Kota Tua Jakarta (“Jakarta Old Town”), officially known as Kota Tua, is a neighborhood comprising the original downtown area of Jakarta, Indonesia. It is also known as Oud Batavia (Dutch “Old Batavia”), Benedenstad (Dutch “Lower City”, contrasting it with Weltevreden, de Bovenstad (“Upper City”)), or Kota Lama (Indonesian “Old Town”). It spans 1.3 square kilometres within North Jakarta and West Jakarta (Kelurahan Pinangsia, Taman Sari and Kelurahan Roa Malaka, Tambora). The largely Chinese downtown area of Glodok is a part of Kota Tua.
Kota Tua is a remainder of Oud Batavia, the first walled settlement of the Dutch in Jakarta area. The area gained importance during the 17th-19th century when it was established as the de facto capital of the Dutch East Indies. This inner walled city contrasted with the surrounding kampung (villages), orchards, and rice fields. Dubbed “The Jewel of Asia” and “Queen of the East” in the 16th century by European sailors, the area was a center of commerce due to its strategic location within the spice trade industry in the archipelago.
Headquarter of Dutch East India company
In 1526, Fatahillah, sent by Sultanate of Demak, invaded the Hindu Pajajaran’s port of Sunda Kelapa, after which he renamed it into Jayakarta. This town was only 15 hectare in size and had a typical Javanese harbor layout. In 1619 the VOC destroyed Jayakarta under the command of Jan Pieterszoon Coen. A year later the VOC built a new town named “Batavia” after the Batavieren, the Dutch ancestors from antiquity. This city was centered around the east bank of the Ciliwung river, around present day Fatahillah Square. Inhabitants of Batavia are called “Batavianen”, later known as “Betawi” people. The creole citizens are descendants of mixed various ethnicities that had inhabited Batavia.
Around 1630 the city expanded towards the west banks of Ciliwung, on the ruins of former Jayakarta. The city was designed in according to Dutch urban planning complete with a fortress (Kasteel Batavia), city wall, public square, churches, canals and tree-lined streets. The city was arranged in several blocks separated by canals. No native Javanese were allowed to live within the city walls, since the authorities were afraid that they might start an insurrection. The planned city of Batavia was completed in 1650. It became the headquarters of the VOC in the East Indies and prospered from the spice trade.
Old Batavia declined in prominence in the late 18th century, likely because the canals with their near-stagnant water, together with the warm and humid climate would often cause outbreaks of tropical diseases like malaria. Much of the old town became neglected and abandoned due to its ailing nature, and slowly its canals were filled up. Countryside villas were preferred by wealthier residents, which caused the city to grow southward. This process led to the foundation of an estate named Weltevreden.
As capital of Dutch East Indies
During the rule of Governor General Daendels in 1808, the city’s administration and military were moved south to Weltevreden, with a new planned town center around Koningsplein and Waterlooplein. Due to financial problems however, much of the old town, its wall, and Kasteel Batavia were torn down for construction materials to build new government and civic buildings, such as the Palace of Daendels (now department of Finance) and the Harmonie Society Building (demolished). The only remnant of Kasteel Batavia is Amsterdam Gate, which eventually was completely demolished in 1950.
The city continued to expand further south as epidemics in 1835 and 1870 forced more and more people to move out of the old city to the new spacious, green and healthier Weltevreden neighborhood. The old city became deserted and was a mere empty shell of its former glory by this period. Old Batavia kept its commercial importance as the city’s main harbor and warehouses district, but it was largely overshadowed by Surabaya as the colony’s prime harbor and commercial hub.
After the opening of Tanjung Priok harbor and fueled by the increasing rubber output in the late 19th century,
Batavia was able to regain its commercial momentum. There had been attempts to restore the city’s old downtown prominence by converting the desolated area to be the main business district of Batavia. As a result, the former mansions and shophouses that at the time had been occupied by ethnic Chinese people,were converted and renovated into offices in 1900-1942.