Jakarta Indonesia’s Metropolis – Sights of Old Batavia

Batavia came to life in the 1620s, as a tiny walled down modelled after Amsterdam.

Most of the original settlement – Old Batavia – was demolished at the beginning of the 19th century. Only the town square are survived. It has been restored and renamed Taman Fatahillah, and three of the surrounding colonial edifices have been converted into museum: the Jakarta History Museum, the Fine Arts Museum and the Wayang Museum. They are all open Tuesday through Thursday, 8.30 a.m. to 2.30 p.m.: Friday 8.30 a.m. to 11 p.m. amd Saturday 8.30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Start at the Jakarta History Museum on the south side of the square. This was formerly the city hall (Stadhuis) of Batavia, a solid structure completed in 1710 and used by succesive government up to the 1960s. It now houses fascinating memorabilia from the colonial period, notably 18th century furnishing and portraits of the VOC governors, along with many prehistoric, classical and Portuguese period artifact. Dungeons, visible from the back of the building, were used as holding cells where prisoners were made to stand waist deep in sewage for weks awaiting their trials. Execution and public tortures were once common – place, performed daily in the main square as judges watched from the balcony above the main entrance.

The Wayang Museum on the western side of the square contains many puppets and masks, some of them quite rare. There are buffalo – hide shadows puppets (wayang kulit), round stick puppets (wayang golek), flat stick puppets (wayang Zklithik), Chinese hand puppets (potehi), Thai shadows puppets (wayang siam), patriotic shadow puppets (wayang Suluh), Biblical shadows puppets (wayang wahyu), and even a puppet of Batavia’s founder, J.O. Coen. Interesting, too, are the simple puppets made of rice straw and bamboo. There is also a collection of topeng masks, and tombstones of several early Dutch governors are on display. Every Sunday morning a puppet performance is staged between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m.

The Fine Arts Museum (Museum Seni Rupa) on the east side of Fatahillah square is housed in the former Court of Justice building (completed in 1879). The museum has collections of paintings and sculptures by modern Indonesian artists, and an important exhibition of rare porcelains, including many Sun celadons from the Adam Malik collection, ancient Javanese waterjugs (kendhi), and terracottas dating from the Majapahit period (14th century).

Before leaving the area, walk over to the cannon mounted on the north side of Taman Fatahillah. Si Jago, as he is called, is regarded by many as a fertility symbol, perhaps because of the fist cast into the buttend of the cannon, whose thumb protrudes between its index and middle fingers (an obscene gesture in Indonesia). Occasionally, young couples are seen approaching with offerings. The wife than straddles the cannon’s barrel, in the hope of thereby conceiving a child.

Next, walk behind the Wayang Museum to view two Dutch house dating from the 18th century. Across the canal and tot he left stands a solid red brick townhouse (Jl. Kali Besar Barat No. 11) that was built around 1730 by the then soon to be Governor General Van Imhoff. The design and perticularly the fine Chinese style woodwork are typical of old Batavian residence. Three doors to the left stands the only other house from the same period, now the offices of the Chartered Bank. Several blokcs to the north, an old wooden drawbridge straddles the canal, recalling the days when Batavia was a Dutch town laced with waterways.

As is the case in most post colonial Asian cities, Jakarta’s Chinatown in immediately adjacent to the old European town centre – here just to the south of the old city in an area now known as Glodok. Give yourself an hour on foot to tour Jakarta’s busiest distric. Begin at the Glodok Plaza / City Hotel (Jl. Pancoran) and walk back through the mze of narrow lanes to the canal. Turn left (south), past busy shopfronts selling clothing, food, medicine, electronic and household goods, to arrive at the Jin dep Yuan temple on Gang Petak Sembilan. This is the oldes of Jakarta’s more than 70 Chinese temples (founded ca. 1650), and in it are enshrined numerous Buddhist, Taoist and popular deities, including several deified Chinese notables of Old Batavia.

–> Read Also : Jakarta Indonesia’s Metropolis – Central Jakarta

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