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The Choking Atmosphere of Fatahillah Square, Jakarta Old Town
 

Daniel Adi Nugroho dot Net

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The Choking Atmosphere of Fatahillah Square, Jakarta Old Town

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NStadhuisowadays, public open spaces in Jakarta is considered rarity. Long ago, there was a splendid city with lots of public spaces called Batavia, which was built by the Dutch traders over the ruins of the defeated indigenous city of Jayakarta. It was modelled after Dutch cities, complete with its canals and waterways. The area flourishes in 17th and 18th century, before eventually the Dutch moved their administrative headquarters towards the southern parts of Jakarta, which was considered healthier than the swampy low-lying area of their original settlement.

This particular historical area in North Jakarta, was declared as a National Heritage area in 1970s by the major of Jakarta city of that time, Ali Sadikin. Jakarta Old Town area covers an area which includes Chinatown area (Glodok and Pinangsia), the old train station (Stasiun Jakarta Kota, also known as "Beos" by the local people), going to the north towards the old city hall and its front yard, and finally reaching the old port area, Pelabuhan Sunda Kelapa.


One of the few well-known public spaces in the Jakarta old town is the Fatahillah Square, which was originally named Stadhuisplein by the Dutch. This square is located at the front-yard of the Old Batavia City Hall (Stadhuis), the administrative headquarters of the Dutch East India Company, and later, Dutch Colonial Government. The city hall itself was constructed in 1707, as a replacement of an older building constructed in 1627. It was inaugurated in 1710 by Governor General Abraham van Riebeeck. Paved by concrete tiles, which is an inferior choice to the original cobblestone pavement, this open square covered an area of 7500 m2.

Six years ago, when I visited Jakarta for the first time, Fatahillah Square was relatively quiet. Surrounded by fast-moving traffic lanes, which ended up clogged near the old train station, it was not the most friendliest place to go for pedestrians. Yet, once getting there, the historical atmosphere can be felt very soon, and visitors can roam comfortably around the area.

In 2008, the municipal government decided to renovate the area, by paving it and blocked the traffic on either side of the square. Old-style lamp posts were also installed, as well as numerous lamps installed on the ground level, covered by thick glass. Another artistic addition is the concrete balls in various sizes, donated by the Bank of Indonesia. Unfortunately, within only several months, these concrete balls were knocked loose from its stake by vandals, one by one. The balls ended up being a liner along the east and west edges of the square, which may seem a bit out of place.

The flea market right in front of the square was also disbanded. The pedestal of the well-known cannon, Si Jagur, was also demolished. This huge cannon was moved to the inside yard of the old city hall somtime in 1970s. For a brief period, there was an opening in the ground, about 50 cm deep, which exposed a portion of old railroad. Apparently there were at least two lines of railroads coming into the square for sometime in the past. This old railway is no longer exposed, and is now covered by the pavements.

As the result of the rehabilitation of Jakarta Old Town in 2008, the wide roads which was blocked from the traffic becomes parking area. In my opinion, it is a bad idea, as cars and motorcycles are packed into that area to the point where it cannot be considered as an aesthetically pleasing sight. Food vendors flocked the area due to the amount of visitors, hence making the area to look like a bazaar.

And now, if we go to Fatahillah Square at the afternoon, especially during weekends, about 4 PM, it will be a jumbled mess. It's very crowded with people, very dirty, and resembles a market. Bicycles rentals, food vendors, traditional drug sellers, and sometimes local art/acrobatic groups, all seeking their fortunes in this 7500 m2 patch of open area.

Here’s a list of few interesting buildings surrounding the Fatahillah Square:

Wayang Museum
This museum houses a very large collection of puppets, ranging from traditional shadow puppet from various regions in Java, to the contemporary puppets from other countries such as France, United States, Thailand, etc. The 19th century building stands over the grounds of the old Batavia Church, which was built in 1640, renovated in 1732, before finally collapsed in an earthquake in 1808. Some tombstones of Batavia dignitaries who died around 17th and 18th century, and buried near the old church, is also displayed on the walls of Wayang Museum.

Ceramic Museum
This building greets visitors with its row of big pillars. Built in 1870, this building served as a Law Court, and more recently, a military facility. As implied by the name, this museum possesses a modest collection of historical ceramic works. This museum also houses some paintings drawn by famous Indonesian painters, such as Affandi, Raden Saleh, and Sudjojono.

Ceramic Museum

Post Office
PT Pos Indonesia is the government postal service company. It is a functional office, and the building reflects an early 20th century architecture.

Gedung Pos Indonesia


Cafe Batavia
This café resides in an early 19th century two-storey building. Back in the past, the building served as a residence, warehouse, and office, until finally renovated in 1993. The café boasts its authentic historical atmosphere and unique décor as the main selling point.

Cafe Batavia


Jakartans really need public open space like this to enjoy their free time, but unfortunately there are only a few places like this in this aging metropolis. The following is my idealized view of Fatahillah Square, and these ideas may sound bold and inconsiderate, but let's put the complexities aside, and let the idealism forward:

  • The parking area should not be located in the vicinity of the square. It only creates the ill-looking ilussion of the square. There are a bunch of defunct and neglected non-historical warehouses around the area which may become good candidates to be transformed into parking facilities.
  • No food vendor should freely roam the square, they should be located in a specific separate area.
  • Street-side cafes are allowed, as long as their décor maintain the harmony with the architecture of the old buildings that they occupy.
  • Other old buildings surrounding the square should be utilized as museums, art galleries, or exhibition venues, rather than left disintegrating due to neglect.
  • And finally, severe penalty for those who waste their trash not in the proper place.



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Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 May 2010 13:44
 

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