Celebrating community and heritage in the George Town Heritage Celebrations (Malaysia)
The annual celebration is organised to commemorate the inscription of Melaka and George Town, Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca on the World Heritage list. It features an interactive and educational programme that includes workshops and performances in the streets of the Historic City of George Town. Through the Celebrations, the local communities come together to celebrate and showcase their own cultural practices, performances, food, and crafts.
About George Town
George Town is a city located in the Penang Island (Malaysia). The city comprises one of the components of the serial property Melaka and George Town, Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca. The property was inscribed on the World Heritage list in 2008 under criteria (ii), (iii) and (iv).
Melaka and George Town have developed over 500 years of trading and cultural exchanges between East and West in the Straits of Malacca. The influences of Asia and Europe have endowed the towns with a specific multicultural heritage that is both tangible and intangible. Featuring residential and commercial buildings, George Town represents the British era from the end of the 18th century. The two towns constitute a unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia.
The 2009 and 2011 State of Conservation reports highlight issues in relation to the protection and management of the property. The issues were resolved by 2013, when the World Heritage Committee noted with satisfaction of the measures taken by the States Party to address previous requests to mitigate the threats on the Outstanding Universal Value, and no further reporting was required (Decision 37 COM 7B.103).
Celebrating community and heritage through the George Town Heritage Celebrations
George Town Heritage Celebrations is an annual celebration taking place in George Town, Penang, Malaysia, to commemorate the inscription of Melaka and George Town, Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca on the World Heritage list on 7 July 2008. The Celebrations last three or four days and feature an interactive and educational programme that includes workshops and performances in the streets of the heritage enclave. Focusing on a different theme each year, the event gives participants the opportunity to experience first-hand George Town’s living traditions. The event builds on the multicultural and diverse character of the town, whose inhabitants continue to live in harmonious coexistence through the understanding of multicultural traditions that have been passed down through generations despite cultural and ethnic differences.
The festival is organised by George Town World Heritage Incorporated, a state heritage agency established by the Penang State Government on 21 April 2010 to spearhead efforts in safeguarding the Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage site in George Town.
The festival has an estimated cost of approximately RM500,000 per year, provided by the State Government of Penang. It requires approximately 8 months of preparation, 40 staff members, 400 volunteers and 200 local community members.
The goal of the Celebrations is double-fold. One the one hand, the festival serves as an opportunity for local people to celebrate and feel proud of their cultural heritage. At the same time, the Celebrations are an opportunity to explore and document the richness of the city’s intangible cultural heritage, such as rituals, traditional games and gastronomy. Educational material is created to document this heritage and is later published online free of charge.
The events are attended by local families, schools, residents and tourists. The programme helps attract more visitors to the town during the Celebrations, which has a positive effect on local businesses such as hotels, cafés and souvenir shops.
The George Town Heritage Celebrations are therefore first and foremost a community celebration. Their organisation directly benefits the local community, who is in charge of the selection of the programme contents. The project staff from George Town World Heritage Incorporated support the community in the implementation programme. Over 20 groups of local communities are involved in the organisation, from a variety of cultural, religious, social and political backgrounds.
The richness and variety of the programme contents and stakeholders are some the main challenges in the development and implementation of the event. A conscious effort is necessary to manage the expectations of the different groups involved and to develop a coordinated programme.
While the Celebrations have been taking place every year since 2010, the festival had to be cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is unclear when it will be able to take place again.
Source: Ming Chee Ang, General Manager of George Town World Heritage Incorporated (GTWHI), 2021
Contribution towards the implementation of the 2011 Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape
The George Town Heritage Celebrations aim to promote the dissemination of cultural heritage dimensions in urban contexts and create suitable decision-making structures which could contribute to the implementation of the HUL Recommendation. These include:
- Recognising and documenting the relationships between tangible and intangible cultural heritage in the historic urban context;
- Empowering local communities to be involved in decision-making related to cultural heritage promotion and preservation;
- Raising awareness about the heritage values of the city, including both Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) and local values.
Historic Urban Landscape Tools
Contribution towards Sustainable Development
If fully implemented in accordance with the described plans, the initiative could contribute towards Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals.
Goal 10. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
- Target 4.7: The initiative aims to contribute to provide the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through promotion of a culture of peace and appreciation of cultural diversity, by integrating educational components into the programme and making educational material freely accessible on their website.
