The Old Town of Jakarta as Candidate for UNESCO World Heritage Status, Part II: Defense, Shipyards and Godowns – What Remains?

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Jacques de Bollan Godown. (photo IO/Yoga Agusta)

IO – Batavia was a town built for trade but that trade needed to be defended and so defense became one of the Old Town’s defining features. Simon Stevin, whose Scheme for the Ideal City heavily influenced Batavia’s design, was known for building forts and fortifications and Batavia’s defense was clearly visible in her city walls with their surrounding moats or canals and in Batavia Castle in the north which was the linchpin of the city plan.

Batavia’s defenses also included several small forts or redoubts built close to the city in such places as Rijswijk, Tangerang and Ancol, places after which the forts were named. The first line of defense by sea however, was the four islands of Onrust, Cipir, Kelor and Bidadari. The islands located about 14 kilometers to the north of the town are the closest to Jakarta of the Thousand Island group. In 1772  the VOC built a small fort on Onrust with several bastions, the foundations of which are still visible today. DR Candrian Attahiyyat, a member of the Jkarta administration Team of Regional Experts conducted 17 excavations on the island between 1983 and 1990 and succeeded in finding the foundations of Bastion Beekhuis and the walls connecting it to Bastion Towpunt.  Later in the 19th century the Dutch tried to increase the islands defense by building Martello towers on three of them and the remains of these may still be seen today.

However, the islands were not best known as a defense line but for their shipyards. Trade was not possible without ships and ships were not possible without shipyards. Although there were two shipyards in the Old Town of Jakarta namely the Ankerwerf and the Timmerwerf these were for smaller ships and later also Chinese junks. The Company’s main shipyard was on Onrust. In fact, the VOC’s first agreement with Prince Jayakarta was an agreement in 1610 for permission to repair ships on Onrust. The shipyard there grew until there was a miniature town on Onrust with windmills, sawmills, a church, artisans and slave quarters. Eventually, work in the shipyard would continue unabated around the clock and calendar. This state of unending toil gave the island its name of Onrust, meaning “without rest”. In his first circumnavigation of the globe Captain James Cook said that Onrust had the best dry dock in the world. This makes the four historic islands an integral part of the Old Town of Jakarta and UNESCO requires that the management of the two sites must be coordinated under one body.

And how did this fortified town built for defense and trade fare in the coming centuries? The Old Town of Batavia was attacked twice by the forces of Mataram in Central Java and once by the Sultanate of Banten in West Java.  Between August and December 1628 and between May and September of 1629, Sultan Agung of Mataram sent his forces of more than 80,000 men by sea and by land to lay siege to the town and its castle. Nevertheless, historians say that the Old Town of Jakarta was able to withstand the attacks and sieges of Mataram not so much because of the strength of its fortifications (which were only partially finished at the time) but more because of the lack of logistics and poor weaponry of Mataram. Later the sultanate of Banten sent troops and war bands to launch attacks against Batavia but these were small and the town was well able to resist them. In the 18th century the British destroyed Onrust and later conquered Batavia. After that there were no more serious attacks against the town until the Japanese Occupation in 1942.

What remains today of the city plan based on Simon Stevin’s Scheme for the Ideal City? There is still the Kali Besar. A small, picturesque drawbridge spans the Kali Besar. It is known as the Hoenderpasser or Chicken Market bridge, named for the old chicken and vegetable market that was once located here. The Kali Besar connected the town with the hinterlands where food was produced for the town and for the fleet in the harbor.  For archaeologist Dr Candrian Attahiyyat who is a member of the City of Jakarta’s Team of Heritage Experts it is the central point of the city plan. “It was the first Indonesian river to be straightened, it provided transport and that area was always the central business district.”

Although the city walls were mostly torn down in 1808, the outer city canals have remained in place. The smaller canals that created the grid pattern of Simon Stevin’s Scheme for the Ideal City were closed in the 19th and 20th centuries however, they were then turned into roads and so the grid pattern also still remains. The result is that the town plan and the size of the properties have remained intact.

On the west bank there are remnants of the old city walls in front of the Maritime Museum with their small white guard tower. These are relatively well-maintained. Outside the museum complex the city wall built by the famous Chinese contractor Jan Kon in 1645, stands neglected. Until last year, there was still a guard house protruding from it similar to the one in the wall at the Maritime Museum. Unfortunately, in April 2016 it was torn down when Governor Basuki Tjahaya ordered the Pasar Ikan area razed. The City of Jakarta did not take proper measures to ensure the safety of the wall and guard house.  At the time two of the city wall’s twenty-three original bastions were still standing. Bastion Zeeburg built between 1639 and 1645 was another victim of the cranes that tore down the Pasar Ikan area. Now, only Bastion Culemborg with its Syahbandar or Harbour Master’s Tower and its Look Out Tower, remains. The public remains ignorant of what led to the destruction of two of Jakarta’s oldest heritage structures and who was responsible. A UNESCO World Heritage site requires steps in place for the prevention of such accidents. Also, was the original material collected and stored for restoration? Authenticity is a principal UNESCO requirement. Replicas are not heritage objects.

