The Story of Jalan Kopi, once known as Utrecht Street and surrounding areas (Part I)

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A senior merchant thought to be Jacob Mathieusen and his wife with a view of Batavia and the VOC return fleet around 1640-1660 by Aelbert Cuyp. Photo credit: Aelbert Cuyp, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons.

IO – In a past series of articles, I have written about the Jalan Roa Malaka in Kota Tua or the Old Town area of what was once Batavia. 

This was the original town that the Dutch East India Company known as the VOC established after they destroyed the small town of Jacatra (or Jayakarta as some referred to it) with its harbor of Sunda Kelapa (or Kelapa as it was also known) where merchants from all over Asia and even Europe came to trade. The VOC built a fortfied town enclosed by a city wall with many canals within it like the towns in Holland. In previous months I have written about one of the most interesting roads in the Old Town area namely, the Jalan Roa Malaka. Now, I would like to describe a road that bisects Jalan Roa Malaka that is Jalan Kopi and then I shall describe several of the small roads near it. 

The Utrechtse Poort in front of the city walls as seen from outside the city walls with the Outer City Canal in front of it and a drawbridge over the canal. The 18th century drawing is by Johannes Rach.
Photo credit: Tamalia Alisjahbana/IO

Jalan Kopi was first laid out between 1632 and 1650. The city walls of Batavia had bastions which were projecting parts of the wall that acted as fortifications. They were in fact small forts or redoubts for defending the walls. One of these was called Bastion Utrecht and like the road it was also built between 1632 and 1650. The bastion was named after the Dutch town of Utrecht. At the end of the road there was a gate in the wall which was named the Utrechtse Poort or Utrecht Gate (look at the letter “i” on Breuning’s map of Batavia) and this was one of the gates by which one could leave the walled city of Batavia. The local inhabitants of Batavia called it Pintu Pagerman. Like the bastion and the city gate, the road was also named after the town of Utrecht. The name Utrechtsestraat (Utrecht Street) was only changed to Jalan Kopi after Indonesian independence. 

In fact, Jalan Kopi is on the west bank of the canalized Ciliwung River also known as the Kali Besar canal or Groote Rivier canal and it lies across the central area of the previous town of Jacatra where the mosque, alun-alun or green and paseban or manor of Prince Jayawikarta were once located. 

A view from the bridge at the fortified defense Middelpunt, of the Utrechtschestraat in 1709 with the Utrecht Gate at the end of the street and the Old Portuguese Church to the right as sketched by Elias van Stade. Photo credit: Tropenmuseum, part of the National Museum of World Cultures, CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons .org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons.

The Jalan Kopi or Utrechtsestraat as it used to be known stretched from the Utrechtsepoort at one end of the road on the west side (The Utrechtse Poort was in the west city wall), until the Jalan Kali Besar Barat on the east side. The Jalan Kopi is the road running perpendicular to Jalan Kali Besar Barat which is situated at the very front of the picture above. So, a person walking along the Jalan Kali Besar Barat heading from north to south would turn right into the Jalan Kopi or Utrechtsestraat. Next to the Jalan Kali Besar Barat is the Kali Besar canal or Groote Rivier canal as it used to be called during the Dutch period. 

There was a small fort or redoubt slight south of where now the Jalan Kali Besar Barat and Jalan Kopi intersect each other, which was called Middlepunt (“punt” means point in Dutch). Look at the letter “y” on Breuning’s map. The redoubt was a small two-story structure built of strong quadrangular stones with eight canons, twenty soldiers, two or three corporals and a sergeant. 

A redoubt is a small fort and the Middlepunt redoubt was built because the VOC did not feel safe even with a wall around their city. They had a fear that one day the many slaves within the city might revolt so they even built small forts within the city itself, one of which was built near the entrance to the Utrechtsestraat or Jalan Kopi which was called the Middelpunt. When the Chinese Massacre of 1740 began it was this redoubt that began firing on the houses of the Chinese inhabitants of Jalan Kopi and from wthere the massacre spread. 

A view of the redoubt Middelpunt in 1709 by Elias van Stade. It is located on the banks of the Ciliwung River (Jl Kali Besr Barat) and is being viewed from the Pisang Brug or Banana Bridge which crosses the river into what is now Jalan Kunir (formerly Amsterdamsestr). The view in this picture is towards the Diestpoort or Diest Gate in the distance. On the right side of the Middlepunt is Jl Kopi/Utrechtsestraat. The bridge in the distance crosses the Kali Besar from what is now Jl Bank into Jalan Roa Malaka. Photo credit: Tropenmuseum, part of the National Museum of World Cultures, CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons .org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons.

Not far from the Middelpunt a bridge crosses the Kali Besar canal and this bridge used to be called Pisang Brug or Banana Bridge (on the east side of the Kali Besar canal there used to be a market known as Pasar Pisang or Banana Market already in existence during the time of the VOC). There is still a bridge there from which we can cross the Kali Besar canal in order to reach the east side of the town namely into Jalan Kali Besar Timur which we cross to enter what is now Jalan Kunir. From around 1627 Jalan Kunir was a canal known as the Derde dwarsgracht and as of 1632 it became the Leeuwinnegracht. It was only after independence that its name was changed to Jalan Kunir. 

The Pisang Bridge is not visible in the picture with the Middelpunt in it. The bridge standing there now is probably not the original bridge but rather changed with time because the original bridge would have had a shape that permitted boats to sail beneath it. At the time the Kali Besar canal was wider and deeper than it is now and many little boats used to float up and down the canal transporting goods and people. So that the boats could pass under the bridges on their way up stream, all the bridges would have had to have been drawbridges like the Kota Intan Bridge or else bridges built in the shape of an arch to allow boats to pass below them. Most bridges at the time were in the shape of arches although there were some drawbridges as well.

