A little way down from the Merdeka Palace lies the Banteng Square,
in front of which stands the Ministry of Finance, which was originally built as the Palace for Governor General Daendels. Around the square is the Catholic Church with the century old Sancta Ursula girls school attached. Opposite the Catholic Church is Jakarta’s iconic Istiqlal Mosque.
On Banteng square is the statue symbolizing the liberation of West Papua from Dutch colonialism. From the Banteng Square down the Pejambon street is today the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and nearby the Dutch built grand Imanuel Protestant Church, where opposite stands the Gambir Station.
Further down Jalan Merdeka Selatan comes the Menteng area, which was once the residential area of the Dutch elite. The Menteng area is now a conservation area, where no houses may be altered without special permit, and therefore it remains an upmarket residential part of town where colonial houses with manicured gardens are.
The Istiqlal Mosque
The grand Istiqlal Mosque of Jakarta, was inspired by Indonesia’s first President, Soekarno, but took 17 years in construction. Finally on 22 February 1978, Indonesia’s second President, Soeharto inaugurated it as the country’s national mosque. The Istiqlal mosque is the largest mosque in South East Asia both in structure and capacity, as it can accommodate congregations of up to 120,000 people.
Located at Jalan Taman Wijaya Kusuma in Central Jakarta, on the north eastern corner of the Merdeka Square, the Istiqlal Mosque stands out with its 45m diameter dome and tall minarets.
Standing almost right across the old Catholic Cathedral at the corner of Jalan Lapangan Banteng, the Istiqlal mosque was designed in 1954 by Frederick Silaban, a Christian architect from North Sumatra.
The mosque has a large rectangular prayer hall with a 45 meter diameter dome supported by 12 round columns, and has 4 levels of balconies. Its interior is mostly simple.
In his brief 18 hours visit to Indonesia on 9th and 10th. November 2010, US President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama made a special visit to the Istiqlal mosque.
Later President Obama praised the Istiqlal Mosque as a symbol of religioustolerance which characterizes Indonesia and Indonesians, inspiring the world.
The Catholic Cathedral and Sancta Ursula Girls School
Jakarta’s neo-gothic Roman Catholic Cathedral stands on the north corner of Lapangan Banteng, or Banteng Square which was formerly called Waterlooplein, or Waterloo Square in Central Jakarta. Next to the Cathedral is the hundred years old Sancta Ursula Girls School. Today, the Cathedral stands right across Jakarta’s largest mosque, the Istiqlal Mosque.
Their proximity is no coincidence, since Indonesia’s first president, Soekarno, chose the site on purpose, to symbolize the nation’s philosophy of unity in diversity, where all religions co-exist in peace and harmony.
Today, both establishments continue to cooperate with one another, especially to accommodate the parking of cars during religious festivals. The parking lot of the mosque is used by the church congregationduring Easter and Christmas midnight mass, and vice versa, during Eid prayers, parking is extended to the Cathedral’s parking lot.
The Cathedral was consecrated in 1901 having been rebuilt at the same location where previously stood the old cathedral, which was built in 1829 but collapsed in 1890.Above the church are three wrought iron spires, the two highest are 60 meters tall, while the central spire is 45 meters.The building itself has two floors, with the ground floor being for the holding of mass. The upper floor used to be for the choir, but has now been converted into a museum, which holds relics for rituals during the days of the Dutch East Indies, as also the history of the spread of Catholicism in Indonesia.The Cathedral is still actively used to this day.
Gedung Kesenian Jakarta (Jakarta Performing Art Theater) and Pasar Baru
Gedung Kesenian Jakarta was built in 1821 upon the site of a simple theatre that was constructed during the British interregnum under Governor General Sir Stamford Raffles. At first called the Schouwburg, its first performance was Shakepeare’s Othello.
In the following decades the building was used for different purposes. History notes that in 1926 the National Awakening Movement held their first Kongres Pemoeda, or Youth Congress in this building.
In 1987 it was restored and the building returned to its original purpose as a theatre for concerts and performances. It has a capacity for an audience of 475 persons, and a stage measuring 10.7x14x17 meters.
Opposite Gedung Kesenian is a shopping street known as Pasar Baru, that used to be most popular with the rich Dutch colonial elite. The street that has shops on both sides, is now only open for pedestrians. Most popular in Pasar Baru are the Indian Bombay textile shops, that have sold exclusive Indian textiles for decades.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Gedung Pancasila
Today known as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at Jalan Pejambon, the building is also known as Gedung Pancasila. This is where on 1 June 1945, a month before Indonesia declared her Independence, Soekarno presented his speech entitled: The Birth of Pancasila.
Pancasila are the Five Pillars of State upon which the Indonesian Constitution rests. These are:
- Belief in the One True God,
- A Just and civilized humanity,
- The unity of Indonesia,
- Democracy guided by the inner wisdom in the unanimity arising out of deliberations amongst representatives, and
- Social justice for all the people of Indonesia
This building was constructed in the 1830’s in the classic empire-doric style. It housed the Volksraad or Raad van Indie, the peoples’ representative institution of the time. Between 1942-1945 it housed the Committee for the Preparation of the National Constitution.
The Protestant Immanuel Church
The Protestant Immanuel Church facing Jalan Merdeka Timur and Gambir train station, belongs to one of the oldest churches in Jakarta. Built in 1834, it was designed in neo-classical style during the reign of King Willem I of the House of Orange, and was therefore called the Willemskerk. The dome-shaped church contains an old Dutch organ made in 1843. The church is still in use until today.