Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Jakarta: Seaport city bathed in history

By Lauren Said-Moorhouse, for CNN
updated 5:47 AM EDT, Thu August 30, 2012
The Indonesian capital of Jakarta is a fascinating city, with a long and proud maritime history. The Indonesian capital of Jakarta is a fascinating city, with a long and proud maritime history.
HIDE CAPTION
Sunda Kelapa
Jakarta: Seaport city
Pinisi schooners docked at Kelapa
Jakarta's maritime museum
"Pasar Ikan" or "Fish Market"
Visiting Pasar Ikan
Kota Tua
Fatahillah Square
Indonesian independence
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jakarta boasts a vibrant maritime history because of its location along the spice route
  • Travelers can get a taste of Jakarta's nautical past
  • Indonesia is a melting pot of cultures and people

Each week The Gateway goes behind the scenes of the world's major transport hubs, revealing the logistics that keep goods and people moving. This month, the show is in Jakarta, Indonesia.

(CNN) -- Jakarta has always had a rich and fruitful relationship with the sea. A trade gateway linking east and west, the modern city can still show travelers glimpses of its long maritime history.

Now the Indonesian capital, it was initially settled as the port of Sunda Kelapa by the Hindu Kingdom of Sunda around the fifth century and was designed to develop a vibrant sea trade for the realm.

Sunda Kelapa port
Sunda Kelapa port

The "coconut of Sunda" (the port's name translated from Sundanese) soon flourished and attracted the attention of other maritime-invested nations including the Portuguese, Dutch and British. To this day, you can still see the influence of the Dutch colonialists in the architecture of many of the buildings in the old city.

Today, Indonesia is an independent republic that has become a melting pot of cultures and people. Nicknamed by travelers as the "Big Durian" (a pungent-smelling but sweet-tasting local fruit), the modern metropolis of Jakarta is a swelteringly smoggy city bursting at the seams with people.

Watch: Jakarta's maritime history

Jakarta's maritime history
Female captain fights armed robberies

Its moniker is probably a good description of the city. It may not be everyone's idea of a typical vacation spot -- some portions of the city are grungy, dilapidated streets with scruffy slums. But underneath the seemingly overpopulated, polluted exterior lies a vibrant city rich in history and eclectic tourism options. Here are our top picks for tourists wanting to sample Jakarta's maritime heritage.

Often missed by vacationers, the historic harbor of Sunda Kelapa sits at the mouth of the Ciliwung River. The original settlement is a fantastic insight into the city's history and is home to what is said to be the world's last wind-powered seafaring trade fleet.

Walk amongst the traditional pinisi ships -- simple but sturdy wooden vessels -- that once provided trade from Indonesia to Europe and Africa. Climb up Syahbandar Tower and gaze upon the beautiful views from the top.

Pasar Ikan
Pasar Ikan

Literally meaning "Fish Market" in Bahasa Indonesia (the country's native tongue), Pasar Ikan sits at the end of Sunda Kelapa harbor. Although the market now sells all types of wares, Indonesian fishermen still gather here daily to sell their catch. The best time to visit and join locals purchasing the best goods is in the morning before it gets too hot and the smell of fish becomes overwhelming.

In numbers: The world's shipping industry

Nearby, you can also see traditional kampung houses (dwellings on stilts) where local families live. Don't be shy and say hello to the incredibly friendly and welcoming folks that reside next to the market.

Museum Bahari
Museum Bahari

A short distance from Pasar Ikan are several repurposed Dutch East India Company warehouses, which now operate as Museum Bahari. Today, the museum lets you step back in time through the country's nautical past and emphasizes how important the sea still is to the economy of present-day Indonesia.

On display are beautifully decorated fishing boats and pinisi schooners as well as shipbuilding tools and explanations of Indonesian folklore and maritime traditions.

Steering away from the old harbor, visit the Kota Tua (Old Batavia) area. In the 16th century, the Dutch settled in Indonesia -- renaming Jakarta "Batavia" -- after seeing a high demand for the country's spices. It is in the popular Kota district that tourists can see the influence left by Indonesia's former colonists.

Kota Tua
Kota Tua

The buildings surrounding Fatahillah Square have distinct Dutch facades and architectural elements. Stroll down roads lined with stalls, street acts and tourists to visit the Jakarta History Museum, Wayang (Puppet) Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts and Ceramics.

Outside the Jakarta Historical Museum sits Si Jagur -- a disused Portuguese cannon that is believed to bring fertility to women who touch it. And a few blocks west of Fatahillah Square is the Great Canal, with its historical Dutch drawbridge, Jembatan Pasar Ayam, rising over the waterway. No longer operational, in the past the drawbridge was built to connect the Dutch and British forts stationed on each side of the canal.

Finally, end your visit to Jakarta by visiting the National Monument (known locally as "Monas") in the center of Merdeka Square. It was erected in the 1960s as a tribute to Indonesian independence and today stands as a reminder of Jakarta's vibrant and multicultural history.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:04 AM EST, Tue December 3, 2013
What will the airport of the tomorrow look like? We've compiled some of the most exciting projects in an interactive feature.
updated 7:05 AM EST, Wed November 20, 2013
In the sleepy seaside town of Mariel, northwest Cuba, a hulking monument to the communist islands' evolving economy is taking shape.
updated 8:53 AM EST, Tue November 26, 2013
Meet Russian Tugboat captain, Viktor Nikolsky, who has sailed the world's seas and survived being hijacked by Somali pirates.
updated 5:39 AM EST, Fri November 8, 2013
A high exposure photograph of a drawbridge in St Petersburg, Russia.
Meet Sergey Matveev and family, St Petersburg's "First Family" of drawbridge operators.
updated 7:59 AM EDT, Thu October 31, 2013
Where are the world's most dangerous waters? Hint; they're not off the coast of Somalia.
updated 7:22 AM EDT, Thu October 17, 2013
Train and metro stations have become unlikely havens for some of the most exquisite architecture and design. We profile some of the best.
updated 8:39 AM EDT, Wed October 9, 2013
Rubber ducks float upon the Suchitlan lake in Suchitoto, 47kms east from San Salvador in October, 2007.
What have 29,000 plastic toys that fell overboard a cargo ship in 1992 been doing for the last 21 years?
updated 9:40 AM EDT, Fri October 4, 2013
A yacht sails behind a giant Maersk cargo ship at the port of Felixstowe, England.
How are ports adapting to cope with the new generation of giant cargo ships?
updated 7:52 AM EDT, Fri September 27, 2013
London, Beijing or somewhere in the United States: Where is the world's busiest airport? Find out in our detailed infographic.
updated 5:27 AM EDT, Fri September 13, 2013
A ropeway hangs above the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro.
Urban gondolas are offering cheap and effective methods of mass-transportation in some of South America's biggest cities.
updated 5:23 AM EDT, Thu June 27, 2013
The Silk Road was once a series of dusty trails forged by traders traveling between Asia and Europe. Today it takes the form of a bustling railway.
updated 8:49 AM EDT, Wed June 26, 2013
An all new class of container ship, the Triple E is a quarter-of-a-mile long and built from enough steel to construct 8 Eiffel Towers.
updated 7:36 AM EDT, Tue June 18, 2013
Crossrail construction workers stand near to one of the 1,000 tonne tunnel boring machines during a photocall to mark the breakthrough into the Canary Wharf station box in London's docklands area on May 31, 2013.
Take a peek at some of the most exciting travel infrastructure projects currently in the works around the world.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT