0121 GMT December 12, 2019
Entering the town’s main square, one can truly feel Dutch colonial rule and its architectural touches which have remained almost in a good shape.
For those who travel to the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, which has around 11 million residents, it is hard to imagine that the city was limited to a small area now famous as ‘Old Batavia’. Indonesians call it ‘Kota Tua’ which means ‘old town.’
Batavia was established after the Dutch invaded Jayakarta (the old name of the region, literally meaning ‘town of victory’) in 1619. The walled city was built around Ciliwung River.
Gradually it was expanded westwards and was given Dutch architectural features and planning such as public square, churches, canals and tree-lined streets. Too afraid of insurrection by local people, the Dutch wouldn’t allow any Javanese to live inside the walls.
The city’s construction completed in 1650 and as it gained importance as the headquarters of VOC (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) that was prospering from the spice trade.
In the late 18th century, the city declined in prominence and was abandoned as people preferred to move southward. Stagnant water of its canals and outbreaks of diseases, such as Malaria, are said to be among the reasons for its abandonment. However, in the early 19th century, the Old Batavia regained its status as the center of Dutch East Indies.
After the Indonesia Revolution, businesses and banks moved from this region to the south which caused further deterioration of Kota Tua. But in 1972, Jakarta’s governorate designated the old town as a heritage site, urging all bodies to ramp up efforts to preserve the area.
Kuta Tua has seen many restoration efforts after 2004, which were aimed at revitalizing the buildings and enhancing its position as a heritage site. Indonesia has also submitted the area, along four outlying islands, in 2015 to be inscribed on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List. In the justification for the submission, the areas has been described as “an excellent example of Dutch colonial city town planning and architecture during the period between 17th and 18th century which were the golden age of the VOC,” and also “as the most complete surviving Dutch colonial capital city located at the center of the web of the vast Dutch trading network in the period between 17th and 18th Century. The spice trade route from the Netherlands to the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent, China, Japan, South Africa and the Spice Islands produced in Batavia, a city with multicultural heritages alive till today and which influenced the creation of an Indonesian culture reflecting all of these.”
There are numerous sites to visit in the Kota Tua. Located in its main square, Jakarta History Museum or Fatahillah Museum can be the first choice for a visitor. Established in 1710, the museum, a grand public building, now showcases relics about the city and its location from prehistoric times through the colonization period and until the independence of the country.
Among the other attractive destinations in the town are Wayang Museum, Maritime Museum, Fine Art and Ceramic Museum, Bank Indonesia Museum and Batavia Café.
If lucky, you will have the opportunity to take photos in the Fatahillah Square with flying pigeons while having the Jakarta History Museum in your background. Also, you will have a chance to ride colorful bikes, feel a gentle breeze and enjoy your time.
* This report by Mohammad-Ali Haqshenas, an Iranian journalist, was first published by Mehr News Agency.