The old town of Batavia, now known as Kota, was once the hub of Dutch colonial Indonesia. Today it's a sad vision of a once-grand empire and dozens of historic buildings have rotted, crumbled or been bulldozed away. A master plan exists to regenerate the area, but as yet little has been done other than pedestrianise a couple of streets and restore a structure or two. One of the main obstacles to attracting inward investment is that Kota is particularly susceptible to flooding.
Taman FatahiHah, Kola's central cobblestone square, is still reminiscent of the area's heyday, and it's lined with imposing colonial buildings including the Taman Fatahillah, the former town hall.
A block west of the square is Kali Besar, the great canal along Sungai Ciliwung. This was once a high-class residential area and on the west bank of the river are the last of the homes that date from the early 18th century. One of the most impressive is the red-tiled facade of Toko Merah, which was once the home of Governor General van Imhoff. There are plans to convert this house into a museum dedicated to the Dutch period. At the northern end of Kali Besar is the last remaining Dutch drawbridge, ' the Chicken Market Bridge , which dates from the 17th century.
To reach Taman Fatahillah, take the bus-way Korridor I from Blok M or Jl Thamrin to Kota train station and walk. Trains from Gondangdia, near Jl Jaksa, also run here. A taxi will cost around 30,000Rp from Jl Thamrin.
This puppet museum: has one of the best collections of wayang puppets in Java and its dusty cabinets are full of a multitude of characters. The collection includes puppets from not only Indonesia but also China, Vietnam, India, Cambodia and Europe, and masks used by dancers. There are free wayang performances here on Sunday at 10am.
Formerly the Museum of Old Batavia, the building itself dates from 1912. In the downstairs courtyard, you'll find memorials to Dutch governor generals who were once buried here, including Jan Pieterszoon Coen, founder of Batavia.
Be warned that we have received reports of a scam involving freelance glides at this museum, who pressure you into making exorbitant purchases after a tour of the exhibits.
MUSEUM SEJARAH JAKARTA
The Jakarta History Museum : is housed in the old town hall of Batavia, a stately Dutch-style structure that was once the epicentre of an empire. This bell-towered building, built in 1627, served the administration of the city and was also used by the city law courts.
Today it's a typically poorly presented municipal museum of peeling plasterwork and lots of heavy, carved ebony and teak furniture from the Dutch period (plus a disparate col-lection of exhibits collected from across the nation). But you will find the odd exquisite piece, such the stunning black granite sculpture of Kali, a Hindu goddess associated with death and destruction.
In the back courtyard is a strange memorial stone to Pieter Erbervelt, put to death in 1722 for allegedly conspiring to masjacre the Dutch inhabitants of Batavia, and he huge bronze Cannon Si Jagur that once graced Taman Fatahillah. This Portuguese cannon, brought to Batavia as a trophy of war after the fall of Melaka in 1641, tapers at one end into a large clenched fist, with the thumb protruding between the index and middle fingers. This suggestive fist is a sexual symbol in Indonesia and childless women would offer flowers and sit astride the cannon in the hope of becoming mothers.
BALA! SEN! RUPA
Built between 1866 and 1870, the former Palace of Justice building is now a Fine Arts Museum ; Taman Fatahillah; admission 2000Rp; S 9am-1.30pm Tue-Sun). It houses contemporary paintings with works by prominent artists, including Affandi, Raden Saleh and Ida Bagus Made. Part of the building is also a ceramics museum, with Chinese ceramics and Majapahit terracottas.
Near the Kota train station, this church ( Jl Pangeran Jayakarta) dates from 1695 and is the oldest remaining church in Jakarta. Also known as Gereja Portugis (Portuguese Church), it was built just outside the old city walls for slaves captured from Portuguese trading ports. The exterior of the church is very plain, but inside there are copper chandeliers, a baroque pulpit and the original organ.
