Jakarta Old Town

Trace Back the Story of Indonesia’s Mother City

Looking at Jakarta on early days, this city now has changed so much, or even too much. It used to be a place where heroes bravely fought against imperialists. It’s here in Jakarta where Indonesia’s founding fathers, Ir. Soekarno and Moh. Hatta, struggled to their last breath to gain back the independence of the nation.


But today, Jakarta turns into a monster city full of people and motorized vehicles. Packed with mountain high towers and skyscrapers, it oozes a sense of New York City if only there are no traffic jam and slum area.


The heroes turn to be well-dressed workers that hectically race with time and deadline. The roads are never empty, always full of cars rushing to offices in the morning and heading for clubs at night. Shopping malls are too many with posing mannequins dressed in branded fashion products.


With all these dramatic changes, have all historical remnants of this city disappeared? Is there nothing left to remind the people of Jakarta’s old glory? We don’t think so. The people are getting more modern but happily they never forget where they belong.


Taking a stroll around Jakarta Old Town (the original area of Jakarta), we will found several nostalgic sites depicting the old memory of this formerly known Batavia city.


Fatahillah Square


Hiding on north side of Jakarta, Fatahillah square used to be the heart of Jakarta old area. It is a plain square enveloped by historical buildings which comes alive as weekend buzz crowd the place.


Back in 18th century, Fatahillah square served as the center of important events including festivals and night markets. But at the same time, it was also the site of death penalty using various painful devices – by gallows, swords and guillotine. Meanwhile on the eastern side, there was a sawhorse with sharpen back on which foot-weighted prisoners forced to sit until they were sliced in two.


Fatahillah Square width=

Fountain on Fatahillah Square


The horror is no more there and the horrific scenes are now replaced by kids playing around, laughing families, day-tripper taking city tour and schoolchildren conducting small surveys.


The vibe gets merrier on the weekends with vendors selling ice creams, traditional snacks, temporary tattoos, while the other hire bicycle-pedaled Ferris wheels and old bikes with woven hats. As night falls, fascinating performances take place there including fire breathers, snake dancers, comedians and even magician.


The square provided people with drinkable water sprouting from fountain which adorned the center space. But in 1650, soon after the water (from Ciliwung River) became polluted with garbage and waste, it’s simply left abandoned.



The Jakarta History Museum


Painted in all-white with contrasting vibrant orange on the roof and green on the window shutters, this museum stands out among the other around Fatahillah square. But its story is not as beautiful as its view.


History Museum

Fatahillah Square is in front of the Jakarta History Museum


Formerly named City Hall of Batavia, this place was used as judicial court, military office and a jail until late 1913. It’s a massacre site where more than 300 prisoners were squeezed into small cages, while the other being tortured and executed. There is a cupola on top of the roof housing a bell that was tolled only to announce public execution.


Behind the building is a courtyard that turned to be a bloody site during 1974’s riot. It broke on October 9th and the Chinese were accused to be the culprits. Many were shot to death on the street while the other including Chinese prisoners and hospital patients were shepherded into the courtyard and murdered.


Years after the day of Indonesia’s independence, the building was turned to be a museum with a collection of historical stuff. Si Jaguar canon sitting on the courtyard is one of them. It’s adorned with a clenched fist on the rear that was said to represent cohabitation and women believed it could increase fertility. It used to be placed on the Fatahillah square but then moved into secret chamber in the museum after women climbed on it to boost fertility. Now, it becomes a famous background for visitors and their cameras.



The Shadow Puppet Museum


Puppet Museum Museum

Old Bikes for Rent and Puppet Museum on the Background


There is Café Batavia with enchanting Dutch architecture opposite Jakarta History museum. And between them is the Shadow Puppet Museum. It was built in 1912 and was formerly a city museum. It stands on two abandoned churches that one of which was destroyed after one of its organ didn’t fit inside.


This museum houses various puppets from around Indonesia including the ones made of buffalo hide, bamboo, grass and leaves. There are also human-size puppets to be used by puppeteers usually on Sunday performance.


Puppet Museum

Puppet Collection in Puppet Museum


There are still more to see in Jakarta Old City that includes the not to miss Fine Arts and Ceramics Museum and Bank of Indonesia Museum. Come here on Mondays and you’ll find most the museum closed.


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