A Day in Kota Tua

Jakarta

Since its genesis, Jakarta has been a port city fringed by busy waters. Kota Tua (also called “Old Batavia” or “Jakarta Old Town”) was where Indonesia’s capital first started. In their early days as a Dutch colony, they built a walled settlement near the harbor and east of the Ciliwung River. It also became the main Asian headquarters of the Dutch East India Company (or VOC) from 1610 to 1800 for the spice trade; and later on (1800-1942), it was the capital of the Dutch East Indies. Back then, Old Batavia’s colonial-style structures contrasted with the surrounding kampung (villages) and rice paddies. These days, the few stately buildings that remain are brimming with cultural artifacts like traditional puppets, ornate furniture, and elegant ceramics. Spend your day in Kota Tua; it’s a must for any first-timer to Jakarta, and it always uncovers its secrets to residents looking for a deeper understanding of their heritage.

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Updated a year ago

Fatahillah Square

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Jakarta, Indonesia • Recommendation • 

All visits to Old Batavia point to Fatahillah Square. The cobblestone plaza is the vital heart to this historic district, bringing together cultural performers, friendly merchants, and enthusiastic visitors. Roost atop a bollard to bask in the flurry of activity; or, rent out a sepeda onthel (old-fashioned bike) to zoom around the square! Bicycle owners host guided tours on-wheels. Venture through the narrow streets and hear tales straight from the local’s mouth. After more than 300 years of Dutch occupation, and a few more under the Japanese during World War II, natives reclaimed the area by naming this square after Fatahillah (a national hero). He was also known as Sunan Gunungjati, a commander who successfully drove out Portuguese fleets brought about the spice trade. Fatahillah’s triumph against invaders inspired the town’s new name, Jayakarta (“victorious deed” in Sanskrit) that would later be shortened to Jakarta.

  • Jalan Lada, Kota Tua, Pinangsia, Tamansari, West Jakarta, Jakarta, Indonesia

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Jakarta History Museum

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Jakarta, Indonesia • Recommendation • 

Jakarta History Museum, the crown to Fatahillah Square, was established in 1707 to be the seat of power to an entire empire. It was the headquarters to the VOC, and later the City Hall (Stadhuis) to the Dutch administration. Its architecture is already the museum’s prime showcase as it was modeled after the Royal Palace of Amsterdam—however, much simplified for the locale. Inside, the museum dives deeper into the past. Walk through history made tangible by furniture, weapons, and decorative items to name just a few. The museum gives a full account of Jakarta, reaching as far back as prehistoric times and straight through entire colonial periods until arriving at the present day. The era’s opulence is just an arm’s length away, but remember, no touching!

  • +62216929101
  • Jalan Taman Fatahillah No. 1, Kota Tua, Pinangsia, Tamansari, West Jakarta, Jakarta, Indonesia

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Museum Wayang (Puppet Museum)

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Jakarta, Indonesia • Recommendation • 

The Wayang Museum (Puppet Museum) is home to more than 4,000 puppets from across the country and beyond the shores. Its entire anthology of exhibits celebrates the ancient art of Javanese storytelling, from its wispy shadow puppets made of leather (wayang kulit) to fleshed out wooden dolls (wayang golek). A colorful cast of characters stand mutely behind the glass. On Sundays, they are taken out and brought to life through performances (from 10:00AM to 2:00PM). Inquire about workshops and score a new skill; the museum is fully committed to passing the passion and skills forward to a new generation of puppeteers!

  • +62216929560
  • Jalan Pintu Besar Utara Number 27, Kota Tua, Pinangsia, West Jakarta, Jakarta, Indonesia

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Museum of Fine Arts and Ceramics

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Jakarta, Indonesia • Recommendation • 

Meet the Indonesian masters, Raden Saleh, Affandi, and S. Sudjojono at the Museum of Fine Arts and Ceramics! Saleh was considered a pioneer who rendered grand tableaus in exquisite detail, reflecting Romanticism in Europe. Affandi, on the other hand, used bold strokes and an Expressionist style. Though he was self-taught, he has been likened to Vincent Van Gogh and Edvard Munch. Sudjojono moved toward a more native-centric art movement. He is hailed as the “Father of modern Indonesian art” since he pushed for work rooted in the local experience. Bound through 1880 to the present as each room zeroes in on a significant period in Indonesian art history. The museum also houses an extensive collection of homegrown handicrafts and ceramics. It certainly has come a long way from the Dutch occupation, when the building was used as Court of Justice (Paleis van Jutitie), a military dormitory, a logistic warehouse, and a mayor’s office.

