July 22, 2024
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Jakarta, the largest city

Jakarta, the largest city

Jakarta with Monas
Jakarta with Monas

Indonesia’s capital is located on Java’s north-west coast. From a small trading town, it has grown in less than 100 years to become one of Asia’s largest cities. The official population is around 11 million. Probably the correct number is somewhere between 12 and 13 million; this has become a melting pot where people from all over Indonesia come to try to make a living. The city is one of Southeast Asia’s largest and an important center for trade and business life.

Jakarta is located at the mouth of the Ciliwung River, and in the 15th and 16th centuries, the site was a major shipping port for spices. Most of it was centered around the port of Sunda Kelapa. When the Portuguese arrived here in 1522, the city was under the rule of the Pajajaran dynasty, the last Hindu kingdom in West Java. In 1527, the Islamic Demak dynasty took power over the city; the Portuguese were chased away, and the city was called Jayakarta, the victorious city. It now became part of the Sultanate of Banten, and both the British and the Dutch established trading posts here.

In 1618, the Dutch fort was besieged by the local inhabitants with the support of the British. This alliance did not go down well with Banten, who then sent a force to “relieve” the Jayakartan leader of his duties. The Dutch celebrated the provisional peace, and the fort was now called Batavia. In 1619, the Dutch took revenge and stormed the town, burned it to ashes, and built a new, larger fort by the sea.

This was later successfully defended against both Banten in the west and twice against Mataram in the east (1628 and 1629). A new city that was almost a copy of Amsterdam was built in the swamps. The Dutch named the new city Batavia, this name for the capital of their new colony persisted until the Japanese occupation (1942–45), when it received its current name.

Batavia quickly became too small, large numbers of Indonesians and Chinese flocked to it. The antagonisms increased between the ethnic groups, and Chinese gangs who were dissatisfied with the situation began to rebel. On October 9, 1740, the local population went berserk and massacred 5,000 Chinese. The survivors were moved the following year outside the city limits to what is today Glodok.

More people moved out of the city center, and Batavia’s borders began to spread far south. After the country became independent, people continued to flock to this small town, and Jakarta quickly surpassed the other Indonesian big cities in both size and importance, becoming the undisputed capital.

Although this is a city of a million, it is not until the last decade that the high-rises have started to shoot up; most of the buildings still consist of low buildings. Like other big cities in Indonesia, this is a city of contrasts, where the difference between rich and poor is striking. This was unfortunately reinforced at the end of the 1990s during the Asian crisis, where Indonesia was the country that was hardest hit and Jakarta was the city where the unrest did the most damage. On May 12, 1998, four students at Trisakti University were shot and killed by soldiers. This led to three days of violent riots and chaos.

More than 6,000 buildings were damaged or burned down, and approximately 1,500 people died, most in the fires. Whole districts, such as the Chinese quarter of Glodok, were looted and burned down. The riots led to the fall of President Suharto a few days later. On November 13, 1998, the students were again met with rifle bullets, and a new wave of riots took hold, this time also with buildings on fire and the loss of human life.

Above all Jakarta is a big, hot city with a lot of traffic, and as a tourist, you cannot count on seeing everything in one day. If you are interested in the country’s history and culture, there are several good museums here. The old district of Kota should be visited; here you will find the most beautiful memorials from the colonial era. Some of the old buildings are still in active use, while others have been restored to museums. Most of it is centered around Taman Fatahillah, a large square surrounded by museums, the famous Cafe Batavia, and a market.

Here also stands the large bronze cannon, Cannon Si Jagur, a war trophy from the Portuguese when Melaka fell in 1641. The hand 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 to the place in the hope of having kids.

From Kota, it is a short drive to the old port of Sunda Kelapa, where you can see the traditional Pinisi sailing boats that carry cargo between the islands. They are an impressive sight, and still important for the transport of goods. Many of the boats are built in Kalimantan, and much of the cargo consists of wood from there and cement, cars, motorcycles, and other things back. A trip to Kalimantan typically takes 4 days. The crew consists largely of Bugis from South Sulawesi, a famous seafaring people.

The city also has the country’s largest port, Tanjung Priok, near which is the Ancol amusement park, which, among other things, has a large saltwater aquarium with many fascinating species of fish.

Jakarta’s most prominent landmark is the 132 meter high national monument in Merdeka Square, MONAS. President Soekarno initiated construction as early as 1961, but it was not completed until 1975, when it was opened by Soeharto. The monument is often characterized as a phallus symbol with a gold-plated flame on top and is meant to symbolize national independence and strength. The building’s base consists of the National History Museum, which tells the story of the fight for independence against the Dutch. An elevator will take you to the top, where on a clear day, you can see all of Jakarta. Sundays and public holidays can be very busy here.

South-east of the city is another amusement park, Taman Mini Indonesia Indah, an Indonesia in miniature with buildings, culture and crafts from all over the island kingdom. Raganan Zoo ten kilometers south of the center, is another attraction. The zoo has a good selection of local species and is in better condition than most other zoos in Indonesia. Otherwise, the city has most of what a million city can offer in terms of entertainment, culture, hotels and restaurants, so if you can live with the pollution and noise, this can be an exciting city to spend some time in.

If you want to go out of the city, there is a chain of around 130 small islands just off the coast of Jakarta, called Pulau Seribu, the thousand islands. The further out in the island chain you go, the cleaner the water and the better the islands. The locals like to go to Bogor, Puncak, Bandung and the mountains around this city on weekends. By car or train, it takes approximately three hours from Jakarta to Bandung.

Photos: https://www.pexels.com/search/jakarta%20monas/

Written by
Sean Kjetil Nordbo
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