On the east side of the Kali Besar Canal stands an older section of the city wall built in 1629. Jakarta historian Adolf Heuken holds, “Unlike the city wall at the Maritime Museum, these walls are still their original height.” The red bricks consist of a double wall with buttresses in between. At present the structure of the wall is being eroded by the roots of strangler figs. Trained conservationists should immediately remove them to prevent total collapse.

In front of the wall is the Western Outer City Canal which together with the walls formed part of the first, city fortifications. Within the canal lie walls of old bricks probably remnants of the old canal walls that need urgently to be assessed by archaeologists.

Behind the wall stands the last remaining godown of the four Graanpakhuizen built for staples such as rice, wheat and beans. “In the beginning there was an empty area between the walls of Batavia Castle and the north-eastern city walls. This was because the VOC wanted to be able to shoot at the city should it be captured by the enemy and vice versa. Later however they built the four Graanpakhuizen there and now only one remains standing. It needs urgently to be repaired or there will be nothing left from that area between the two walls,” commented Heuken who is the author of Historical Sites of Jakarta.

In a town built solely for trade the most important buildings were of course, the warehouses; even ships are a type of warehouse, the castle and the walled town itself, are all glorified warehouses. Batavia was famous for its godowns or warehouses and in Batavia the Artisans Atelier determined the standards and specifications of warehouses for Dutch settlements abroad. Not long ago, specialists came from Japan to study Jakarta’s VOC godowns to make a replica in Deishima. In fact, the English word “godown” originates from the word Indonesian word “gudang”.

The first of the Maritime Museum godowns was built in 1657. Outside the museum complex the warehouse built by Jacques de Bollan in the 1690s stands in water with its roof gone and timbers caved in, urgently in need of repair. Although the godown is in private hands, the City of Jakarta should never have allowed it to reach such a sad state. The Heriatge Law of 2010 provides the city with the legal base for taking action, although the Ministry of Education and Culture are already 7 years late in producing the implementing regulations for the law. Beside Jacques de Bollan’s warehouse also stand seven buildings known locally as the floating warehouses. Adolf Heuken states that these were constructed in the 19th century however the 17th century drawings in Nieuhof’s Voyages and Travels to the East Indies 1653-1670 show buildings built in exactly the same manner from wood. The ICOMOS assessor for the Old Town of Jakarta was extremely interested in these unique wooden structures and recommended that the City ask for the assistance of a wood specialist from ICOMOS. They too need urgent attention and should also be protected.

Bambang Eryudhawan, Head of the Jakarta administration Project Review Board is worried about the effect that all the trucks in the area have. He says, “Now most of the big cargo ships come into Tanjung Priok Harbour rather than waiting in the roadsteads of Jakarta and then having feeder boats bring the cargo in via Sunda Kelapa harbor. Also, the fish market was moved to Muara Baru, therefore not so many large trucks are now needed in and around the Kota Tua area which should have its function changed in Jakarta’s spatial planning so that it is designated a heritage and tourist area instead of a commercial area. The use of the warehouses should be changed into studios, restaurants, galleries, museums, hotels etc much as was done with Darling Harbour in Sydney.”

The east wall with its outer city canal, the Kali Semut and warehouse provides a unique view of the city in the17th century. They belong to the Indonesian military and until now no Governor of Jakarta has shown the ability or interest to persuade the Indonesian military to protect these heritage structures which are amongst the earliest in modern Jakarta history. At a meeting however, held by the Jakarta municipality on the 1st of November the military have indicated that they would be prepared to have the wall and godown restored by the City of Jakarta. The City should act on this good will as soon as possible.

In 2015 Bruce Pettman former head of the New South Wales government’s Heritage Architects Office and now with AusHeritage was engaged by UNESCO to prepare a report about the wall. Mr Pettman who is an expert in matters relating to damp in tropical buildings has in the past visited Indonesia where he has given lectures and provided free advice to owners and managers of heritage buildings through heritage clinics sponsored by UNESCO. He would be highly suited to the task of guiding the restoration of both the wall and the last remaining VOC eastern godown and UNESCO have indicated that they might be prepared to sponsor his return to Jakarta. The City of Jakarta would be well advised to take advantage of this.

(Tamalia Alisjahbana)