The capital of Indonesia is located on Java’s northwest coast. From a small village it has during the last hundred years grown to be one of the largest cities in South East Asia. The official number of inhabitants is about 8 million, but the correct number is probably 10-12 million, people from all over Indonesia come to this melting pot to try to make a living, and Jakarta is today an important center for trade and business.
The Ciliwung river runs through Jakarta, and during the 15th and 16th century this area was a large harbor for export of spice, mostly centered around the Sunda Kelapa harbor. When the Portuguese came here in 1522 the town was under rule of the Pajajaran dynasty, the last Hindu kingdom on West Java. The Islamic Demak dynasty seized control in 1527, the Portuguese were thrown out and the town called Jayakarta, “the victorious city”. It now became part of the Banten sultanate, and both the British and the Dutch established trade posts here.
History of Jakarta
The Dutch fort came under siege by local Javanese forces in 1618, supported by the British. This alliance did not appeal to the Banten leader who sent a force to “relieve” the Jayakartan leader from his duties. The Dutch celebrated this temporary victory and now named their fort Batavia. They took revenge in 1619 by storming the town, burnt it to ashes and built a new fort by the shoreline. Later they successfully defended this against Banten to the west and twice against Mataram to the east (1628 and 1629). A new city that was almost a copy of Amsterdam was constructed in the swamps. This was also named Batavia, a name that should stand until the Japanese occupation (1942-45), when it got its current name.
Batavia quickly became too small, large numbers of Indonesians and Chinese kept coming. Tension grew between the different groups of people, and Chinese gangs created unrest and attacked outposts outside the city. On 9 October 1740 the Batavian citizens went berserk and massacred 5.000 Chinese within the city. A year later the remaining Chinese inhabitants were moved to Glodok outside the city walls. Other Batavians also started to move, discouraged by severe epidemics, and the city spread far south of the port. After independence people continued to flock to this relatively small city and Jakarta soon overtook other Indonesian cities in size and importance, it became the undisputed capital in 1950.
Even if this is a city populated by millions most of the buildings are low structures, just one to two stories. Only in the 1970’s tall buildings characteristic for a city this size started to pop up. Like other Indonesian cities this is full of contrasts, the difference between rich and poor is huge and can be seen everywhere. This got even worse during the Asia crisis at the end of the 1990’s when Indonesia was the hardest hit country and Jakarta the center of unrest and riots.
Four students were killed on 12 May 1998 at Trisakti university, shot down by soldiers, this led to three days of very violent riots and chaos. More than 6.000 buildings were damaged or burnt down. The unrest led to the fall of Suharto a few days later. The students were again shot at on 13 November 1998, and a new wave of riots took place, also this time with many buildings on fire and loss of lives.
Kota, Jakarta’s old city
Jakarta is a big, hot city with lots of polluting traffic. As a visitor you can forget to see everything in one day. There are some good museums here for those interested in Indonesia’s history and culture. You should visit Kota, the old city, where you will see the oldest and finest reminders of the colonial days. Some of the old buildings are still in active use, while others has been restored and become museums.
Most of the attractions are centered around the Taman Fatahillah square; museums, the famous Cafe Batavia and the large bronze cannon “Cannon Si Jagur”, a trophy of war from the Portuguese after the fall of Melaka in 1641. The fist at the end of the cannon with the thumb between the index and middle fingers is a sexual symbol in Indonesia, and childless women come here in the hope of having children.
Sunda Kelapa, Ancol
From Kota it is not far to the Sunda Kelapa harbor where you can see the traditional sail ships (“pinisi”) which still is used to transport goods between islands in the archipelago. They are an impressive sight, most of them are built on the south coast of Sulawesi, where the Bugis people originate from. A great deal of the goods are timber from Kalimantan and cement, cars, motorbikes and other goods the other way. One trip to Kalimantan typically takes about 4 days. The crew are mainly Bugis, a famous seafaring people from south Sulawesi.
Close to Sunda Kelapa is the Ancol recreation park, with attractions like a large saltwater aquarium with many fascinating species of fish. The main harbor, Tanjung Priok, is the largest in Indonesia and located about 8 km east further along the coast.
MONAS, National Monument
Jakarta’s most prominent landmark is the 132m high National Monument on Merdeka square, MONAS. The construction was started by president Soekarno in 1961, but not completed before 1975 when it was opened by Soeharto. It is often characterized as a phallic symbol with a flame covered with gold leaf at the top to symbolize national independence and strength. The base consists of the National History Museum which tells the history of the independence struggle against the Dutch. A lift will take you to the top where, on a clear day, you can see the whole of Jakarta. Sundays and holidays can be very busy here.
Taman Mini Indonesia Indah, Ragunan Zoo
In the southeast part of Jakarta there is another recreational park, Taman Mini Indonesia Indah, called Indonesia in miniature. Here are buildings, art and crafts from all the regions in the country.
Another attraction is Ragunan Zoo about 10 km south of the city center, the zoo has a number of local species and is of better quality than most other zoo’s in Indonesia.
Other travel facts
Jakarta can offer most of the culture and entertainment you would expect to find in a city of this size, if you can stand the pollution and noise this can be an interesting place to spend some time. If you would like to leave the city for a while there is a chain of about 130 tiny islands just north of Jakarta, called Pulau Seribu, thousand islands. The further from Jakarta you go the cleaner the water will be. The local population like to go to Bogor, Puncak, Bandung and the mountains around Bandung for the weekends. You can travel to Bandung in about three hours with car or train. The best time to visit these places are any day except for the weekends and on holidays when it can be very crowded.