Notes of Kota Tua Jakarta’s Long History

June 14, 2018 | Berthold Sinaulan


Every time we talk about Jakarta’s birthday, we can never turn a blind eye from an area presently known as Kota Tua Jakarta (the Old Jakarta City). The use of the name “Kota Tua” itself came from the term Oud Batavia or Old Batavia. Old Batavia is currently known as Kota Tua Jakarta, an area that covers parts of West and North Jakarta. The 1,3 km square area consists of Pinangsia, Tamansari, Roa Malaka and Tambora regencies.

Old Batavia was the cradle of the Republic’s capital. Prior to being called as Jakarta as present, it was called Batavia. The name was taken from the Batavieren ethnic, the Dutch ancestor. It could be said that it was the Dutch that made the areas surrounding Pelabuhan Sunda Kelapa (Sunda Kelapa Port) grew into a big city. Previously the area was not at all attractive, since Banten at that time time was far more popular and could be said as a modern place.

In 1526, Fatahillah was sent by Sultan Demak to attack Sunda Kelapa, which was controlled by the Pajajaran Kingdom. A year later, Fatahillah succeeded in taking over the area and named it Jayakarta. At the time Jayakarta was 15 hectares in size. Veerenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC) under Jan Pieterzoon Coen took over Jayakarta in 1619 and a year later the city was formally named Batavia. Batavia’s city center was a place today known as Taman Fatahillah (Fatahillah Park), located right in front of the Jakarta History Museum.



Jakarta History Museum is the main icon of Kota Tua Jakarta. Although there are still a few historical sites there, still Jakarta History Museum (or sometimes called as Fatahillah Museum) is the most significant site in the area. You just cannot skip visiting the museum when you come to Kota Tua. The museum building itself has a long history. In the beginning, the building was Batavia’s city hall, or Stadhuis van Batavia as it was called in Dutch. The building was built under the command of the Governor-General Joan van Hoorn, of which architecture was similar to that of the Dam castle in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. But this is not the first city hall that was ever built.

At first, the city hall was built in 1620 on the edge of the area presently known as Kalibesar Timur. After only six years, the building was later dismantled and rebuilt as a fortress to withstand enemy attacks. Jan Pieterson once again built a new city hall in 1627, located in Taman Fatahillah. Unfortunately, this building too did not last long. This happened particularly after another floor was added to the one-story building. The unstable condition of the land caused the building to slowly mire underground. Hence, Joan van Hoom had the building dismantled, and today’s Jakarta History Museum stands on top of the old building’s foundation. Governor General Abraham van Riebeeck launched the building on July 10 1710. The symbol of the inauguration can still be found in the museum, which has the shape of a long block with a writings about the placement of the first milestone by Joan van Hoorn and the launch by Abraham van Riebeek, along with the dates of the events.

A temporary Church

The Jakarta History Museum was also used as a church. Its story began in the 16th century. A simple church was built in 1625 due to the needs of the Protestant Christians in Batavia. It was located right where de Javasche Bank building was built, which was later became the Bank of Indonesia, and now it is known as the Bank of Indonesia Museum.

But in 1628, three years after the church was ready, the political condition of that time had forced its dismantling. The incident took place when the troops of Sultan Agung of Mataram attacked Batavia. The church had to be emptied to anticipate the attack. The building was dismantled and was made into a storage of big cannons that were ready to use anytime by the Dutch East Indies army, should the Mataram army tried to enter. Hence the church’s worships had to be relocated. One of the rooms in Batavia’s city hall was made into a church and used for weekly worships. It was recorded that at least three worships were made in different languages, such as Dutch, Malay and French.

However, some of the congregation was not happy with the city hall’s church. Aside from it’s smaller place given only one room was used, the city hall itself was actually a very busy building and was not a very enjoyable place to be used for worship that requires serenity. There was always some kind of administrative business running in the city hall. Starting from court affairs, which some say was sometimes accompanied by torture, to the affairs of trade and other contracts, up to civil marriage records. The people who always came and went to the city hall crowded the building.

But since there was no other place to go to, the congregation continued to use one of the rooms in the city hall as their church. This went on until there was later a new church in Batavia, built in 1642.

A Place of Death Penalty

Batavia city hall building also held a lot of history regarding the law in this country. Aside of being a court, the building also had a basement that was made as a place to detain inmates. It was said that national heroes such as Untung Surapati, Diponegoro, and Tjut Nja’ Dhien, were held in Batavia city hall basement prison.

Concerning Diponegoro, there was another information mentioning that he was not actually detained in the basement prison, but in one of the rooms in the city hall itself. It was believed that Diponegoro was held in a room located in the left wing of the building. His status as a prince and a noble caused some fear, as well as respect among the Dutch, hence preventing them from detaining Diponegoro in a basement prison like other inmates.

Besides it’s basement prison, the city hall’s park-presently known as Taman Fatahillah-was even used as a place to hold death penalties. One of the famous death penalties was the hanging of Oey Tambahsia. He was the son of a rich businessman Oey Tay Lo (some called him Oey Thoa), who at first resided in Pekalongan, and then moved to Batavia and owned a tobacco store believed to be one of the biggest tobacco stores in the city. Oey Tay was the owner of the biggest tobacco store in the area that was known as Jalan Toko Tiga, Jakarta Kota. In 1937, the street was a busy business center.



