Masjid Angke al-Anwar: its architectural style and restoration (Part III)

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Front façade of Masjid Angke during restoration of the mosque. Photo courtesy of Lingwa

Syeh Liong Tan is reported to have designed and built Masjid Angke

At the Masjid Angke there is an oral tradition that Syeh Liong Tan built and designed Masjid Angke and in its grounds lies his grave which has become a kramat or shrine for pilgrims. It used to have a small structure around it with gold curtains and an old fashioned oil lamp. The structure housed also the grave of Pangeran Tubagus Anjani who was the son-in-law of the head of the Bantanese Settlement where the mosque is located, Syeh Jafar. If the oral traditions of the mosque are correct then Syeh Liong Tan was educated by these two figures.

Frederick de Haan in his book Oud Batavia or Old Batavia, wrote that the mosque was erected on the 2nd of April 1761. Before discussing the architectural style of the mosque it may be well to consider the situation in Batavia at the time the mosque was built. When Syeh Liong Tan was alive, there was no such occupation as architect. There were only builders and contractors and frequently they also the ones who designed the buildings.

Grave of Syeh Liong Tan. Photo credit: Tamalia Alisjahbana (private collection)

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when Batavia was first established most of the contractors or builders with Chinese. We find names such as Jan Kon (his Chinese name was Gouw Tjay) who built several of the city walls and canalized the Ciliwung river to become the Kali Besar canal, and Bingam (his Chinese name was Phoa Beng Gan) who built the Molenvliet Canal between what are now Jalan Gajah Mada and Jalan Hayam Wuruk. These Chinese contractors not only built the canals but also often had to first drain the surrounding swamp lands. They also built most of the buildings in Batavia. The contractors of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were the pioneers and predecessors of the architects, engineers and contractors of today. The buildings and structures that they erected are now a part of the history of Indonesian architecture that should be preserved so that historians, archaeologists and architects can have a better understanding of the history of Jakarta.

Syeh Liong Tan would have been one of the contractor who lived in the eighteenth century. Not much is known about him and Lingwa very much hopes that in the future there will be historians and archaeologists interested in doing more research about him as the mosque is one the most interesting 18th century buildings still in existence in Jakarta. Syeh Liong Tan must have been quite an extraordinary person for the mosque was built around 20 years after the Chinese Massacre in Batavia which must have been a terrifying and difficult time for the Chinese. He was not only a survivor but one of the Chinese who returned to Batavia to work after the horrific massacre. That would have required both courage and determination. We can deduce that he probably worked in Batavia because otherwise he would not have been familiar with the style known as Batavia Baroque which was very much in fashion in the 1760s. It is unlikely that he would have been able to use this style and understand it if he had not already been involved in the erection of a building using that style in Batavia. He must have also possessed a certain tolerance for he clearly liked diversity; a fact that is reflected in Masjid Angke’s very eclectic style of architecture. Finally, we can also say that he possessed a good sense of aesthetics as he was able to combine so many different architectural style in one building and still produce a harmonious and aesthetically pleasing building; certainly not easy task to undertake. De Haan praises the mosque several times in his book and writes “It cannot be doubted that this is one of the most beautiful and unique mosques in Batavia.”

Masjid Angke’s architectural style:

wooden carving at edge of roof giving it a curved look with punggel ornamentation and upside down lotus before restoration. Photo credit: Tamalia Alisjahbana (private collection)

The mosque built by Syeh Liong Tan is a mixture of several architectural styles that reflect the various ethnicities and groups involved in the mosque’s history. The influence of Javanese design tradition can be clearly seen in the four soko guru pillars which support its jogla style roof over the central prayer area. The mosque is square shaped as is traditional for the old mosques of Java. It can however, also be seen as a Balinese architectural style, as both the Javanese and the Balinese cultural heritage including their architecture, originate from the ancient Majapahit traditions which contained such architectural elements. In the 18th century most mosques in Indonesia were of that shape and their roofs were also in the joglo style.

