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Historical Contexts and Today’s Challenge
By Fauzi Bowo
Vice Governor of Jakarta

Historical Context

In 1608, a vassal of the sultan of  Bantam (Bantan) offered the VOC  to settle in the city of Jakarta. With the help of the Europeans, he hoped to improve his own position vis-à-vis the sultan. In 1618, Governor-General Jan Pietersz Coen took the initiative to relocate all the VOC activities from Bantam to Jakarta. The old city of Jakarta was burned to the ground, and from it ashes rose sovereign Dutch settlement Batavia. The local also referred this city as “Kota Djankong”, the city of Jan Coen.

When Jan Pieterz Coen first attacked the Jakarta Bay, he would probably not predicted that this part of  land will grow even further under the management of VOC ( Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie), the first truly world multinational  enterprise. During its history of 200 years, the VOC became the largest company of its kind, trading spices like nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon and pepper, and other consumer products like tea, silk and Chinese porcelain. Her factories or trade centers were world famous: Desjima in Japan, Mokha inYemen, Surat in Persia and of course Batavia, the Company’s headquarters in Java.

Batavia remained the colonial capital until 1948, when three hundred forty years after its foundation the government of Indonesia renamed the city into Jakarta (Jacarta), the capital of the independent republic. The city centre, the “kota”, still witnesses traces of the old Batavia. Since then, it has served as the capital of the VOC, of the Netherlands Indies after 1815, and of the independent Indonesian state after World War II.

The key Dutch commercial success in Indonesia was the security of its base of operations at Batavia. The security issue involved the VOC  in the internal politics of Java. The earliest governor generals had not intended to become involved in Java’s politics. They had envisioned the company as primarily a maritime power, consisting of a network of forts and heavily defended trading routes. That is why the size of the Batavia City during VOC administration has not grew even further to the inland of Java, The VOC administration was only focusing on building defensive canal and fortresses. But during the seventeenth century and especially the eighteenth century, the Dutch found themselves caught up in Java’s perennial political instability. Defense of VOC interests required the raising of armies and collection of  revenues from rulers and the general population   to pay for them.

Nineteenth-century Indonesia experienced not only the replacement of company rule by the Dutch government rule but also the complete transformation of Java into a colonial society and the successful extension of colonial rule to Sumatra and the eastern archipelago. At this time Batavia size expanding quite significant., the civic relocated to the south and bureaucratic system were established.

Rapid economic development during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries profoundly changed the lives of both European residents and i8ndigenous peoples. By 1930 Batavia had a population of more than 50,000 people. Surabaya had nearly 300,000 people and other large cities-Semarang, Bandung, Yogyakarta and Surakarta – had populations between 10,000 and 300,000.

The Chinese minority in Indonesia had long played a major economic role in the archipelago as merchants, artisans and indispensable middlemen in the collection of crops and taxes from native populations. They encountered considerable hostility from Europeans, largely because of the economic threats they seemed to pose. In 1740, for example, as many as 10,000 Chinese were massacred in Batavia, apparently with the complicity of the Dutch governor general.

Lesson from 400 years History

Some of the strategic lesson learned from this very dynamic history are:

  • Batavia during 17th and 18th century under VOC administration was truly a Port City and regarded as the most strategic places in terms of intra-Asian Trade and Supply chain. At this time Batavia was seen more as a headquarters of  an outward looking trading activities. The economic driven policy was regarded maritime activities as the most important things to secure. As a result Batavia was truly a global melting pot consisting of many tribes and races.
  • During the Dutch administration, political  interest to strengthen the grip of the inland Java and the whole archipelago has risen and made Batavia grew larger but at the same time more bureaucratic  and monolithic.
  • During the Indonesian Independence until today Batavia has transformed into Jakarta, it also serves as the capital of this Republic. It grew even larger and has become megapolitan. However, geopolitically, Jakarta Is not as important as two centuries ago. It has no significant role in the intra Asian trade. It has no important Port and is definitely not considered as Port city any more.
  • Coincidentally the Old Batavia of Jakarta or the old town of Jakarta has also lost its economic context. This part of land that used to be the most important place in Asia, in terms of trading, has declined into almost zero level of development. It now became the preservation area in respect of the remaining of substantial old buildings and city structure from 17th century.


The Complexity and Challenge

Despite the complexity of today’s administration, the Old town of Jakarta still has a very significant potential role for the whole Jakarta. The potentials are:

  • It has not only the beautiful and precious old buildings but also the local spirit as an embryo of the modern Jakarta.
  • It is surrounded by the Chinese community that has significant part of the this historical place.
  • This Chinese community also regarded as the economic key players of the trading activities in Jakarta.
  • It will be planned as ultimate destination of the integrated mass transportation system.


On the other hand, the major complexities that occurred in Jakarta Old town are as follows:

  • It has almost no important role for the whole city of Jakarta except that this place was rewarded as a major preservation area of Jakarta.
  • To revitalize this preservation place based on government budget could end up as unjustified fiscal burden, unsustainable effort, especially for the developing countries like Indonesia.
  • Private and local stakeholders owns most of the assets. Developing this land without stakeholder participation is impossible.
  • Unintentionally, the administration of this land is separated into two territorial administrations, the city of North Jakarta and the city of West Jakarta. Obviously to build a coherent development and policy is difficult.
  • By coincidence this part of land has served as the major turning maneuver of the traffic to Jakarta Downtown causing heavy traffic jam. This is seriously jeopardizing the preservation initiatives.

Today, to elaborate the potential, eliminate the problem complexities and revitalized this precious place, the provincial Government of Jakarta is trying to implement several strategic steps:

    • Rediscovering and redefining the strategic role of this historical place become the cultural center of Jakarta that also served as the “central park” of oasis of the surrounding business district.
    • Re-routing the heavy traffic and start to expand the border of the Jakarta Old town area into two main zone such as Core Zone for preservation and buffer zone for economic driven.
    • Starting to define the local community as the leading player of this redevelopment.
    • Starting to rediscover the importance of water bodies that is related to this area. The seaside and the ricer or canal-side as the “front yard” of the block.
    • Last important thing, that perhaps considered as the most difficult effort is to recreate a single territorial authority to increase the coordination and development coherency of this special zone.