  • +62216926090
  • Jalan Pos Kota, Kota Tua, Pinangsia, Tamansari, West Jakarta, Jakarta, Indonesia

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Cafe Batavia

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Jakarta, Indonesia • Recommendation • 

Take a break from your Kota Tua explorations and fill up for lunch at Cafe Batavia! Amble through cozy lounges into a banquet of regional flavors. Framed portraits and vintage posters decorate the walls with a mosaic of collected history. Massive shuttered windows flood the grand hall and its diners with tropical sunlight. People-watch as you please with a beautiful view of the street. There are live musical performances at select times of the day to ease you into your sumptuous Indonesian meal. Sample local favorites like Nasi Goreng and Nasi Campur, both of which are rice dishes served with a medley of sides. Cafe Batavia owes its grandeur to its role as the VOC administration office. It also had a short stint as an art gallery, until it was finally transformed to the cafe and restaurant that it is now!

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Bank Indonesia Museum

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Jakarta, Indonesia • Recommendation • 

Money is the language Bank Indonesia Museum speaks to tell the city’s story. They incorporate loads of dioramas, audio-visual displays, and even a case of gleaming (fake) gold into the mix. Trace the ebb and flow of Indonesia’s financial history through the early days in the spice trade, the Indies’ banking system, the Japanese occupation, and an economic crisis in 1997. Tours are conducted from Tuesday to Sunday at 8:00AM, 10:00AM, and 1:00PM. The building itself has historical significance. It was the first headquarters of the Netherlands Indies Gulden, which is the central bank of colonial Indonesia. Even as the nation fell under Japanese rule in 1942, the bank maintained its power. Now, it serves to chronicle the eventful past of the city.

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Toko Merah

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Jakarta, Indonesia • Recommendation • 

Wind down from the bustle of Fatahillah Square and its nearby attractions. Toko Merah is somewhat in the periphery, inspiring curiosity by its shocking red exterior (hence the name “Red Shop”) and its roster of influential residents. It was home to several Governor Generals of the Indies, the first being Baron Gustaaf Willem van Imhoff. Forego the hi-tech displays and flashy exhibits to revel in the old-school charm that radiates from this old house. Built in 1730, it is also one of the oldest buildings in Jakarta. The towering windows bring in lots of light, while the elegant interiors inspire a photo op or two for soon-to-weds and tourists. They hold irregular opening hours, so impromptu visits are hit-or-miss. Either way, the facade is always crowded with people taking mandatory pictures with the crimson walls.

  • Jalan Kali Besar Barat No. 11, Roa Malaka, Tambora, West Jakarta, Jakarta, Indonesia

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Kota Intan Bridge

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Jakarta, Indonesia • Recommendation • 

Painting the town redder, Kota Intan Bridge’s maroon steel frame rises tall, sturdy, and completely frozen. In its heyday, mercantile ships traversing the canal had to pass the bridge. This gave Kota Intan a significant role in transactions at the Sunda Kelapa port (the main shipping hub in pre-colonial times). Vehicles or pedestrians can no longer cross over, but tourists frequent the site for its lore and quaint location. It is the only surviving Dutch drawbridge in Indonesia, in full view from the much newer Jalan Tiang Bendera.

  • Jalan Kali Besar Timur, Kota Tua, Pinangsia, Tamansari, West Jakarta, Jakarta, Indonesia

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Sunda Kelapa Harbor

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Jakarta, Indonesia • Recommendation • 

Sunda Kelapa Harbor was once a bustling trading hub, with multi-masted ships (called pinisi) hauling fish and other cargo from the far reaches of the old world. It was the city’s first port, one that lured foreign merchants for centuries. Here, Fatahillah led a troop to redeem the area from invasion. After the excitement, what remains today is a relatively quiet dock. Wander through a lane of moored wooden ships that tower over passers-by. Most activity has shifted to the Port of Tanjung Priok. Still, porters go about their day at Sunda Kelapa Harbor, shuttling off goods by trolley. The scene is far from a typical tourist spot, and much less glamorous than sites closer to the main square. Sunda Kelapa Harbour gives a candid look into everyday life as it has been going since before the Dutch even set foot on-shore.

  • Jalan Maritim, Kota Tua, North Jakarta, Jakarta, Indonesia

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Maritime Museum

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Jakarta, Indonesia • Recommendation • 

Get up-close to a miniature pinisi, much like the giant ones docked in Sunda Kelapa at the Maritime Museum. In a similar fashion that Bank Indonesia uses money, the Maritime Museum utilizes ships to recount the city’s seafaring past. The museum was founded within the former warehouses of the Dutch East India Company. Miniature copies of colonial fleets and traditional ships have replaced the nutmeg, coffee, and tea that used to inhabit the stock house. They’re still recovering from an electrical fire that broke out on January 16, 2018, wherein a huge portion of the museum was damaged; so, the entire collection may still be regrouping and moving around.

  • +62216692476
  • Jalan Pasar Ikan No. 1, Penjaringan, North Jakarta, Jakarta, Indonesia

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