Outside brackets. Photo credit: Tamalia Alisjahbana (private collection)

Nevertheless, at every corner of the two-tiered roof of the mosque we find decorative pieces of wood which gives the roofs an appearance of curling upwards at each end, as with pagodas. Here, we see the Chinese influence on the mosque’s architecture. Then we see further Balinese influence in the ornamental motif of these upwardly curving decorative pieces of wood located at the four corners of the roofs. they appear to have been influence by the Balinese decorative style in carvings and reliefs known as punggel.

A support or bracket similar to those in Chinese temples but less ornamented. Photo credit: Tamalia Alisjahbana (private collection)

The Chinese influence is also visible in the brackets or supports found in both the walls and the roof corners of the mosque. Such brackets are characteristic of Chinese temples along the North Coast of Java during the 14th till the 18th century. However, compared to the brackets found in Chinese temples, the ones at Masjid Angke are far simpler in their ornamentation. Meanwhile, under the overhang of the roof are several reversed lotuses carved of wood which indicate the influence of either the Majapahit traditions or Chinese culture.

The next cultural influence reflected in the mosque’s architecture originates from what was called ‘Moorish culture’ during the colonial era. The mosque’s windows with their balusters but without shutters, were made in this Moorish style. During the colonial period, the Moors were Muslim Indians who during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were brought to Batavia as slaves, mostly from the Coast of Coromandel and Southern India. Slowly, they came to inhabit the Pekojan area, outside of Batavia. Two of the earliest mosques in Jakarta were built by them.

In India, the word kojah refers to a place where there are many Muslims. Nowadays in India, kojah refers to a Muslim of the Syrian tradition. The oldest mosques in Batavia were built by Muslim Indians who brought with them some of their own cultural traditions which are reflected in the style of the windows at Masjid Angke. Along the east wall of the Masjid Angke are four windows, each of which has ten balusters which symbolize the 10 angels recognized by Islam. Both on the southern as well as northern walls of the mosque, there are four windows each with 9 balusters symbolizing the nine guardians of Islam in Java known as the Walisongo. The western wall of the mosque contains two windows, each with 20 balusters reflecting the 20 traits of God.

Fanlight and door in Batavia Baroque style. The windows are in the Moorish style. Photo credit: Rayi/IO

The last cultural influence reflected in the architectural style of the Masjid Angke is European. In Batavia in the 18th century this was the style known as Batavia Baroque. One of the most striking features of the Masjid Angke is its front entrance door which has a delicate basket of flowers carved in its fan light. On both the left and right side of the door is finally carved wooden paneling tainted in the red and gold style of 18th century Batavia Baroque. These are very similar to the doors of the Gedung Arsip Nasional RI in Jalan Gajah Mada and of the Toko Merah in Jalan Kali Besar Barat. As previously stated, it is likely that Syeh Liong Tan had been involved in erecting buildings in the Batavia Baroque style that was very much favoured by wealthy Dutch officials and merchants in the 18th century. The term Batavia Baroque originated from Jan Veenendaal, an expert in Dutch colonial furniture who has written much about this subject. This style can be clearly seen in the 18th century buildings depicted in the paintings of Johannes Rach who arrived in Batavia in 1764.

Batavia Baroque was inspired by the 18th century European architectural style known as Baroque. The Dutch in Batavia tried to copy this style however, as most Batavia contractors and builders at that time were Chinese the Batavia Baroque style became intermixed with Chinese cultural influences. The red and gold colouring characteristic of Batavia Baroque was also characteristic of Chinese temple styles and this mixture eventually became the Batavia Baroque of the 18th century.

