Ponten Ngebrusan, a 20th Century Plague Spot – now for selfies

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(Photo: Freddy Wally)

IO – Ponten Ngebrusan was a witness to the efforts in the early 20th Century of the Dutch East Indies government and Mangkunegara VII to suppress an outbreak of deadly bubonic plague and cholera, by building integrated bathing and toilet facilities following health protocols. The situation recorded 84 years ago is relevant to current conditions in Indonesia, and also throughout the world, as COVID-19 is aggressively attacking every aspect of human life. With the construction of ponten (or facilities), Mangkunegara VII expected that Solo residents would realize the importance of maintaining cleanliness and preserving the surrounding environment to suppress the spread of deadly disasters. 

Located in Ngebrusan Village, Ketelan, Banjarsari, Ponten Ngebrusan will mark its 84th anniversary this year. “Ponten” is an allusion to the word “fountain” in English, signifying running water. Like many fountains across Europe, the Ponten Ngebrusan building, called Badplaats Ngebrusan in Dutch, was considered no less luxurious or modern in its era. 

It is said that in its time, Ponten Ngebrusan was a modern bathing- washing-toilet facility that also held the title of “the best in Java”. Overall, this building is modest in size; from a distance it looks like a monument or memorial. On closer inspection, one notes several facilities in its cubicles, starting from a laundry, a room for urinating, to a room for defecating. 

Each of these rooms has seven small cubicles with a large bathroom in the middle. The room on the right side has a toilet separated by a wall. Each room is connected to a well located outside the building. At the front of the ponten there are 3 small bathrooms and 1 large one, with a water reservoir measuring 4 x 4 meters and 1.5 meters tall. 

Interestingly, between these booths, we will observe a water channel that flows directly to the Pepe River which is 5 meters from Ponten Ngebrusan. So, choosing the right location, on the banks of Pepe River has indeed been carefully considered for a waste disposing area of the modern MCK facility. 

Dominated in white, this place features a European-style facade, combined with Javanese designs rich in meaningful ornaments. Designed by a Dutch architect named Thomas Karsten, the Ponten Ngebrusan building is divided into two main rooms or two wings. Neither room has a roof nor a door, as it is meant to blend in with the natural surroundings like a legacy Java public bath known as a sendang. 

To get to the two main rooms in Ponten Ngebrusan, we have to pass through a park, almost like a minimaze. One large room, located in the middle of Ponten, was created as a means of group bathing, complete with rocks to sit on while enjoying the flowing water. 

Apart from the main building, this ancient bathing complex also has a garden with shady trees in the front and several modern seats that visitors can use to relax. 

Visitors can access this historical site free of charge. Located in the middle of a residential complex in central Solo, travellers can enter after asking permission from the cleaning officer on duty. Sometimes the gate of this place is locked, to prevent naughty behavior by irresponsible visitors  

After almost a century, this place has turned into a selfie spot for locals and travellers, as well as a pre-wedding photoshoot location for young people, because the architectural design is still the same as when it was built 84 years ago. (Freddy Wally)