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Finding Treasures in Old Town Jakarta: Things To Do In Kota Tua Jakarta

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Kota Tua Jakarta (“Jakarta Old Town” or “Old Town Jakarta”), officially known as Kota Tua, is a neighborhood comprising the original downtown area of Jakarta, Indonesia. It is also known as Oud Batavia (Dutch for “Old Batavia”), Benedenstad (Dutch for “Lower City”), contrasting it with Weltevreden, de Bovenstad (“Upper City”), or Kota Lama (Indonesian “Old Town”). The site contains Dutch-style structures mostly dated from 17th century, when the port city served as the Asian headquarter of VOC during the heyday of spice trade. 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 Old Batavia, the first walled settlement of the Dutch in Jakarta area. It was an inner walled city with its own Castle. 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” 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.

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A small intro on this ancient town

  • The Old Town has been regarded as an Asian Gem. During the Dutch colonial era, the Old City of Jakarta was regarded as “Asian Gem and Queen of the East” in the 16th century by travelers from Europe, when it was regarded as a trading center for the Asian continent because of its strategic location with abundant natural resources. 
  • It contains 5 main museums. In Kota Tua, there are five main museums: Fatahillah Museum, Ceramic Museum, Wayang Museum, Bank Mandiri Museum and Bank Indonesia Museum. With a large field in the middle, this place is often a youth hangout. Talk lightly because many sellers and community gatherings are often gathered here every weekend.
  • Cipta Niaga Building is the most distinctive building in the Old Town area of Jakarta. Gedung Cipta Niaga is one of the revitalized buildings of Kota Tua Consortium. Before, this building serves as an office. Currently, the only floor is the location of the photo exhibition that the traveler can visit. Formerly, this building functioned as a bank, which was here first a shipping company. In the past, there were many trading offices in the Old Town. As such, the Old Town is a heritage building of Dutch Colonialism era. 
  • In the Old City of Jakarta, you will feel like visiting the city of ancient Jakarta. The old buildings with Dutch-made European architecture that still stands straight gives the impression of time as it stops there. For those of you who like photography, Old Town Jakarta is also a paradise for photographers. In addition to capturing the architecture of ancient buildings, photographers can also capture the whims of visitors who visit the Old City.

While Indonesia’s capital is powering ahead as a global business hub, Kota Tua, its old town, is arguably still its top traveller highlight. Indonesia’s Dutch colonial roots can be explored here, and Jakarta’s historical quarter gives a snapshot of how the cityscape looked before the skyscrapers moved in.

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Things to do in Old Town Jakarta:

In the 1600s, Kota became the headquarters of the Dutch East India Company. Sadly, this colonial heritage was not preserved as well as it has been in the likes of other Southeast Asian colonial outposts such as Singapore and Penang, and there are only a few remnants of the attractive wooden-shuttered buildings left today. Still, Taman Fatahillah (Fatahillah Square) and its surroundings are a sensory feast for a first-time visitor to the city.

1. Visit the Jakarta History Museum

Set in the former City Hall of Batavia, the Jakarta History Museum has exhibits about the city and its location from prehistoric times through the colonisation period and until the independence of the country. The building was constructed in 1710 and is a good example of the grand public buildings in the area. The exhibitions are presented quite crudely and a visit to Kota Tua just to see the museum would probably not be warranted.

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2. Visit the Wayang Museum

On another side of the main square where the Jakarta History Museum is located is the Wayang Museum dedicated to Javanese puppetry. The puppets are used in a traditional form of theatre common on the island of Java but also present in other islands across the country. The museum has a large range of exhibits from different times and gives a good showcase of the evolution of the local puppetry. The signs explaining the items are not of a high standard but a lot of the museum is self-explanatory. There are also occasional performances using traditional instruments like the gamelan.

Indonesian Wayang shadow puppet doll

3. The Fine Art and Ceramic Museum

The Fine Art and Ceramic Museum is located inside the old Court of Justice built by the Dutch in 1870. The old court makes up one of the sides of the main square of Kota Tua and is one of the most impressive architectural buildings in the area. The museum houses traditional ceramics showcasing the range of designs across the archipelago. There are also artworks from the 19th and 20th century and more modern ceramic works.

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4. A visit to the Maritime Museum

A 10-minute walk from the main square of Kota Tua is the Maritime Museum, set inside former warehouses of the Dutch East India Company. The sea is extremely important to a country made up of thousands of islands – for civilian transport, military and commercial reasons. The museum showcases some examples of the history over the centuries.

5. Bank Indonesia Museum

Although the topic may sound a bit dry – banking – this is actually one of the most interesting museums in the area. The Bank Indonesia Museum takes a modern multimedia and interactive approach to telling the story of banks in Indonesia. It covers relevant history and has an emphasis on the production of bank notes.

6. Enjoy a cup of coffee at Batavia Café

Cafe Batavia is definitely one of the most charming attractions in Jakarta. This very popular cafe and restaurant will impress you with its elegant colonial decor and fascinating history. Cafe Batavia is situated on the northwest corner of Fatahillah Square of Kota Tua – the old Dutch colonial area of Jakarta. Due to its beautiful high ceilings, rustic interior decor and authentic colonial ambiance, Cafe Batavia is a big hit with both domestic and foreign tourists visiting Jakarta.

Cafe Batavia’s location makes it very much accessible to all visitors and locals in Jakarta. Although the construction of the building began in the early 1800’s, the Cafe itself was opened in the 1990’s and it has been a big draw ever since. The word “Batavia” is the old capital name for Jakarta. 

Once you walk into Cafe Batavia, you will immediately feel like you have taken a step back in time! The cafe is one of the oldest buildings in all of Kota Tua. The lamps, photos, flooring, high ceilings create a colonial feel similar to that established in the movie Casablanca. It also doesn’t hurt that Cafe Batavia has excellent service standards in comparison to many restaurants and cafes in Jakarta. The servers are usually prompt, polite and very professional.

It is quite common for tourists to sightsee around the various attractions in Kota Tua and then eat and/or grab a drink at nearby Cafe Batavia. And the other great thing about visiting Cafe Batavia Jakarta is its consistently great live music performances. A live band usually performs on the ground floor of the two-story cafe building. The band typically starts playing from late afternoon until late night. In the evenings, the cafe lighting is dim and adjusted to create a romantic candle-lit vibe. Indeed, Cafe Batavia is one of the most romantic places to dine in Jakarta. 

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