Monumen Nasional: An Indonesian icon

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On the 1st floor of the National Monument, there is the National History Museum which contains the historical diorama of Indonesian war. (photo: IO/Aldo)

IO, Jakarta – Talking about Jakarta means that you will never run out of conversational topics. Its floods, traffic jams, many entertainment venues, its never-ending construction projects, and naturally, its iconic architectural features.

The edifice most closely identified with Jakarta is the National Monument (Monumen Nasional, better known as ‘Monas’). Holding its own among the tall buildings that loom around it, Monas affords a charming view of the city from its peak platform. It is also the repository of a number of documents precious to Indonesia’s history. For some, a visit to Jakarta is incomplete without a visit to Monas. As both the landmark of Jakarta and a tourist destination, the National Monument is located within a stone’s throw of the Presidential Palace of the Republic of Indonesia, at Jl. Medan Merdeka Selatan, Central Jakarta, as well as several other major tourist spots, such as the Elephant Museum, Istiqlal Grand Mosque, and Grand Cathedral.

As a monument constructed to recall Indonesia’s struggle for independence, Monas symbolizes the patriotic spirit of the Indonesian people. It was constructed during the tenure of Indonesia’s first president, Ir. Soekarno. Construction started on 17 August 1961, the 16th anniversary of Indonesia’s independence. The monument was first opened to the public on 12 July 1975, after a construction period of nearly 14 years.

The monument is shaped like a stylized candle in a square holder, with the copper flame on top covered in 35 kg of pure gold. It can also be seen as a stylized ancient Indian symbol of lingam and yoni, or male and female energy, as Indonesia’s independence was won by the hard work of both Indonesian men and women; or as alu and lesung, or the mortar and pestle used to separate rice from its husks, as Indonesia is founded on the hard work of our mostly agricultural ancestors. The flames symbolize the fiery, free spirit of Indonesians who longed for independence.

The square upon which Monas sits has changed names several times: Lapangan Gambir (Gambir Square), Lapangan Ikada, Lapangan Merdeka (Independence Square), Lapangan Monas, and finally, Taman Monas (Monas Park). It is a historic location that features prominently in the daily lives of Jakartans from the days before independence.

Other than strolling around the grand park surrounding Monas, visitors are allowed to ascend to the top, via a lift that will take you up the 115 meter-tall tower. Once there, you are treated to a stunning view of the city of Jakarta. In fair weather, you might also be lucky enough to view the ominous silhouette of volcanic Mount Salak in the South and the silky blue stretch of the Java Sea to the North.

The lower, or ‘candle-holder’ part of Monas contains the sprawling National Museum, which showcases the history of Indonesia’s struggle for independence. It is 8 m tall, with an area of 80 x 80 m. The 4 walls of the museum contain 12 major dioramas and 39 minor dioramas depicting the highlight of Indonesia’s history, starting from the ancient kingdoms of the archipelago until the fall of communism and the start of the New Order, with the aborted rebellion of G30S PKI. The museum has a capacity of 500 visitors.

You can round out your museum visit by checking out Independence Hall, which is an amphitheater in Monas’ basement. To reach it, you descend via a circular staircase in the North and South sections. The Hall contains major symbols of Indonesia’s sovereignty and independence, i.e., the original Script of Proclamation of Independence of the Republic of Indonesia; the national symbol of the Indonesian philosophy, Pancasila code of armour bearing the 4 pillars of the nation; the authentic Red and White flag hoisted on the historical day of August 17 1945, a gold-plated map of the Republic of Indonesia, and the contents of the Indonesian Proclamation of Independence carved on the wall. This lower area has a floor area of 45 x 45 m, and the height of Monas’s base to the lower part is 17 meter.

The numbers used in the construction of Monas echo the date of the nation’s independence: 17 August 1945.

On the outside, we can see that Monas Park also has a dancing fountain. This is lovely in the daytime, but its full charms are best seen at night, when the sprays of water, which dance to music being played, are complemented with colorful lasers.

Monas is always packed with tourists every holiday. You will find beauty, activity and history here. You can eat out, climb Monas proper, engage in sports, or have a picnic and a stroll with your family and friends. Other than the major open square, it has a park with fresh green grass and trees.

Witness both historic and contemporary Indonesia in one place, in the Monumen Nasional. (Aldo)