost end of Pitt Street. As a result, the junctions with Light Street and Farquhar Street have a predominantly European character.

Supreme Court of Penang, Light Street, George Town, Penang

The Supreme Court of Penang, as seen from the junction between Light Street and Pitt Street.

In the mid-19th. century, as the Europeans moved further into the suburbs, Chinese millionaires such as Foo Tye Sin and Goh Ban Bee began to take over some of the properties along the northern stretch of Pitt Street.

Arulmigu Mahamariamman Hindu Temple, Pitt Street, George Town, Penang

The rear entrance of the Arulmigu Mahamariamman Temple, near the junction between Pitt Street and Chulia Street.

By then, George Town's Little India had spilled over into the middle section of Pitt Street around the junction with Chulia Street. The Arulmigu Mahamariamman Temple, which has a rear entrance at Pitt Street near that particular junction, was founded in 1833. The junction with Chulia Street was where auctioneers auctioned their goods under the neem trees, many of which still stand to this day.

Kapitan Keling Mosque, George Town, Penang

Kapitan Keling Mosque, constructed in 1801, is the biggest historic mosque in George Town.

To the south, Indian Muslim immigrants built Kapitan Keling Mosque in 1801 and have established themselves within the previously-rural southern stretch of Pitt Street since then. The mosque was once used as the state mosque of Penang and remains one of the best known mosques on Penang Island, due to its historic significance.

The Star, Pitt Street, George Town, Penang

The Star Office, Pitt Street

In the early 2000s, the Penang state government, then under the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, paved Pitt Street with granite tiles to recreate the cobblestone-styled streets of the past. The move faced heavy criticism from most Penangites, as it resulted in a bumpy, uneven street that drivers had to negotiate through. Under the new Penang state government controlled by the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and the People's Justice Party (PKR), the tiles were removed and the street re-tarred.
Penang Chinese Town Hall, George Town, Penang

Penang Chinese Town Hall, Pitt Street

Notable Landmarks

From northeast to southwest :

  1. Supreme Court of Penang
  2. Bank Negara Malaysia (Malaysian central bank)
  3. The Star Office
  4. Penang Chinese Town Hall
  5. 106 & 104 Pitt Street

Religion

Four different major religions have been co-existing for centuries along Pitt Street, giving it its local nickname - Street of Harmony.

From northeast to southwest :

  1. St. George's Church
  2. Kuan Yin Teng Temple
  3. Arulmigu Mahamariamman Temple
  4. Kapitan Keling Mosque

Street Art

There are two wrought iron sculptures along Pitt Street. Both depict the lifestyle of the inhabitants of Pitt Street during the colonial era.

Bullock cart iron sculpture, George Town, Penang

Bullock Cart Iron Sculpture, Pitt Street

  1. Bullock Cart
    • Description : In the days when your money could be as "big as a bullock cart wheel", this was a popular rest stop for the limousines of the time.
      Tok tok mee iron sculpture, George Town, Penang

      Tok Tok Mee Iron Sculpture, Pitt Street

  2. Tok Tok Mee
    • Description : Tok tok mee is so called because hawkers would strike a 'tok tok' sound to signal their presence.

Food

Nasi Kandar Beratur, Pitt Street, George Town, Penang

People queueing up for nasi kandar at Pitt Street.

One of the most famous nasi kandar stalls on Penang Island is located along Pitt Street. Although Nasi Kandar Beratur ('Beratur' means queueing in Malay) opens at 1000 hours daily and closes relatively late at night, it sees the most business at night, when a long, snaking queue would develop as workers returning from work queue to have nasi kandar for dinner. Hence the stall is very popularly known as Nasi Kandar Beratur.

Other hawker stalls, coffee shops and cafes along Pitt Street are as follows.

  • Kuan Yin Teng Hai Beng Lor Mee
  • Wah Bin Coffee Shop
  • Fok Kee Food Centre
  • Chin Chai Chiak Cafe
  • Nanyang Chinese Cuisine
  • Little Angel Cafe
  • Jolly Cafe

Hotels

  • Broadway Budget Hotel
  • Red Inn Court
  • The Boutique Residence Hotel
  • Silver Shine Homestay Guesthouse

Political Representation

Penang State Government

N.26 Padang Kota State Assemblyman : Chow Kon Yeow (Democratic Action Party)

Malaysian Federal Parliament

P.049 Tanjong Member of Parliament : Ng Wei Aik (Democratic Action Party)

References

  1. http://www.penang-traveltips.com/pitt-street.htm
  2. http://www.thestar.com.my/metro/community/2015/11/18/street-of-peace-and-harmony-brochure-gives-visitors-an-insight-into-five-religious-sites-on-heritage/

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