Alor Star / Alor Setar is located in the Kota Setar District, northern Kedah and is the capital of the state. This settlement became the capital in 18th century under the reign of 19th sultan, Sultan Muhammad Jiwa Zainal Adilin Muazzam Shah .
The town was originally called Kota Setar until 1943 when it was changed to Alor Star. Alor Star is the administrative capital and seat of the state government and legislative assembly. Located here are the government departments, royal palaces, many heritage buildings, museums and cultural centres. Alor Star is the historical enclave of Kedah.
Alor Star is said to be derived from the words ‘alor’ which mean river channel and ‘setar’, a tree called pohon setar (Bouea macrophylla). The pohon setar grew along the river banks that flows pass the settlement of Alor Star. In the old days, visitors traveling by boat to the settlement would rest under these trees along the riverbanks. Thus the resting place became known as Alor Star. The local Chinese population refers to the town simply as ‘Ketah’ (Kedah).
Alor Setar is located on the northern part of Kedah, about 90km from Butterworth, 60 KM from Sungai Petani and over 250km from Kuala Lumpur. A short drive from Alor Star takes you to Kuala Kedah, where you can take a boat to island. There is a domestic airport nearby.
Balai Besar, or Great Hall, is a heritage structure in Alor Setar, Kedah, Malaysia. The original structure dates back to the founding of Alor Star in 1735, and was built by Alor Star’s founder, Sultan Muhammad Jiwa Zainal Abidin (1710-1778), the 19th ruler of the Kedah Sultanate, as the Balai Rong Seri, or Audience Hall.
The Balai Besar was destroyed and rebuilt a few times. It was brought down by the Bugis invasion of 1770, and the same happened in the Siamese invasion in 1821. The present structure dates back to 1893, during the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah.
In 1904, the Balai Besar was the venue of a lavish wedding ceremonies for the Sultan’s five eldest sons and daughters. The extravagant affair lasted three months, from June to September, and almost bankrupted the state.
The Balai Besar was also the venue of the installation of a new sultan, namely Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin Halim Shah II (1804-1845) and Tuanku Sultan Haji Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah on 20 February 1959.
How to go to Balai Besar
Balai Besar is located along Jalan Pekan Melayu, just face to face with Masjid Zahir, in the middle of the city of Alor Star.
Balai Nobat (Nobat Hall) – This octagonal-shaped tower houses the nobat, the instruments of the state royal orchestra.
Although this 18 metre-tall and 5 metre-wide building is closed to the public, its interesting to know that its sole purpose is to house the royal musical instrument set known as the Nobat. The Nobat is played only by the Royal Orchestra during royal ceremonies including inaugurations, royal births, weddings, and funerals. It is believed that the Nobat originated from the Hindustani culture centuries ago when one of the brothers of the then ruling Sultan made a visit there.
This nine-piece muscial set is comprised of three drums, a gong, two flutes, two instruments called the cheng-cheng, and and a trumpet-like instrument called the Nafiri, which produces the haunting strains of nobat music.
Balai Seni Negeri, or State Art Gallery, is one of the first modern government buildings constructed in Alor Star, Kedah. The person responsible for the project was Muhammad bin Lebai Tambi, an architect with the Kedah State Public Works Department who was also responsible for the reconstruction of Balai Besar.
The Balai Seni Negeri was originally used as the High Court. Construction began in 1893, and it was opened by Sultan Abdul Hamid Shah. From 1912 until 1983, it housed various government departments. It was eventually turned into the State Art Gallery, or Balai Seni Negeri on 25 July 1983 in conjunction with the Silver Jubilee of the reign of Tunku Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah. When I visited the Balai Seni Negeri to document it for AsiaExplorers, I saw that the building was under restoration, and had just been given a fresh coat of paint.
Dr. Mahathir’s Place of Birth – this simple wooden house was the birthplace of the former Prime Minister, Dato’ Seri Dr. Mahatir Mohammad.
Masjid Zahir– One of the most beautiful mosques in the country, Masjid Zahir was officially opened in 1912.
Menara Alor Star(Alor Star Tower) – At 165.5 meters, the Alor Star Tower is the second tallest communications tower in Malaysia. There is also a restaurant above.
Located in the heart of Alor Setar, this tower, standing at 165.5 metres tall is a prominent and modern landmark that signifies the rapid development in the state of Kedah. It functions as both a telecommunications tower and a tourist attraction. The Tower’s platform allows visitors to enjoy a breathtaking view, that stretches from Gunung Jerai (formerly known as Kedah Peak) to the Strait of Malacca. From the tower, you will see vast expanses of paddy fields which lies outside of Alor Setar – an amazing view especially during harvest time. It’s the second tallest tower in Malaysia.
Muzium Di Raja (Royal Museum) – Eight Hindu Maharajas is believed to have ruled Kedah from the 4th century AD before the ninth maharaja who converted to Islam in 1136 and ruled as Sultan Muzaffar Shah. The Sultanate of Kedah is usually traced back to this first sultan and the royal line has been intact for more than eight centuries.
Muzium Negeri (State Museum) – The State Museum holds many of the state’s historical treasures some donated by the people of Kedah.
Nikradharam Buddhist Temple – located in the centre of the city is of typical Siamese architecture.
Tunku Abdul Rahman Memorial – Tunku Abdul Rahman was the first prime Minister of Malaysia.
Wan Mat Saman Canal – This was longest and most renowned canal built in Kedah.
Pekan Rabu Bazaar – the most renowned bazaar in the state. In the Malay language, Pekan Rabu name means ‘Wednesday Market’, but this bazaar opens throughout the week from morning till midnight. The bazaar sell clothing, Asian and local handicraft, and typically Kedah local foodstuff.
Tour of Kedah River Kedah River cuts the city of Alor Star; a tour will take you pass kampong, and see some of the historical sights of Alor Setar. Take a river ride from the jetty near Masjid Zahir.