Air Itam, or Ayer Hitam, owes its name to the murky waters of a river that flowed through the township. Once dubbed the entertainment hub of Penang, Air Itam housed what was thought to be the first zoo in the country: the Penang Zoological Gardens opened its doors to the public in the 1920s, boasting a variety of exotic creatures including lions and tigers. Unfortunately, due to mounting maintenance cost, it was forced to close down just before the Japanese Occupation.
Air Itam in recent times has evolved into a largely suburbanised township populated by people of diverse cultures. Its three main streets are Jalan Air Itam, Jalan Pasar and Jalan Balik Pulau, making up central Air Itam which teems with businesses and local markets, including the famed Air Itam market.
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