A kilometre north of Taman Fatahillah, the old port of Sunda Kelapa (Map p102; admission 20CORp! is full of magnificent Makassar schooners (pi-nisi). The dock scene here has barely changed for centuries, and porters unload cargo from these sailing ships by hand and trolley. Sadly, the port itself is rundown and its waters grotesquely polluted these days.
Ambitious plans exist to redevelop the entire Sunda Kelapa area and open new museums in the crumbling buildings, though these proposals have been stalled for years.
Near the entrance to Sunda Kelapa, several old VOC warehouses (dating back to 1652) have been converted into the Museum Bahari . This is a good place to learn about the city's maritime history, and though the wonderful old buildings (some renovated) are echoingly empty mere are some good information panels (in English and Bahasa Indonesia). Under the heavy wooden beams of the vast old storage premises are various random exhibits: a sextant (used for astronomical navigation), various traditional boats from around Indonesia, the shell of a giant clam, plenty of pickled fish and a lighthouse lamp or two. The sentry posts outside are part of the old city wall.
Just before the entrance to the museum is a watditower :built in 1839 to sight and direct traffic to the port. There are good views over the harbour, but opening hours are haphazard - ask for the caretaker if it is closed.
Further along the same street from the museum is the early-morning Pasar Ikan. It's an intense, colourful scene of busy crowds around dawn, when the day's catch is sold. Later in the day household items and a growing collection of souvenirs are sold.
The neighbourhood of Glodok, the traditional enclave of the Chinese, is an archetypical downtown district full of bustling lanes, street markets, a shabby mall or two and some of the world's most decadent nightlife. It was also the site of the terrible riots of May and November 1998, which reduced huge swaths of the area to ash and rubble.
Most of the fun here is simply experiencing the (very) Chinese vibe of the place, eating some dumplings and browsing the myriad stalls and stores selling everything from traditional medicines to dodgy DVDs. Be sure to wander down the impossibly narrow Petak Sembilan street market off Jl Pancoran, lined with crooked houses with red-tiled roofs. It's a total assault on the senses, with skinned frogs and live bugs for sale next to an open sewer.
At the western end of the market is the large Chinese Buddhist temple compound of Jin de Yuan, which dates from 1755 and is one of the most important in the city. The main structure has an unusual roof crowned by two dragons eating pearls, while the interior is richly atmospheric: dense incense and candle smoke cloud the Buddha statues, ancient bells and drums, and there's some wonderful calligraphy.
If a centre for this sprawling city had to be chosen, then Merdeka Sq (Lapangan Merdeka) would be it. This huge grassy expanse is home to Sukarno's monument to the nation, and is surrounded by a couple of museums and some fine colonial buildings.
On the western side of Merdeka Sq, the National Museum , built in 1862, is the best of its kind in Indonesia and is the one museum in the city that's an essential visit. A very impressive new wing was added on the north side of the neo-classical colonial structure in 2007. No photographs are allowed.
The museum has an enormous collection. Around the open courtyard is some magnificent statuary including a colossal 4.5m stone image of a Bhairawa king from Rambahan in Sumatra who is shown trampling on human skulls. The ethnology section is superb, with Dayak puppets and wooden statues from Nias bearing beards (a sign of wisdom) plus some fascinating textiles.
Over in the spacious new wing there are four floors with sections devoted to the origin of mankind in Indonesia, including a model of the Flores 'hobbit'. There's also a superb display of gold treasures from Candi Brahu in Central Java, including some glittering necklaces, armbands and a bowl depicting scenes from the Ramayana.
Outside the museum is a bronze elephant that was presented by the King of Thailand in 1871; thus the museum building is popularly known as the Gedung Gajah (Elephant House).
The Indonesian Heritage Society ( 572 5870; www.heritagejkt.org) organises free English tours of the museum at 10.30am every Tuesday and Thursday, every second Saturday and the last Sunday in the month. Tours in French, Japanese and Korean are also available; consult the website for details.
