Rich in history: A fortified wall believed to be built in the 19th century is unearthed at Sia Boey (old Prangin Market). (Inset) Pottery shards found at the archaelogical site. — Photos courtesy of Sin Chew Daily and Mark Lay
BUILDING a light rail transit (LRT) interchange station on top of the Sia Boey archaeology site is like building one inside Fort Cornwallis, says George Town Heritage Action co-founder Mark Lay.
The discovery of ruins around the old canal, he said, uplifted the city’s Unesco World Heritage Site status and the state government should go back to the drawing board in planning a station for Komtar.
“You can see the history of George Town at the site. If Fort Cornwallis was the island’s administrative centre, Sia Boey was the first large-scale wet market for the pioneer inhabitants,” he said yesterday.
Sia Boey is a Penang Hokkien term literally meaning ‘at the end’, or ‘Sia Wei’ in Mandarin. Its history dates back to 1804 while Captain Francis Light founded Penang and built Fort Cornwallis — first as a pallisade of tree trunks in 1786.
Among the many other artefacts, Universiti Sains Malaysia recently unearthed what could have been the foundation of an old police station or barracks at the site.
Lay was one of about 30 people who joined the Old Prangin Public Archaeology Session last Saturday. It was a public visit to the site, labelled ‘unauthorised’ by Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng.
“About 30 of us went in. Besides heritage conservationists, there were also foreigners who looked like tourists. The organisers even laid out a mini-exhibition to show the artefacts they found. We were impressed with the archaeologists’ passion.”
Tanjong MP Ng Wei Aik also shared the view that the site should not be touched.
“I have given my feedback to Penang Development Corporation (PDC) and asked that the proposed rail alignment and design for the LRT interchange station be changed to make sure that it won’t pass through the market,” he told an impromptu press conference after visiting the public car park in Noordin Street Ghaut yesterday.
Ng said that although a station next to Komtar was vital, there were many artefacts below the ground waiting to be discovered and thus the site should be left alone.
“Perhaps, the rail alignment can be set nearer to Magazine Road. This piece of land is big that it is not necessary to cut through the old market,” he said.
Lay felt the state should consider building the LRT station at Macallum Street.
“There is a plot of government land in Macallum Street just 500m away. Since there are plans for a tram in the inner city, perhaps the tram can connect Komtar with the Macallum station.”
However, a source said plans to build the LRT at the site are still on.
The source, who is familiar with the Penang Transport Master Plan, confirmed that after the ruins in the site have been outlined, planners will go back to the drawing board and try to make the station coexist with the ruins.
“Komtar needs an LRT interchange. That site is the most strategic location,” he said.
He added that previous possible locations like Sungai Pinang, Macallum Street and the Jelutong landfill had been ruled out due to technical difficulties arising from the terrain or urban structures.