The 21st century restoration of Masjid Angke:

Mohamad Dalang, Hafiz RHAFP, M. Abyan Abdilla (left). Yori Antar (right) Photo courtesy of Yori Antar

The restoration of Masjid Angke was done with care by Lingwa, a non-profit organization established in Jakarta to restore historical buildings. The process was begun by Lingwa member and architect, Fransiska Setiati. She contacted the architectural firm of Han Awal & Partners Architect which is headed by Yori Antar who brought a team of architects to work on the project led by architect Niswatul Azizah. Yori brought in architect and contractor Mohamad Dalang who had previous experience working with Yori’s father, architect Han Awal on other historic restoration projects. Yori Antar remarked, “In this restoration both Lingwa and the architectural team were determined to keep the mosque to its original design and only replace elements where it was absolutely necessary to do so in order to support and strengthen the original character of the mosque.”

The architects began by identifying the construction, structure and ornamentation of the mosque and what needed to be repaired or replaced. They worked together with the Jakarta Tim Sidang Pemugaran or Restoration Evaluation Board (popularly referred to as TSP) in identifying the parts of the mosque that could be repaired, those that needed to be replaced and what materials and methods to use. After the restoration TSP reviewed the work for final approval. Restoring the mosque in such a manner so as to preserve the 18th century aesthetics and creativity of its original designer, so that historians and architects may continue to read its history from both the building as well as the graves surrounding it, proved to be a very useful learning experience for both Lingwa and the architects involved.

Architects Niswatul Azizah and the late Fransiska Setati. It was Fransiska Setiati’s quiet determination that made sure the restoration was begun and completed. Photo courtesy: Tamalia Alisjahbana (private collection)

The mosque was originally built on an elevation of five steps which during the course of time had become three steps. The levels were restored to four steps. Fransiska Setiati who was the field coordinator and supervisor organized a new drainage system for the mosque so that it would not flood during the rainy season. Sadly, she passed away during the restoration of the mosque in 2020 and so did not live to see the finished mosque in its final stage.

Mohamad Dalang explained, “Some of the walls of the mosque were deteriorating and causing part of its roof to curve so we needed to strengthen these by encircling the top part of the walls with a ribbed concrete block. Parts of the primary roof had also begun to deteriorate and we repaired what we could and replaced what was no longer possible to repair with teak. It was originally a mixture of woods consisting of camphor wood, meranti or Philippine mahogany, kruing wood and pangkirai wood which made us suspect that it had been repaired before. The white plasterboard ceiling was also removed as this was a later addition and instead the wooden roof structure was left exposed which provided the chamber with a far more authentic and harmonious nuance. The second tier of the roof was still in a good condition and therefore, left untouched.”

Guardians of Masjid Angke with architects. Note the interior exposed roof structure after the white plaster ceiling was removed. Photo courtesy of: Yori Antar

In an earlier renovation of the mosque, marble tiles had been added to the interior walls and floor of the mosque. The marble was removed from the mosque walls which were returned to their original condition. Finally, the outside wood ornamentation of the upside down lotuses, part of the roof skirting and the carved wood with punggel ornamentation at the edges of the roof were repaired or replaced with teak where necessary. Carving was done by wood craftsmen in Jogjakarta.

The most expensive part of the restoration was the teak used to replace or repair damaged wood because of the exorbitant cost of teak. The team used medium grade teak for the restoration. Another large expense was the teams of workmen used for the project as the restoration required skilled, experienced and extremely patient and careful workers. Finally, the architects provided a subtle system of lighting for both the interior and exterior of the mosque in order to give it a calm and hallowed atmosphere. Hafiz RHAFP, one of the architects on the team says, “I feel really lucky to have been involved in the restoration because Masjid Angke is a place that represents some of the deepest values in our society including tolerance, respect for culture, respect for each other, a good community life and belief in God.” (Tamalia Alisjahbana)

If you enjoyed reading this article you may also enjoy by the same writer:

Part I: https://observerid.com/part-i-masjid-angke-al-anwar-the-restoration-of-one-of-the-most-pluralist-and-unique-mosques-in-jakarta/

Part II: https://observerid.com/part-ii-masjid-angke-al-anwar-and-its-connections-to-the-pontianak-sultanate-and-raden-saleh/