Goal 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
- Target 5.5: The initiative aims to promote women’s full and effective participation at the local level, by establishing a policy of inclusion of all genders and sexualities.
Goal 10. Reduce inequality within and among countries.
- Target 10.2: The Celebrations aim to promote the empowerment and inclusion of all, by establishing a conscious policy of inclusion, regardless of cultural, religious, political and social backgrounds, and celebrating diversity as a core value of the festival.
Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
- Target 11.4: The initiative aims to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural heritage, by raising awareness about tangible and intangible cultural heritage and enhancing the connection of local communities with their heritage.
- Target 11.7: The initiative aims to increase access to safe, inclusive and accessible public spaces, by closing the streets off from traffic during the Celebrations and making the event accessible for people in wheelchairs.
Goal 16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
- Target 16.7: the project aims to promote inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at local level, by setting up a strong stakeholder engagement programme and empowering local communities to take charge of their own heritage.
Goal 17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development
- Target 17.17: the initiative aims to encourage and promote public, public-private and civil society partnerships.
Note: the described potential impacts of the projects are only indicative and based on submitted and available information. UNESCO does not endorse the specific initiatives nor ratifies their positive impact.
To learn more
- Visit the George Town Heritage Celebrations website.
- Connect with the George Town Heritage Celebrations on Facebook and Instagram.
- Watch educational videos about the George Town Heritage Celebrations on George Town World Heritage Incorporated’s YouTube
George Town World Heritage Incorporated
- Address: No. 116 & 118, Lebuh Acheh, 10200 George Town, Penang, Malaysia.
- Email: email@example.com
- Website: com.my
- Twitter: com/WeAreGTWHI
- Facebook: facebook.com/gtwhi
Image credit: © George Town World Heritage Incorporated unless otherwise noted.
Note: The cases shared in this platform address heritage protection practices in World Heritage sites and beyond. Items being showcased in this website do not entail any type of recognition or inclusion in the World Heritage list or any of its thematic programmes. The practices shared are not assessed in any way by the World Heritage Centre or presented here as model practices nor do they represent complete solutions to heritage management problems. The views expressed by experts and site managers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the World Heritage Centre. The practices and views shared here are included as a way to provide insights and expand the dialogue on heritage conservation with a view to further urban heritage management practice in general.
Decisions / Resolutions (3)
World Heritage Committee,
1. Having examined Document WHC-13/37.COM/7B.Add,
2. Recalling Decisions 34 COM 8B.6, 35 COM 7B.42, 35 COM 7B.63, 35 COM 7B.67, 35 COM 7B.68, 35 COM 7B.69, 35 COM 7B.73, 35 COM 7B.88, 35 COM 7B.94, 35 COM 7B.98, 35 COM 7B.102, 35 COM 7B.106, 35 COM 7B.109, 35 COM 7B.122, 35 COM 7B.127, 35 COM 7B.128, 35 COM 7B.131 and 35 COM 7B.133 , adopted at its 34th (Brasilia, 2010) and 35th (UNESCO, 2011) sessions respectively,
3. Takes note with satisfaction of the measures taken by the States Parties concerned to address its previous requests to mitigate the threats on the Outstanding Universal Value of the following World Heritage properties :
- Old Town of Lijiang (China)
- Historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace, Lhasa (China)
- San Augustin Arhcaeological Park (Colombia)
- Historic Centre of Český Krumlov (Czech Republic)
- Tokaj Wine Region Historic Cultural Landscape (Hungary)
- Taj Mahal (India)
- Agra Fort (India)
- Fatehpur Sikri (India)
- Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park (India)
- Prambanan Temple Compounds (Indonesia)
- Monte San Giorgio (Italy / Switzerland)
- Vilnius Historic centre (Lithuania)
- Melaka and George Town, Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca (Malaysia)
- Historic centre of Mexico City and Xochimilco (Mexico)
- Camino real de Tierra Adentro (Mexico)
- Lines and Geoglyphs of Nasca and Pampas de Jumana (Peru)
- City of Cuzco (Peru)
- Churches of Moldavia (Romania)
- Ensemble of the Ferrapontov Monastery (Russian Federation)
- Island of Gorée (Senegal)
- Works of Antoni Gaudi (Spain)
4. Encourages the States Parties concerned to pursue their efforts to ensure the conservation of World Heritage properties;
5. Reminds the States Parties concerned to inform the World Heritage Centre in due course about any major development project which may affect the Outstanding Universal Value of a property, before any irreversible commitments are made, in line with Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines .Read more about the decision
The World Heritage Committee,
1. Having examined Document WHC-11/35.COM/7B,
2. Recalling Decision 33 COM 7B.129, adopted at its 33rd session (Seville, 2009),
3. Acknowledges the measures taken in the resolution of the road closure and the visitor facilities issues, in particular the approval of the English Heritage Full Planning Application by Wiltshire Council in June 2010;
