Semarang/Little Netherland

Travel Guide Asia Indonesia Java Central Java Semarang Semarang/Little Netherland

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Introduction

Blenduk Church

Blenduk Church

© theo1006

Semarang’s former Dutch business quarter, referred to as Kota Lama (Old Town) or Little Netherland, covers an area of roughly one square kilometre. After Indonesia’s independence the Old Town suffered from neglect and flooding. But since the end of last century much effort has been invested in combating the inundation and making the quarter more attractive. Low-lying roads have been raised, the open space in front of Tawang station has been converted into a recreational area including a fishing pond. Still, when roaming the Old Town, one passes scores of abandoned and dilapidated offices and warehouses. Of one the roof has collapsed, on the roof of another grows a tree, a third one is inhabited by squatters. Most visitors will approach the Old Town from the west, crossing Berok bridge. The following overview of architectural sights is by no means exhaustive.

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Sights and Activities

  • Post Office - Heading for Semarang’s Old Town along Jalan Pemuda, the first historic building one encounters is the Post Office, at 200 metres before one reaches Berok bridge. It is an early 20th century neo-classicist building and still in use for its original purpose. When restored in 1979 it was also painted orange, the corporate color of Pos Indonesia.
  • Gereja Blenduk - Crossing Berok bridge and following Jalan Letjen Suprapto for 300 metres, on the left one finds the church Gereja Blenduk. It is considered the second iconic building of Semarang, after Gedung Lawang Sewu. Originally belonging to the Dutch Reformed Church, it is now owned by Gereja Protestan di Indonesia bagian Barat (the Protestant Church of West Indonesia).
  • Jiwasraya Office - Facing the church is the present office of insurance company Jiwasraya. They are the successor of former Dutch insurer Nillmij, who had the building designed by architect Thomas Karsten. It was inaugurated in 1916 and has been well restored by its present owner.
  • Gedung Marba - One block ahead from the Nillmij office, at Jalan Letjen Suprapto #33, is the characteristic building Gedung Marba, named after successful merchant Mrs. Marta Bajunet who’s office it was. But now it is used for storage only.
  • Jakarta Lloyd Office - When turning left at Berok bridge into Jalan Mpu Tantular at the first turnoff one encounters two offices of former Dutch shipping companies. The one at the southern corner is a creation of famous architect Thomas Karsten and belonged to SMN (Stoomvaart Maatschappij Nederland). Only the facade facing the street has been upgraded; what it looked like previously one can see when one rounds the corner.
  • Pelni Office - On the northern corner facing the Jakarta Lloyd building is the office of shipping company Pelni (Pelayaran Nasional Indonesia). Travellers who still can afford the time to transfer to other islands by boat, can book here. Twice a month a Pelni boat travels from Semarang to and from idyllic Karimunjawa Islands. The large building originally belonged to Dutch KPM (Koninklijke Pakketvaart Maatschappij). Pelni uses only half the building and maintains it well. The other half, with entrance in Jalan Kutilang, is illegally occupied by other companies and in a sorry shape.
  • Menara Syahbandar - Less than 100 metres into Jalan Sleko facing the Jakarta Lloyd Office - in a vacant plot behind a row of shacks - one encounters the ruins of the Menara Syahbandar (Harbour Master's Tower). Once - when the Dutch referred to it as Uitkijk - it served to sight incoming ships and control access to the harbour. Nowadays only the brickwork remains; roof, doors and windows have disappeared.

Koperasi Batik Office - Next to the Pelni Office in Jalan MpuTantular is located the office of the Gabungan Koperasi Batik Indonesia (Union of Indonesian Batik Cooperatives), since the 1930ies. It has been neglected a long time, but efforts are under way to revive it, spearheaded by the Oen Semarang Foundation and Dutch architect Paul de Vroom.

Tawang Station

Tawang Station

© theo1006

  • Tawang Railway Station - A short walk along Jalan Mpu Tantular and turning right along Jalan Tawang brings one to Tawang Railway Station. It is one of Semarang’s two stations, the other one being Poncol Station. In the 19th century the Dutch administration granted licenses to two different railway operators, one for the line between Semarang and Jakarta, and one for the line between Semarang and Surabaya. As a result travellers from Jakarta to Surabaya had to transfer by horse cart between the two stations. The situation was only remedied after the two companies were nationalized. Pay attention to the proportions of the entrance porch in comparison to the building behind it, they are not right. The porch used to be at least a metre higher, but in the 1990ies the whole area including front yard, inner floors, platforms and tracks was raised by landfill to remedy the yearly flooding that interrupted the train service. Yet the marshalling yard half a kilometre east of Polder Tawang has been abandoned. Here, on the corner of Jalan Ronggowarsito and Jalan Pengapon, one can stroll into the disused regional office of the Indonesian Railway Company (PJKA), if one does not care to get wet feet.
  • Cigarette Factory Praoe Lajar - In front of Tawang Station lies an artificial lake named Polder Tawang. The area around it has been upgraded into a recreational promenade. Near the southwest corner of the lake one finds the cigarette factory Praoe Lajar. In colonial times the building belonged to the electricity company ANIEM (Algemene Nederlandsch-Indische Electriciteits-Maatschappij). Praoe Layar means Sailing Ship. The relatively small brand is favoured by Indonesian fishermen.
  • Roman statue - One would not expect to find a statue of a Roman nobleman, half hidden under trees, at the eastern side of Polder Tawang. No, it does not commemorate the conquest of Java by Julius Caesar. It is the creation of local artist Samuel Sinaga, who enjoyed working on it on and off for half a year.
  • Marabunta building - Heading south from Tawang Station past the sluice gates into Jalan Cendrawasih (formerly named Komediestraat) at number 23 one finds the erstwhile theatre building (Dutch stadsschouwburg), now going by the name Marabunta Gedung Multiguna. With the two giant ants on the roof one can’t miss it. But the leaded-glass in the doors is original. By 1990 it had partially collapsed, the foundation weakened by repeated flooding. Fortunately the owner, a foundation of retired military, Yayasan Rumpun Diponegoro, has succeeded in making it at least serviceable. It can be hired for marriage receptions and similar festivities.

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Getting Around

The best way to get around little Netherland is by foot. Alternatively one may hire a becak, and a car may find a parking spot here and there.

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Eat and Drink

For a refreshment or full dinner choose Rumah Makan Ikan Bakar Cianjur, across the road from Gereja Blenduk. Unlike what its name suggests – ikan bakar means grilled fish – its menu covers most of Javanese cuisine, not only fish.

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Sleep

The budget hotel Pelangi Indah is located a few minutes' walk from Tawang Railway Station, convenient for those doing Java by train. In colonial times the building served as office of the internal revenue authority, witness an empty vault with heavy iron door that cannot be closed shut anymore. The amenities are spartan, but cleanliness is spic and span.

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This is version 9. Last edited at 20:53 on Aug 4, 19 by theo1006. 1 article links to this page.

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