The Old Dutch World
Kota Tua is something nobody has in southeast Asia, maybe in all of Asia. We have it. This is of tremendous value. -Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo
When the Dutch arrived in what they dubbed Batavia, what is today Jakarta, they decided to build themselves a European city. They envisioned Amsterdam in a tropical setting. This turned out to be one of the stupidest ideas the colonizers had. Why? Well, when you build canals in the tropics and there is no running water, bad things will happen. Batavia was nick named white man’s graveyard. I’m currently reading Adrian Vicker’s A History of Modern Indonesia, and he discusses the problems the Dutch had with getting enough people to go to Batavia to keep the population at the desired level. In addition to this, things got complicated when the wives of the Dutch men started showing up – many of the Dutch men had taken local mistresses.
Today the old Dutch area in Jakarta, known as Kota Tua (kota = town/city, tua = old) is crumbling. It’s really a shame. There are so many beautiful facades and it really is a unique area. This would be a great spot to have dinner, a drink, and go for stroll as traffic is blocked from the main square, Taman Fatahillah.
Today, instead of restorations, most things are falling apart. In the 1970s, the governor of Jakarta restored Taman Fatahillah, blocking off traffic and things started looking hopeful. When the next governor came into office, things stalled. Since the 1970s there have been nine different plans from many different governors to restore this area.
But now almost 40 years have past since the last serious restoration effort, and any that will take place in the future will costs hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars. The sad part? The government owns a lot of buildings in this area. If they wanted to, they could lease buildings to commercial enterprises and get the momentum going again.
I have gone to the Kota area twice now. Once to the Wayang Museum and once to the Jakarta History Museum with my Wesleyan friend Erwin. Erwin is a Jakarta native and he too sees the amazing potential this area has and we both don’t understand why someone, like the people who build giant malls in Jakarta, hasn’t started commercializing this area. Put in a Starbucks, and they will come.
The cannons in the photo above stand in front of the Jakarta History Museum (below) which was the city hall during Dutch times.
This is a view from inside the History Museum over-looking the square. The history of this area is sad. The Dutch used to keep prisoners in the basement of the museum and in surrounding buildings and people were brutally executed in front of the museum.
I’m sure this lady had a hard time maintaining her lifestyle in a tropical climate:
The museum itself isn’t much to write home about. But since the admission is about 20 cents, it’s worth a look. Behind the museum is a courtyard with more remnants of the Dutch era:
Today, Taman Fatahillah has plenty of street vendors that will quickly approach bules (aka me) as well as several rent-a-colorful-bike stands. Children tend to ride the bikes around the area.
The one commercial development on the main square is Cafe Batavia. This restaurant and bar opened up in 1993. A Westerner bought the land and decided to restore the 100+ year old building. The result is a beautiful old-school glamorous restaurant that sadly lacks company – there is nothing around it.
Erwin and I ended up walking around the area and he took me to a very cool building. Like most of the buildings, it was once a grand-Dutch looking place, that is until nature won.
Trees sprouted from within the building and kept growing. Today, magazine photo shoots take place here and Erwin told me that there is man here who is a squatter but gets paid to let people take photos. There was a woman holding intricately carved watermelon and having photos taken for birthday invitations when we strolled in.
Personally, I found this building enchantingly beautiful. I hope this area gets restored, but I think this building should be left both because of its beauty and as a reminder of what happened to this area after years of neglect.
If you go north from the Kota area you will hit the port and the sea (I have yet to explore there) but the canals on the walk North reek and are full of trash.
There is one wooden bridge left from the Dutch era that remains locked so you can’t walk across it.
I really hope that someone will become inspired to do something with this area soon. It would be very sad if this historic area continued to decay.
In other news, I’ve been eating lots of Ramadan snacks that pop up at this time of the year. I will post about Indonesian food soon. Cheers!