4. Requests the State Party to provide the World Heritage Centre with details of the location and plans of the proposed visitor centre for evaluation by ICOMOS;
5. Notes that the funding for the implementation of the development project has almost been ensured;
6. Also requests the State Party to keep the World Heritage Centre informed about any development related to the road closure and the visitor facilities and to report any implementation activities within the Periodic Reporting exercise to be launched in 2012.Read more about the decision
The World Heritage Committee,
1. Having examined Documents WHC-09/33.COM/7B.Add,
2. Recalling Decision 32 COM 8B.25, adopted at its 32nd session (Quebec City, 2008),
3. Considering that the proposed developments within the inscribed area of George Town, particularly the AGB project near the clock tower, are in contradiction with the protective measures described in the Nomination File and would, if constructed, have a significant adverse impact on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property,
4. Also considering the potential impacts of the two approved developments in the buffer zone;
5. Further considering that the introduction of a provision in the protective measures for George Town allowing for buildings higher than 18 metres in the World Heritage property and its buffer zone under certain circumstances, as well as the lack of legal mechanisms that would enable the Federal Government to exercise control on the property constitute a potential threat for the Outstanding Universal Value of the property,
6. Regrets that adequate information on these development proposals and the status of their approval, as well as on the modification of the protective regulations, was not provided by the State Party in the Nomination File and during the evaluation process;
7. Takes note with satisfaction of the official letter dated 15 June 2009 and oral statement by the State Party of Malaysia during its 33rd session, informing the Committee that:
a) The height of the two proposed development projects within the inscribed area, Bousted and AGB, will be reduced to 18 metres,
b) The impact of the two projects in the buffer zone, E&O and Bintang, has been reduced through the implementation of the modifications negotiated between the Council and the developers,
c) The provision allowing building higher than 18 metres within the inscribed property under certain circumstances in Georgetown has been abolished,
d) The existing "Guidelines for Conservation Areas & Heritage Buildings" will be renamed "Regulations for Conservation Areas & Heritage Buildings",
e) Special Area Plans for the inscribed property and its buffer zone that would provide planning controls and guidance at a more detailed level, will be prepared,
f) There will be no approval given for developments higher than 18 metres in the buffer zone until such time as the Special Area Plans are adopted,
g) A Technical Review Committee will be established, including a representative of the Federal Government (Department of National Heritage) to review all major development proposals and proposed planning controls and policies that could impact adversely on the Outstanding Universal Value,
h) Other measures to support the conservation of Georgetown have been taken, including the creation of a World Heritage Office, the strengthening of the Heritage Department within the City Council of Penang, and the creation of a World Heritage Day in Penang;
8. Commends the State Party for its efforts to negotiate with the developers with an aim to identify alternative solutions to the approved projects and reduce their adverse effect, including by commissioning heritage impact studies, as well as for the spirit of genuine concern and cooperation manifested in its attempts to clarify the issues with the World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS ;
9. Requests the State Party to continue its efforts to implement the recommendations made by the joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS mission, and notably to:
a) Develop the above-mentioned Special Area Plans for the inscribed property and its buffer zone, based on a careful analysis of important views, typologies and urban fabric the composition of the social fabric of George Town, and submit these to the World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS by 1 February 2011, for review,
b) Introduce new legal provisions in the protection and management system for the World Heritage property that would enable the central authorities at the level of the Federal Government to review and, if necessary veto proposals for major development projects, draft Special Area Plans and other relevant planning controls and policies both for George Town and Melaka;
10. Reiterates its request to the State Party to submit a comprehensive conservation plan dealing with all the buildings and its schedule for implementation in both cities, to develop measures for decreasing motor traffic, and to improve the definition of key indicators for monitoring the urban and architectural heritage components;
11. Also requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2011, a report on the progress made in the implementation of the recommendations contained in the points above, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 35th session in 2011.Read more about the decision