This once-grand historic district dates back to 1619. Locals know it as Kota Tua, which literally means ‘old city.’ During the 16th-19th centuries, the area was established as the de facto capital of the Dutch East Indies due to its strategic location within the spice trade industry in the archipelago.
Back then it was dubbed ‘The Jewel of Asia’ and ‘Queen of the East’ by European sailors as it was renowned for its picturesque Dutch colonial houses and tropical tree-lined streets.
However, like an extinguished flame, the splendour has long faded today, and the formerly-magnificent buildings are but mere crumbs of what they once were.
Dilapidated structural skeletons are all that remain of the many colonial buildings that once peppered the area. The crumbling forms have given the district an apocalyptic makeover. Disfigured edifices now blight the landscape, the byproduct of splitting masonry and twisted interior support beams.
Walls that used to be ornately stuccoed have become nothing but powder. Beams of sunlight shoot through cracks to form natural skylights, while shadows from shattered glass windows and fractured walls create Rorschach tests around the interiors. Having given way to decay and decomposition, nature has taken over many of the buildings, with new trees and vines seeping into and out of walls and rooftops, as leaking water brings a new soundtrack to the interiors.
Seeking to wipe away the embarrassment of 350 years of Dutch rule, the striking buildings have been left to deteriorate into a state of disrepair, some of which have long passed their chance of ever being rehabilitated.
In addition, many of the buildings are possessed by state-owned enterprises and, with no financial incentive to restore or look after them, many have been left to disintegrate.
However, not all is doom and gloom. In the last decade various officials have made attempts to protect and refurbish the buildings.
The current governor, Joko Widodo (known in some circles as “Indonesia’s Obama”), is slowly making headway in his plans to make Jakarta into a cultural tourism hub.