For most visitors, the first introduction to Java is Jakarta, the sprawling capital city and heart of Indonesia. This enormous city has humble roots, starting as a small harbour town called Sunda Kelapa, but its actual founding dates back to the June 22, 1527 when it was named Jayakarta by Fatahillah of the neighbouring Sultanate of Banten. The name Jayakarta means City of Great Victory but under Dutch control the name was changed to Batavia. Shortly after the outbreak of World War II, Batavia fell into the hands of invading Japanese forces that also changed the name of the city. This time it was called Jakarta as a gesture aimed at winning the sympathy of the Indonesians. The name was retained even when Indonesia achieved national independence after the wars end. Now, as Jakarta, it is the centre of government, business and industry and spreads over an area of more than 650 km2 with a population of over ten million people. It is also designated as a special territory, which means that it is administered by a governor and enjoys the same status as a province. Indonesia's cultural diversity is celebrated in the national motto, Bhineka Tunggal Ika, meaning "Unity in Diversity." One manifestation of this tenet of Indonesian national identity is the government's efforts to give equal precedence to the development of traditional art forms from each ethnic group. In Jakarta, the Orang Betawi - the natives of the city - are considered to be the hosts of these cultures, having emerged from the melting pot of races, ethnic groups and cultures of Indonesia in the 19th century. Today they constitute one of the city's main ethnic groups along side the Javanese (from Central and Eastern Java), Sundanese (from West Java) and Chinese. Betawi culture is a treasure trove of colour, tradition, song, dance, clothing, cuisine, language and dialect. The culture thrives today due to government policy to enhance the cultural identity of the original inhabitants of the city, and prevent their traditions being buried beneath a tide of modernization. There are annual parades and other celebrations in which three-meter tall Betawi mascots (ondel ondel) - are seen delighting the crowds with their large masks and tinsel-sprinkled headdresses.
PLACES OF INTEREST
The National Monument
The National Monument is one of the monuments built during the Sukarno era of fierce nationalism. It stands for the people's determination to achieve freedom and the crowning of their efforts in the Proclamation of Independence in August 1945. The 137-metre tall marble obelisk is topped with a flame coated with 35 kilograms of gold. The base houses a historical museum and a hall for meditations. It towers over Medan Merdeka ( Freedom Square ), and serves as Jakarta's most prominent landmark and unofficial symbol.
Established in 1778 by U.M.C. Rademacher under the auspices of the Batavia Association of Arts and Sciences, it offers historical, pre-historical, archaeological and ethnographic aspects of Indonesia through its extensive collection of artefacts and relics which date as far back as to the Stone Age. It has one of the most complete collections of bronzes and ceramics dating back to the Han, Tang and Ming Dynasties. The Museum has one of the finest numismatic collections in the world, including cloth and money which was used on several islands until recently. The religious art section is filled with statuary and sculpture salvaged from sites of Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic edifices. Its collection of cultural instruments, household utensils, arts and crafts provide an introduction to the life of the various ethnic groups which populate Indonesia. This museum is popularly known as Gedung Gajah or "Elephant Building" because of the stone elephant offered by King Chulalongkorn of Thailand in 1871, placed on the front lawn of the building.
Fatahillah Square is the administrative centre of old Batavia. The city founders built here a splendid city hall whence a vast Asian trading empire we controlled. The city hall has become the Museum Fatahillah ( Jakarta History Museum ) - 37 rooms filled with old maps, antiques and memorabilia, mostly from Dutch period. Fatahillah Square offers visitors two other museums: The Wayang Museum ( Indonesians say you cannot know the Javanese until you know the wayang ) and Fine Arts Museum ( it houses of superb collection of rare porcelain assembled by the late Vice President Adam Malik, and modern paintings by well-known Indonesian artists ).
Sunda Kelapa is located in the far north of the city at the mouth of the Ciliwung River. This is where the Portuguese traded with the Hindu Kingdom of Pajajaran in the 16th century. The fish catch of the day is auctioned in the early morning at the old fish market. The street leading to it was lined with shops selling all sorts of shells, dehydrated turtles, lobsters and everything else the seafarer might need. Dutch domination of Jakarta and the rest of Indonesia began from this area. The remnants of Kasteel Batavia, an old port and trading post of the Dutch East Indies Companies, can still be seen. Sunda Kelapa is at present a fisherman's wharf and an inter-island post. Tall-masted Bugis schooners from South Sulawesi anchoring there offer one of the finest sights Jakarta has to offer. They belong to one of the last fleets of sailboats in the world and still ply the seas between the islands carrying merchandise, as they did centuries ago.
Indonesia in Miniature Park
An extensive park to get a glimpse of the diverseness of the Indonesian archipelago, it represents Indonesian provinces and their outstanding characteristics, reflected most strikingly in the exact regional architecture of the province. It has its own orchid garden in which hundreds of Indonesian orchid varieties are grown. There is also a bird park with a walk-in aviary, a fauna museum and recreational grounds with a swimming pool and restaurants. Of special interest here at Taman Mini is the Museum Indonesia. A richly decorated building in Balinese architecture, it houses contemporary arts crafts and traditional costumes from the different regions of the country.
Pulau Seribu literally means "Thousand Islands" but this mini-archipelago in fact consists of fewer that 200 coral atolls strewn to the north of Jakarta in the calm and shallow Java Sea. As an idyllic island it offers a haven away from the bustle of city life. There are golden beaches fringed with coconut palms, the surrounding waters are a paradise for skin divers, they are filled with a myriad of tropical fish which live among the multicoloured corals.