Indonesian history and importance is underplayed and not truly highlighted, as it should be. For instance over 200 years ago Batavia was exchanged for New York (New Amsterdam) by colonial powers, The Dutch and British Empires, as this gateway to Indonesia was seen more valuable than the gateway to the new world.
When in Jakarta, there are many ways to get to Kota, for example by Trans Jakarta (Kota station) or by a simple taxi ride, however the word of warning is that traffic jams are common and long in this part of town.
The best place to start is at Taman Fatahillah, Fatahillah park, Fatahillah square, this is a large cobbled courtyard that’s encircled with Old Dutch colonial style buildings falling into disrepair. Today, it is hard to imagine but this was the center of power and prestige that ruled Dutch colonial interests for 10s of 1,000 km in all directions. Sunda Kelapa port is not far from this spot where spices, raw materials, rare minerals and slaves where traded and exported around the known world.
Today, the park still has the cobbled stones yet is surrounded by buildings that have indeed seen better days. This somehow plays to its own advantage as you walk into the park from the narrow streets you feel the silence overcome you as you move away from the traffic. The eerie worn buildings a constant reminder of an empire lost. With all this said just after sunrise and before sunset this are comes alive with kids and families playing and gathering under the gentle shade of trees avoiding the heat of the midday sun. As green areas are at a premium in Jakarta, Fatahillah has seen a true revival in space utilization, you can hire old-fashioned bicycles, eat ice cream, sample some traditional food from a passing seller or just sit back and people watch. Groups of photographers gently flow through the street in the early morning catching images of life as it is and as it was; so don’t forget to bring your camera.
Museum Sejarah Jakarta
This old Dutch building stands looking onto Fatahillah square, this impressive structure was designed to exude power and strength and it lived up to this task well. It functioned as the town hall for many years under Dutch rule. You are able to gain access and take a walk around from Tuesday to Sunday, 9 am to 3 pm. There are some wonderful examples of wood furniture that have served their purpose for many a year, plus an extensive variety of still images that show Batavia over the years. Yet the highlight is probably the Bell Tower that was first put into place in 1627.
The Cannon si Jagur sits in the courtyard of the Museum and is a symbol of victory over the Portuguese whom it was taken from. Don’t be surprised if you see women jumping up and sitting on the cannon, local custom believes that if you are looking to improve your chances of getting pregnant then you need to sit on the cannon. You will also notice that the cannon is shaped to resemble a fish with the thumb placed below the index finger. Don’t try this on the streets as it is incredibly rude.
The Museum of shadow puppets also stands looking onto Fatahillah Square. Shadow puppets play a deep and influential role in all aspects of Indonesian life, religion, politics and ethnic diversity. This museum although at first may not be gripping for the viewer, yet with a guided tour the many characters and stories can come to life. You can visit the museum Monday to Thursday 9 am to 1.30 pm or Friday to Sunday 9 am to 12.30 pm.
Balai Seni Rupa
The Fine Arts Museum boasts some beautiful pieces of Indonesian art. The exhibits are regularly changed and the staff is always on hand to answer any questions that you may have. While you are walking around you might also be interested to know that the building you are in dates back to the late 1860’s and used to be the Palace of Justice. The building is open from 9 am to 12.30 pm everyday excluding Monday.
If you leave the square and walk towards Kota train station you will notice a rather bland building that is in fact the oldest church in Jakarta. Once inside it sheds it bland exterior and exhibits beautiful décor. When it was first built it actually sat outside the city walls and was for the so-called ‘undesirables’ to use, for example slaves. Today it stills stands surrounded by the bustling city and is open for services every Sunday.
Need an escape from the heat. Café Batavia is a wonderful jump back in time to the colonial age. The walls are decorated with old picture frames with stars and the unforgettable faces of the last 100 or more years. As you slide into the seats and enjoy the wonderful cocktails you will slip back 100 years or so as well. Visiting around sunset is recommended for food on the second floor. The sun streams in and there is a fantastic feel of the colonial life.
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