Jakarta is the capital and largest city of the south east Asian Republic of Indonesia. The city is centrally located within Indonesia on the north west coast of the island of Java. The city formerly known as Batavia leads Indonesia's administration, economy and culture, and is a major commercial centre and transport heart of Asia.
When the Portuguese landed here as the first Europeans near the end of the 15th century, the area had been inhabited for hundreds and hundreds of years already. The existing harbour was called Sunda Kelapa, owned by the Hindu kingdom Pajajaran. With them, the Portuguese signed a treaty to safeguard their trade from Malacca. According to the treaty, the Iberians could build a fortress to control their pepper trade.
After the Banten kingdom led by the Islamic prince Fatahillah captured the Portuguese fortress, the stronghold was named Djajakerta or Djajakarta (Victory). The conquest date of June 22, 1527, is still celebrated as founding date of Jakarta.
The Dutch used their Banten base in 1598 to get to this area. The first governor general of the VOC (Dutch East India Company) Pieter Both let build an office in Djajakarta, which slowly evolved to a castle in the following years. After some hostilities with the British, the Dutch burned the city to the ground and regained control in 1619, subsequently renaming it Batavia.
Due to its strategically valuable position, the city developed rapidly into the metropolis of Dutch East India. Next to a new harbour, typical Dutch redbrick houses arose around the newly built fortress. Of course the Dutch dug canals, while many gardens were exact copies of estates in the Netherlands.
The transport harbour brought in loads of cash, but the rich city was seriously hurt after 1700. Not only the prices and subsequently the revenues dropped like mad, but epidemics resulted in thousands of victims. The swampy coastal area was unhealthy. Cholera, typhus and especially malaria nicknamed Batavia “the grave of the Dutchmen”. Ironically it were the Dutch canals that provided paradise to the malaria mosquitoes.
Also a disastrous mass killing among Chinese entrepreneurs in 1740 resulted in a series of wars, almost entirely stopping trade in the area. Another key factor in the Batavia tragedy era was corruption in the Dutch East India Company.
Dutch governor Willem Daendels decided to make a fresh start in the early 1800s. The old city and the castle were demolished and used to rebuild a new city. In 1809 the unhealthy administration offices were moved to another part of the city. Batavia now was a city of long, broad avenues with large colonial buildings in French and neo-classical style.
After the Japanese occupation in World War II, Batavia was renamed Jakarta. In the meantime the city had grown from a Dutch city of 200,000 inhabitants to an Indonesian city populated by millions. In Jakarta, the independence of Indonesia was acclaimed on August 17, 1945. In the past decades, the population accumulated quickly.
Jakarta is a perfect example of what a city turns into if you just let it all happen. Everything has been built randomly, skyscrapers next to poor man’s shelters, houses hooked up to railway tracks, and crossroads are asthmatically narrow and crowded. Moving away from the main roads means ending up in the kampungs, where 90 percent of the city population lives. These kampungs with their primitive narrow streets are in fact hardly different from countryside villages.
Lack of clear architectural city design has also resulted in the absence of a city centre. Medan Merdeka (the freedom square) is the official heart of the city, but ‘downtown’ can be found everywhere. Millions of people have to do without proper sewage, while clean drinking water grows to be a huge problem.
Many of the colonial buildings are impaired, which causes many tourists to avoid the city. Most of them visit the Sunda Kelapa and the old Kota, and then leave the Indonesian capital for the rest of Java. Kota is the old Dutch quarter, with the dirty Kali Besar being the only old canal left.
Jakarta has nearly ten million inhabitants and is also capital of the province called Jakarta Raya. The city consists of five parts:
- The already mentioned Jakarta Kota is the original Batavia. The old harbour Sunda Kelapa can also be found here, as well as the China Town called Glodok.
- New Jakarta used to be called Weltevreden, which is old Dutch for Contented. Lying south of Kota, it used to be the administrative centre in colonial times, including Medan Merdeka (Freedom square), Monas (national monument), the Freedom Palace (the presidential residence) and the Imanuel Church.
- The former military fortress Batinegara, nowadays a large residential area in the south of Jakarta.
- Kabayoran is also a residential quarter, situated in the south western part of the capital. It came into existence after 1945.
- The harbour complex Tanjung priok is the home of the fishermen’s fleet. It was constructed in 1877, some kilometres east of Batavia.