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The Maritime Museum: the Most Historically Important Site of Old Batavia


The maritime museum was established in the 1970s in former VOC warehouses near the harbour canal at the mouth of the Ciliwung River. It occupies the most historically important site of old Batavia: Here it all started, here the costly spices were stored before being transshipped to Europe; here all visitors and goods from abroad came ashore and passed the no longer existing Stadswaterpoort, the city’s waterfront gate.

"Bastion Culemborg in the 1840s by C.W.M. van de Velde” Showing the Signal Tower, built in 1839, with the time ball on the roof at the left side of the building. The second Lookout Tower was not yet built. On the far right are seen the VOC warehouses, now the Maritime Museum. The big trees in the middle of the drawing are at the site of the former Stadswaterpoort or entrance gate to the city from the sea, dismantled in the early 19th century

The museum consist of two parts, the VOC Westzijdse Pakhuizen (west-side warehouses) and the bastion Culemborg, part of the town’s former fortifications. In front of the warehouses runs one of the last remaining parts of the former city wall.

The VOC warehouses, dating from the second half of the 17th century, were built according to a standard design with brick walls and two floors supported by heavy teak beams. They were renovated several times; the last time in the 1970s before the museum was established here.

On the ground floor is information about the history of shipping and boat building, ship models, navigation instruments, and an interesting maquette of this part of the town showing the Batavia Castle and other 17th century landmarks projected on the present city plan.

“Chinese inscription”: The Chinese inscription on the floor of the Signal Tower: On the left: survey office On the right: origin of longitude (Picture copied from A, Heuken, 2007, Historical Sites of Jakarta, page 38)

The upper floor is very different. Here tribute is paid to important people who came to Jayakarta/Batavia with life-size models of the Chinese pilgrim Faxian, admiral Cheng Ho, Arab and Indian traders, the Portuguese, Cornelis de Houtman, and so on. Samples of spices are also shown. Another room has similar life-size displays of more legendary figures like the goddess of the South Sea and even the Flying Dutchman. The warehouses in the back show more ship models, instruments, and several real prahus. The latest addition is a library where visitors can browse through books, magazines and photo albums.

“Bastion Culemborg at present”. Behind the Signal Tower stands the higher Lookout tower, built in the early 1850s.

Bastion Culemborg: Greenwich on the Ciliwung

In the first half of the 19th century, when the bastion served no military purposes anymore, two towers were erected here for communication by flags and signboards with ships anchored at sea. Following the example of Greenwich, the first tower, built in 1839, housed sophisticated clocks and a time signal consisting of a red ball on top of the roof. This allowed ships to adjust their own clocks, required for navigation at sea. The second, higher tower served to exchange other information, and is now open to the public. From the top one has a magnificent view over this part of Jakarta and the Sunda Kelapa harbour with the traditional wooden Pinisi ships that still serve the inter-island trade

When later in the 19th century topographic mapping of the archipelago required an origin or prime meridian for longitude determination, it was only logic that the meridian running through the time signal was selected. Only at the end of the 19thcentury was the Greenwich meridian universally accepted as the prime meridian, but right up to 1942 all topographic maps of the Dutch Indies show the Batavia longitude in addition to Greenwich longitude. On the floor of the tower a 19th century Chinese stone inscription commemorates the location of the prime meridian.

Both parts are very interesting for adults and children alike to learn more about Jakarta’s maritime history.

Maritime Museum (Museum Bahari)

Opening hours: 9AM – 5PM (Tuesday-Sunday, Closed on Monday for maintenance)
Jl. Pasar Ikan No. 1
North Jakarta 14440
Ticket price: IDR 5,000 for adults, IDR 2,000 for children
Phone: +62 21 669 2476