On history’s trail in Jakarta
Indonesia’s capital was transformed from a sleepy colonial base to a booming mega-city in less than a century. Much of the old Batavia – as the Dutch called their settlement– was obliterated in the course of the city’s rapid growth, but watchful trackers can be sure of finding some small but exquisite traces between the urban expressways, shopping malls and skyscrapers
Back to the overview
Ships, city history & puppet theatre
Where Jakarta was born – and time seems to stand still: Traditional pinisi are still the only vessels to anchor in Sunda Kelapa harbor, just like 400 years ago. These two-masted sailing ships (today often also motorized) continue to connect all of the provinces of the sprawling Indonesian archipelago. After capturing Sunda Kelapa back in 1619, the Dutch made it one of their first bases in the region from which to control their “East Indian” colonies. The harbor became the nucleus from which their colonial capital, Batavia, grew. Many ancient buildings in the area have survived to this day.
Jakarta History Museum (and National Museum):
The old city of Batavia was once ruled from the"Stadhuis" (town hall). This historical building was extensively refurbished in the 1970s and now houses the Jakarta History Museum. Inside, a worthwhile exhibition – but unfortunately narrated almost exclusively in Indonesian – traces the city’s history prior to and during the colonial era. The National Museum, founded by the Dutch colonial government in 1868, is larger than the History Museum and has a collection of 66,000 artifacts. It offers a more profound insight into the history of Jakarta and Indonesia and is among the best museums of its kind in Southeast Asia
Jakarta History Museum: Jalan Taman Fatahillah 2, +62/21/692 91 01. Opening times: temporarily closed due to maintenance. National Museum: Jalan Medan Merdeka Barat 12, +62-21/3 86 81 72. Opening times: Tue-Fri 8am-4pm, Sat+Sun 8am-5pm. Admission (for foreign visitors): 10,000 rupees. www.museumnasional.or.id
EA further cultural highlight in Jakarta’s historical old town (Kota) is the Wayang Museum, which occupies a former store building on the old town hall square. Wayang kulit, the art of shadow theater chiefly found on the Indonesian islands of Bali and Java, is the oldest and best-loved form of puppet theater in the world; UNESCO acknowledges it as one of the "masterpieces of oral and intangible heritage of humanity." It has a more than 1000-year-old tradition and generally portrays ancient Indian epics. In addition to the flat, leather marionettes typical of shadow theater, the Wayang Museum also exhibits a collection of three-dimensional wooden puppets (wayang golek). On Sundays, visitors can even watch the marionettes in action.
Wayang Museum: Jalan Pintu Besar Utara 27, +62-21/692 95 60. Opening times: Tue-Sun 9am-3pm. Admission: 2000 rupiah (students 1000, children 600 rupiah).
Culinary institutions & cultural richness
After taking a stroll through Kota, Jakarta’s old town, why not drop into a genuine institution for a little refreshment? The building that houses Café Batavia (which is really a restaurant) once served as the residence of the city’s Dutch governors – and today preserves its distinctive colonial atmosphere. Uniformed waiters serve not only Indonesian and Chinese fare but also western dishes. In the adjoining Churchill Bar, guests can enjoy cocktails in a laid-back setting to gentle strains of jazz music. A popular hostelry with locals, ex-pats and tourists!
Café Batavia: Taman Fatahillah, +62-21/691 55 31. Opening times: Mon-Fr 8am-2pm, Sat+Sun round the clock. www.cafebatavia.com.
Taman Mini Indonesia Indah:
Is it an open-air museum or a theme park? Either way, Taman Mini Indonesia Indah (“beautiful mini-Indonesia park”) is one of Jakarta’s main attractions and showcases the rich cultural diversity of this multi-ethnic state made up of 17,500 islands. Traditional houses from Indonesia’s various provinces create an impression of daily life in this, the fourth largest country in the world (based on population). Places of worship for people of different religions and creeds as well as a number of museums, theaters and restaurants are also dotted about the lush parklands.
Taman Mini Indonesia Indah: Jalan Raya Taman Mini 1, +62/21/840 92 70. Opening times: 8am-5pm, although individual opening times apply to many attractions. Admission: 6000 rupiah (children 4000 rupiah). www.tamanmini.com.
Despite the abundance of cultural treasures Jakarta has to offer, visitors tend to spend only a few days in the capital before moving on to tour the main Indonesian island of Java. One of Central Java’s biggest tourist magnets is Yogyakarta, the unofficial culture capital, where traditional Javan arts and crafts such as batik and wayang are cultivated. Not far from "Yogya," visitors will find two further impressive attractions to explore: the 1200-year-old temple cities of Borobudur (Buddhist) and Prambanan (Hindu). Bromo (see photo) is an active volcano that towers high into the sky in the east of Java. Climb to its crater – preferably in the early morning hours – and you will be rewarded by spectacular views of a bizarre moon landscape
Pictures: Westlake/Robbins/Kaehler/Corbis (3), mauritius images, getty images, Zimbardo/laif, look-foto