Kota Tua set to become UNESCO World Heritage site

Kota Tua set to become UNESCO World Heritage site
FatFatahillah Museum stands as the iconic building of the Kota Tua historical complex.

A long-term plan has been drawn up to get the historical Kota Tua complex in the northern area of Jakarta included on the UNESCO World Heritage List by 2017.

"We have the full support of the governor of Jakarta [Basuki Tjahja Purnama]; he told us to give it our utmost for the next three years," said Lin Che Wei, CEO of both the Jakarta Old Town Revitalization Corp (JOTRC) and the Jakarta Endowment For Arts and Heritage (Jeforah), during a press conference in Jakarta on Feb. 3.

The event was to announce that Kota Tua had advanced to the next stage of the World Heritage List application process; it is now among the nine sites named in Indonesia's Tentative List, along with places like the Trowulan archeological site in East Java.

Barring any problems, they will follow the subsequent selection process by submitting the necessary paperwork and information for the annual session of the World Heritage Committee in mid-2017.

Kota Tua is considered ground zero of the city of Jakarta that we know today. The city was built on the ruins of a smaller town named Jayakarta, which was taken over by Dutch colonialists during the 16th century. The Dutch named their new city Batavia.

The 1.3-square-kilometer area of Kota Tua that is left today is the core of Batavia - a roughly square complex located near the sea and divided down the middle by the Ciliwung River.

A visit to Kota Tua gives one an idea of what the town was like as plenty of the buildings are still standing; some have badly deteriorated, while others have undergone renovation and been converted for modern use - coffee shops, museums, galleries and offices - while preserving the colonial look of the architecture.

With such a high historical value, JOTRC and Jeforah, together with trading company PT Perusahaan Perdagangan Indonesia (PPI) and the local government, have formed a joint effort to preserve Kota Tua and revitalise it into a sustainable cultural-tourism destination; one part of their master plan is to get Kota Tua included on UNESCO's World Heritage List.

The project has raised the question as to why a complex built by the Dutch, whose colonisation of Indonesia is usually described as having brought only pain and suffering to the locals, is worth being preserved.

Wei, a Catholic Indonesian of Chinese descent, and hence with every reason to oppose the project given that the Dutch, who were majority Protestant, massacred Chinese people and enslaved many Indonesians, provided a thoughtful answer. He acknowledged the huge number of victims of imperialism in the town, but said that during its heyday Kota Tua stood as a symbol of multiculturalism.

Wei sees Kota Tua as the embodiment of the nation's motto of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (unity in diversity) as people from various races lived in the community of Kota Tua centuries ago. Although this utopia did not last long, the legacy of its historical value itself is worth preserving among other reasons.

"For me that [historical value and symbol of multiculturalism] is all about the outstanding universal value that the UNESCO World Heritage List is based upon," he said.

As of 2014, the list had 1,007 entries; Indonesia currently has eight sites inscribed, such as Borobudur Temple, Prambanan Temple, Sangiran archeological site, the Subak farming system, Komodo National Park, Ujung Kulon National Park, Lorentz National Park and the tropical rainforests in Sumatra.

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