The 19th century Fort Cornwallis Lighthouse is one of the best hidden colonial gems in Penang’s UNESCO heritage enclave.
Many visitors often give it a miss although it is just a stone throw away from the iconic British fortress of the same name.
Penang tourism players fare no better and they too overlook the lighthouse potential and its historical importance to Penang’s maritime role.
The British built the lighthouse in 1882 when harbour traffic began to grow for a prosperous Penang. Now in its advance age, the historic lighthouse no longer served to warn ships approaching the Penang cape.
The lighthouse is now manned by Jabatan Laut, Malaysia’s Maritime Authority, and offers fascinating opportunity to acquaint oneself with a bygone maritime era. Admission is free and it is accessible from a small northern entrance of the historical complex.
Walk inside the lighthouse, and you will learn why it is structurally one of its kinds in this country. Most lighthouses in the Malay archipelagos consist traditionally of a lone silo structure i.e. Tanjung Tuan, Malacca(1880), fitted with warning beacons on the top.
Not the Fort Cornwallis Lighthouse.
It has a white coated light tower which sits on a huge steel frame and next to it, a 21-meter T-shaped mast. Together, they fill the entire landscape and probe the curious about the fate of this ex-guardian of the narrow Penang Strait.
For most visitors, the slow climb, about 15 minutes, to the top of the claustrophobic watch tower and the warning beacon is undoubtedly the highlight of the visit.
Walking up on the steel staircase might prove daunting for the vertical challenged. A wrong step could spell disaster to anyone’s holiday and when the steps are particularly slippery after a drizzle. Parents with small children are best cautioned against taking the challenge.
However the panoramic view at the tower is worth the effort. Visitors will be rewarded with an all-round perspective of the city, strait and the mainland.
In the distance, the full views of multi-coloured Penang ferries come unfold. Catch also cargo laden vessels berthing to take Made-in-Penang goods to the world.
Stretch your viewing canvas and over the horizon, you will find the Penang Bridge fills the background.
On the ground level, a small chamber houses a delightful mini museum and showcases lighthouse artefacts like communication equipments and giant bulbs used before GPS and satellite controlled gadgetries made them obsolete.
Penang State should work on this oversight and promote the lighthouse as a full fledge tourist attraction but more urgently, accord and preserve it with a heritage status.