Ingloriously dubbed 'Sukarno's final erection, this 132m-high National Monument ,towering over Merdeka Sq, is both Jakarta's principal landmark and the most famous architectural extravagance of the former president. Begun in 1961, this typically masculine column was not completed until 1975, when it was officially opened by Suharto. The monument is constructed from Italian marble, and is topped with a sculpted flame, gilded with 35kg of gold leaf.
In the base of the monument, the National History Museum (adult/child 1500/500Rp) tells the story of Indonesia's independence struggle in 48 dioramas using Thunderbirds-like models. The numerous uprisings against the Dutch are overstated but interesting; Sukarno is barely mentioned and the events surrounding the 1965 coup are a whitewash.
Expect smog-tainted views from the top of the monument (adult/child 5000/2500Rp). Avoid Sunday and holidays, when the queues for the lift are long.
To the northwest of the National Museum is Taman Prasasti 2.30pm Fri. to 12.30pm Sat), which is actually the Kebon Jahe Cemetery; important figures from the colonial era are buried here.
Just east of Merdeka Sq, in front of the Hotel Borobudur Jakarta, Lapangan Banteng (Banteng Sq, formerly the Waterlooplein) was laid out by the Dutch in the 19th century, and the area has some of Jakarta's best colonial architecture.
The Catholic cathedral has twin spires and was built in 1901 to replace an earlier church. Facing the cathedral is Jakarta's principal place of Muslim worship, the striking, modernist Mesjid Istiqlal , which was completed in 1978 to a design by Catholic architect Frederich Silaban. The mosque has five levels, representing the five pillars of Islam; its dome is 45m across and its minaret tops 90m. During Ramadan over 200,000 worshippers can be accommodated here. Non-Muslim visitors are welcome. You have to sign in first and then you'll be shown around by an English-speaking guide (who will expect a tip).
To the east of Lapangan Banteng is the Mahkamah Agung (Supreme Court, built m 1848, and next door is the Ministry of Finance Building, formerly the Witte Huis (White House). This grand government complex was built by Daendels in 1809 as the administrative centre for the Dutch government.
To the southwest is Gedung Pancasila , which is an imposing neoclassical building built in 1830 as the Dutch army commander's residence. It later became the meeting hall of the Volksraad (People's Council), but is best known as the place where Sukarno made his famous Pancasila speech in 1945, laying the foundation for Indonesia's constitution. Just west along Jl Pejambon from Gedung Pancasila is the Emanuel Church , another classic building dating from 1893.
In the southern reaches of the city reside a couple of attractions that require a day trip to fully enjoy.
TAIWAN MINI INDONESIA INDAH
In the city's southeast, near Kampung Rambutan, Tainan Mini Indonesia Indah : is a 'whole country in one park'.
This 100-hectare park has full-scale traditional houses for each of Indonesia's provinces, with displays of regional handicrafts and clothing, and even a mini-scale Borobudur. Museums, theatres and an IMAX cinema are scattered throughout the grounds, which all command additional entrance fees. Free cultural performances are staged in selected regional houses (usually around 10am); Sunday is the big day for cultural events, but shows are also held during the week.
You can walk or drive your own car around Taman Mini. Free shuttle buses operate regularly, or you can take the monorail or cable car that go from one end of the park to the other. Taman Mini is about 18km from the city centre; allow about an hour to get there and at least three hours to look around. To get there, take a Koridor 7 bus to the Kampung Rambutan terminal and then a T15 metro-mini to the park entrance. A taxi from central Jakarta costs about 70,000Rp.
MUSEUM PANCASILA SAKTI
Just north of Taman Mini, this museum : is a bizarre homage to anti-communism. Inside you'll find dioramas depicting Communist crimes, photos of the 1960s show trials, and even bullet hole-ridden military uniforms. There's a large monument to the self-appointed 'saviours of the nation'.
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