To return to the Utrechtsestraat or Jalan Kopi: it used to have three canals crossing it. The first was the Jonkersgracht (gracht means canal in Dutch) and a jonker means a “nobleman”. The Jonkersgracht used to flow down the middle of the road (north to south) that was at the time and even now is called Jalan Roa Malaka. Where the Jonkersgracht crossed Jalan Kopi there was a bridge built across the Jonkersgracht so that people walking up Jalan Kopi or the Utrechtsestraat could continue walking up the road and were not blocked by the canal. The bridge across the Jonkersgracht is the first bridge that you can see crossing the Jalan Kopi or Utrechtsestraat in the picture by Elias Stade. 

Map of how Batavia looked in 1672 by H.A Breuning. Photo credit: Tamalia Alisjahbana/IO.

The second canal that used to cross the Jalan Kopi or Utrechtsestraat was the Rhinocerosgracht and here too a bridge was built across the Rhinocerorsgracht at the point where it crosses the Jalan Kopi so that people could continue walking up the Jalan Kopi and not be blocked by the Rhinocerosgracht. That bridge is the second bridge that is visible in the picture of the Jalan Kopi or Utrechtsestraat by Elias Stade. 

The Dutch named many of the canals in the Old Town of Batavia after animals i.e. Tijgersgracht or Tigers Canal, Olifantengracht or Elephant Canal, Kaaimansgracht or Crocodile Canal and of course, the Rhinocerosgracht. I suspect the animal names came from animals found in the environs of the town at the time. Sometimes, these managed to get into the town itself and cause problems. As these are all the names of animals not found in the wild in Europe and as most of them are also quite dangerous animals, they must have made quite a strong impression on the Dutch so that it is understandable that they named their canals after them. On an old map of Batavia a part of the wooded area outside of Kota Tua was called Oetan Badak or Rhinoceros Woods and in north Jakarta there still exists a Rawa Badak or Rhinoceros Swamp. In those days rhinoceros still existed in West Java. There are also tales of tigers entering Kota Tua and of crocodiles swimming up the canals and rivers. 

The famous Chinese contractor Jan Kon built some of the city walls and many buildings in Batavia. He received a contract to build the Rhinocerosgracht on the 13th of May 1634 at a price of 32 stuivers or two thirds of a real per cubic fathom, which he then proceeded to carry out. The canal measured forty-eight feet wide and 9 feet deep. Now the Rhinocerosgracht no longer exists. It was already filled in during the Dutch period. However, for several years there were rumours that the Jakarta Municipality intended to reopen the Rhinocerosgracht but so far these plans have not come to any fruition. 

The Rhinocerosgracht later became known as the Spinhuisgracht which was named after the Spinhuis, a reformatory where women of ill-repute were held and taught to sew and read the Bible. The Spinhuis was built on the road along the Rhinocerosgracht. That road has now become the Jalan Tiang Benderas I, II, III and IV which all used to be called the Spinhuisgrachtstraat. The grounds at the back of the Spinhuis once went all the way to the Stadtsbinnengrachtstraat or Inner City Canal Road, located behind it. Next to the Spinhuis was the Chinese Hospitaal or Chinese Hospital. 

The third canal was the Stadtsbinnengracht which means the Inner City Canal. As mentioned above the town of Batavia before the 19th century had a city wall around it as a defense against attacks by the Sultan of Banten to the west and the Sultan of Mataram to the east. To make the defenses even stronger the VOC had small forts or bastions along the city wall and a moat or canal around the city walls. See Breuning’s map. There were twenty-two bastions along the city walls. At first, there was only the Buitenstadtsgracht or the Outer City Canal. However, in order to make the bastions along the city wall even stronger the VOC then built an Inner City Canal on the inner or city side of the wall. In this way the bastions would provide an even stronger defense with water in front of them and water behind them. 

So, at the end of the Utrechtsestraat or Jalan Kopi the third and final canal crossing it was the Inner City Canal or Stadtsbinnengracht. This canal also had a bridge crossing it so that people walking down the Jalan Kopi could reach the Utrechtsepoort or Utrecht Gate and leave the city through it. The third bridge is not visible in the picture of Jalan Kopi by Elias Stade. What is visible is only the Utrechtsepoort or Utrecht Gate by which one could leave the city. This gate would have made Jalan Kopi an important street as there were only a limited number of gates and streets with gates whereby Batavia’s inhabitants could leave the Old Town. So, there was doubtlessly more traffic on this road at that time.

When looking at the pictures of the canals we must remember that during the 17th and 18th centuries the streets and canals were much wider than they are today. Johann Nieuhof in his book Voyages and Travels to the East Indies 16531670 writes that all the streets in the walled city or intramuros were built in a straight line and had a width of about 30 meters. 

They artificial hanging bridge created by the West Jakarta Municipality as a tourist attraction on Jalan Kopi. Photo credit: Fino Simata/IO

On Jalan Kopi today we see not an old bridge but a new bridge erected by the municipal government of West Jakarta not to be used but simply in order to make the area more of a tourist attraction as a reminder of the bridges and canals that once used to cut across the Jalan Kopi or Utrechtsestraat. The location of this new bridge is close to where the Rhinocerosgracht or Spinhuisgracht once crossed Jalan Kopi and where there was a bridge once running across it. If we look at Elias Stade’s picture of Jalan Kopi then we see that the bridge was not a drawbridge. The Kota Intan Bridge which used to be called the Hoenderpasserbrug or Chicken Market Bridge on Jalan Kali Besar Barat was an old drawbridge but I suspect that there were not that many. (Tamalia Alisjahbana)