I had mentioned in an earlier post that I was pleasantly surprised by the extent of restoration work done to the great old buildings in historical Penang in recent years. But the jewel in the crown must be the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion. Also called the Blue Mansion, this magnificent home was built in the 1880’s but suffered years of abuse, neglect and dereliction for almost 90 years. By the time a group of concerned individuals including a dedicated architect bought over the place in 1989, it could be called a “disaster area”.
However, what followed was a determined and loving restoration carried out using as much of the original material as possible. Craftsmen who still had knowledge of the old techniques were recruited locally, from China and from other parts of the world to restore the intricate woodwork, floor tiles, stained glass windows and broken china pieces of the Chien Nien style mosaic sculptures. It was a real struggle but the effort resulted in a magnificent restoration which was recognised by being given the UNESCO “Most Excellent” Heritage Conservation Award in 2000.
Cheong Fatt Tze was a penniless traveler who left China to escape poverty, looking to make his fortune in South East Asia. He ended up being one of the richest businessmen of the period. This colorful character was also a diplomat, representing China to many countries; an innovator – starting China’s first wineries; and ladies man – having at least 8 official wives. It was his first wife’s father who gave him the initial monetary investment that got his business rolling.
However, it was for his 7th wife (who many claim was his favorite) that he built the Blue Mansion. The mansion has 38 rooms, 5 granite-paved courtyards, 7 staircases and 220 windows. The architecture of the mansion however originates from the Su Chow Dynasty Period in China and more importantly was built according to feng sui principles. This includes having a hill at the back, the sea to the front, the back of the house is higher than the front and is set at an angle from the road in front.
The house is painted with indigo which is a natural dye which is used, amongst other things, to dye jeans. Much of the roof is decorated with images which were created in the form of a mosaic from pieces of broken china.
This mansion even made Lonely Planet’s top ten “Greatest Mansion and Grand Houses” list. Enjoy the slideshow. Unfortunately, photography inside the house is forbidden. To see the inside of the mansion, you will have to visit in person. There are three guided tours each day which are worth it to hear the history and details of the house from the very passionate docent. It is also possible to experience the mansion by renting a room to stay for the night.
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that the mansion was used in the filming of the 1993 Oscar-winning French film “Indochine” starring the great Catherine Deneuve.