Oey soon became famous not long after he moved to Betawi. He was well known not only for his wealth but also for his generosity. Reputedly Oey had the habit of giving alms to the poor on the first and fifteenth day of the month of the Chinese calendar, which were the times when he would come to pray in Kim Tek Le temple. Oey Tay had four children; one of them was Oey Tambah, who was also known as Oey Tambahsia. The word “sia” is the predicate used for honored rich men, just like that of “den mas” in Bahasa Indonesia.

Unlike his father’s polite and praiseworthy personality, Tambah was the opposite of that. He was known as a naughty boy ever since he was young. He later even became a playboy. Tambah used Bintang Mas, his villa in Ancol, as a place to mate with beautiful girls. The girls who were taken to the villa were actually good girls who succumbed to Tambahsia’s seduction. Through his men, Pioen and Soero, Tambah acquired many girls who were successfully seduced. Some of the girls were even abducted in order to feed his animal desire. Tambah did not even hesitate to take another person’s wife when he liked the woman.

His crimes accumulated, since Oey would easily told his men to kill those seen as annoyance or who were jealous of him. He even killed his own right-hand man with poisonous cake. The aim of the murder was to spread a slander that Tambah’s enemy killed him. At first all of Tambah’s crimes were well covered. His wealth enabled him to bribe many people to cover his crimes. But in the end it was proven that it was Tambah who told Pioen and Soero to kill many people. Hence Tambah was given the death penalty by the court. He was hanged in the front yard of Batavia city hall.

Abundant Museums

Then again, when we visit Kota Tua there are other places to see other than the Jakarta History Museum. There are many museums located near Taman Fathillah, such as Museum Wayang (Indonesian traditional puppet museum), the Bank of Indonesia Museum, The Mandiri Bank Museum, as well as the Museum of Art and Ceramics. In the west, there is Toko Merah (The Red Store), Chartered Bank building, ex-Kerta Niaga and also a number of buildings in Kalibesar vicinity. Not to mention if we walk a little to the north; we would find Pasar Ikan (the Fish Market), Pelabuhan Sunda Kelapa (Sunda Kepala Port), and Museum Bahari (the Maritime Museum) complete with its Menara Syahbandar (the Port Officer Tower). If we go yet a little bit further, there would be the Sion Church, which was mentioned as the oldest church still standing until today in Jakarta.

Moreover, do not forget about the Stasiun Jakarta Kota (Jakarta City Station), also popular as Stasiun Beos (Beos Station). The name Beos was taken from the abbreviation of Bataviasche Ooster Spoorweg Maatschapij (Carrier of East Batavia Railway). However, some also say that Beos was the abbreviation of Batavia En Omstreken, meaning Batavia and its surrounding areas. The station’s construction began in 1926 and it was completed on August 19 1929, and it was formally used on October 8 1929. The Governor General of the Dutch East Indies did its launch at that time, A.C.D de Graeff who ruled between 1926-1931.

The architect of the station was a Dutch who was born on September 8 1882 in Tulungagung. He was Frans Johan Louwrens Ghijsels. Ghijsels along with his friends established the Algemeen Ingenieur Architectenbureau architecture biro (AIA). The popular Beos Station design, as stated by Het Indische Bouwen, had a Dutch East Indies style, which was a mixture of the western structure and modern technic in local traditional shapes. Interestingly, apparently the shape of the building resembles the Central Train Station in Finland. This station building was designed by Eliel Saarinen and was complete in 1919. BBC chose this station as one of the most beautiful train station in 2013.



The existence of the museum and other historical legacies show that Kota Tua Jakarta is an important place in the development of Jakarta history. In some sense, even the stipulation of the place on June 22 was also made based on events that took place in Kota Tua Jakarta. It is said that on June 22 1527, Fatahillah successfully took over Sunda Kelapa and changed the city’s name into Jayakarta. While the date when Jayakarta was changed into Jakarta was controversial, the dispute was settled after Sudiro-Mayor of Jakarta between 1953-1958- presented a formal proposal to the Regional People’s Representative Assembly on June 22 1956. The proposal was accepted unanimously, hence it was stipulated that the birthday of Jakarta should be commemorated on June 22.

Berthold Sinaulan
BERTHOLD SINAULAN dilahirkan di Jakarta, 13 Desember 1959, lulusan Arkeologi Universitas Indonesia dan anggota Ikatan Ahli Arkeologi Indonesia sejak 1986.
Anggota Gerakan Pramuka sejak 1968 dan Koresponden Kepanduan Sedunia/Koresponden Kepanduan Asia-Pasifik sejak 1995.
Dalam aktivitas sehari-hari, merupakan Pewarta/Jurnalis sejak 1982, serta anggota Kelompok Kerja Nasional Pertimbangan Prangko sejak 1994.
Saat ini juga merupakan Sekretaris IAAI Komda Jabodetabek, Sekretaris Lingkar Warisan Kotatua Jakarta, Dewan Pembina Kelompok Pemerhati Budaya dan Museum Indonesia, dan Dewan Pembina Ikatan Pemandu Museum Indonesia.
Tags : Batavia, Museum, Old City

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