Jakarta is the capital of Indonesia and has about 9.5 million inhabitants. Here poor meets rich, modern skyscrapers meets slums, tradition meets modernity. Jakarta is the economic, political and cultural center of Indonesia. The city is located in Jakarta Bay on the island of Java. The city was once called Sunda Kelapa and was renamed Jayakarta in 1527 after the victory of the Islamic prince Fatahillah, which meant “Great Victory”. A few years later, the city became a trading center for the Dutch East India Company (VOC). However, the Dutch razed it to the ground in 1619. Thereupon, the new city was named Batavia. Even today, the influence of the Dutch is visible in Jakarta’s architecture. It was not until 1942 that Batavia was renamed Jakarta and the colonial rule of the Dutch was over. Today Jakarta is a vibrant metropolis.
Tip 1: Kota Tua
If you want to go deep into the past of Jakarta in search of traces, you should not miss a visit to the old town Kota Tua Jakarta. Around the square Taman Fatahillah in the north of Jakarta, old times come alive. As Stadhuisplein, this square was the center of old Batavia, whose city hall was located here. Many of the old buildings have fallen into disrepair or been razed to the ground over the centuries. Only since the early seventies of the last century have there been serious efforts and measures to preserve this cultural heritage. Some buildings have been restored with the support of UNESCO, so that a piece of the past comes back to life around the old cobblestones in the area of historic Batavia.
The Taman Fatahillah is very busy and unfolds a colorful atmosphere that invites you to linger. Various traditional dishes can be sampled at snack stands. The fountain in the center of the square served as Batavia’s water supply in colonial times. The Si Jagur cannon has been preserved from Portuguese times. According to traditional tales, it is said to bring fertility, so that women who wish to have children sit down on its barrel. Taman Fatahillah is named after a former war hero from the Sultanate of Demak, who liberated the port of Sunda Kelapa from the hands of the Portuguese and renamed it Jayakarta.
Tip 2: Monas Tower
The National Monument (Monumen Nasional – abbreviated Monas) rises in the center of Jakarta in the form of a 132-meter-high tower with a gold-covered flame at the top. The tower was erected in the 1960s and 1970s and symbolizes the struggle for Indonesian independence.
Unlike in the otherwise densely built-up city, a lot of free space awaits you around the Monas Tower, at the so-called Freedom Square (Medan Merdeka). Therefore, many locals are attracted to the monument, sitting in groups around the tower, talking to each other or playing with their children. Seems like the Monas Tower is a bit like the Indonesian equivalent of Vienna’s Burggarten.
The Monas Tower is also known for its observation deck, from which you can enjoy a fantastic panoramic view over Jakarta – provided the smog doesn’t get in the way on the day of your visit. You can reach the observation deck comfortably by elevator.
Tip 3: Istiqlal Moschee
The Independence Mosque (Istiqlal Mosque) is a modern mosque in Jakarta (Indonesia) and is considered the largest mosque in Southeast Asia.
It was built on behalf of the Indonesian government starting in 1975 and can accommodate 120,000 worshippers. The name of the mosque is meant to document Indonesia’s independence. The inauguration took place on 22.2.1978 by the then president Suharto.
The building complex can be erected through seven gates, symbolizing the seven heavens. The main dome has a diameter of 45 meters and is supported by 12 columns, symbolizing the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad (s.) on the 12th Rabi-ul-Awwal according to Sunni tradition. The main building consists of five floors with reference to the five pillars of Islam.
The minaret is 66.66 meters high, representing the alleged number of 6666 verses in the Holy Qur’an, a number that does not correspond to the actual number of verses in the Holy Qur’an. The 30 pillars of the minaret are supposed to symbolize the 30 juz. The building complex is surrounded by a large garden.
Tip 4: Old Harbour
In Jakarta, besides the modern main port Tanjung Priok, there is another small jewel of seafaring: the old port Sunda Kelapa, located directly at the mouth of the Ciliwung into the Java Sea. Sunda Kelapa is located in North Jakarta in the sub-district of Penjaringan. A side trip to this picturesque old harbor can be easily incorporated into a visit to the old town of Kota Tua Jakarta. Not far away is Taman Fatahillah, the old town hall square of Batavia. If you come to Sunda Kelapa, you will see above all that people are still working very hard here. The port is still an important cargo port in the intra-Indonesian traffic. The harbor workers can be seen loading the ships – traditional Pinisi, which have been doing their job here for about a hundred years. Modern cranes are not to be found here, so that the scenery is quite picturesque.
Early risers have the chance to witness a live fish auction in the old fish market in the early morning. Strolling through the stores in the harbor, you can admire and buy shells, lobsters and other treasures of the sea. A must is a visit to the Bahari Museum, which displays the history of Indonesian seafaring, ship models and interesting facts about modern seafaring in old warehouses. Just in front of the museum is the old harbor tower Harbormaster Tower. After the ground sank a little, Jakarta has its own leaning tower. A climb to the top of the 40 meter high tower provides a beautiful view over the harbor area on a wooden platform
Tip 5: National Museum of Indonesia
When in Jakarta, a visit to the Indonesian National Museum, located west of Independence Square, is an absolute must. The building itself is a real feast for the eyes – a magnificent building in colonial style from 1778. The characteristic elephant statue in the entrance area was donated by the King of Siam in 1871 and also earned the museum the name Gedung Gajah (Elephant House).
A visit to the Indonesian National Museum is definitely worthwhile if you want to learn more about the history, ethnology, archaeology and culture of Indonesia. As the country’s most important museum, it is arguably one of Jakarta’s greatest attractions and houses a significant collection of archaeological, historical and contemporary artifacts, which is constantly being expanded to this day. By the way, on certain days, the Indonesian Heritage Society also offers free guided tours in English at the museum.