What to see around National Monument, Jakarta, Indonesia
Colloquially, it’s known as ‘Sukarno’s Last Erection’. The enormous 137 metre high obelisk in the centre of Jakarta is officially called ‘The National Monument’ and is the most famous building in Indonesia’s capital city.
Construction began in 1961 on the orders of the country’s first president, Sukarno, but wasn’t opened until 1975, five years after his death – hence the nickname.
It was built to commemorate Indonesia’s fight for independence from the colonialist Dutch who effectively ruled most of the archipelago for more than three centuries.
For visitors to Jakarta, this is a good place to begin any tour of the city. Not only does the monument itself represent the emergence of modern Indonesia and Jakarta but the buildings around it give an excellent insight into the history and culture of the country.
To help you get the most out of your time in Jakarta, I’ve put together a list of some of the main sights to see in this central part of the city. It’s easy to spend a morning or afternoon here, away from the hectic streets.
It’s hard to miss the National Monument, towering over central Jakarta and within easy view of some of the city’s main roads. The lower platform is 17 metres high and the obelisk on it is another 118 metres. At the top is a sculpture of flames covered in 50 kilograms of gold foil.
It’s worth getting up close to the monument as well as taking in the whole thing from a distance.
In the base of the National Monument is a museum of dioramas showing Indonesia’s history from prehistoric days through to the 1970s. Another room displays important icons for the country including a flag, map and replica of the proclamation of independence.
It is also possible to get to the top of the monument in an elevator for incredible views across Jakarta.
The National Monument is set in the middle of Merdeka Square, a large paved plaza which, at one square kilometre in area, is one of the largest squares in the world.
Merdeka Square is often used for large events like military parades and demonstrations. But even on days when nothing is happening, there is plenty of activity for visitors to see.
It’s used by local groups as a space for sporting and cultural activities and some evenings there are markets or festivals.
It’s impossible to visit the National Monument without passing through Merdeka Square but try to treat it as a sight in itself, rather than just a thoroughfare, and you’ll see a glimpse of local recreation.
National Museum of Indonesia
Across the road on the eastern side of Merdeka Square is the impressive National Museum of Indonesia. The building was opened in 1868 and is an excellent example of the grand public architecture of the colonial period.
Inside, though, is a thorough cultural examination of the indigenous cultures of the country’s archipelago.
The National Museum has exhibits on the traditions and lifestyles of people across the diverse collection of islands that make up the country. It shows examples from ancient times through to the colonial days – although the emphasis is definitely on anthropological artefacts.
You could easily spend the entire day in the museum if you wanted to see everything but an hour or two will still give you a comprehensive understanding of the traditional side of the country’s different communities.
The Merdeka Palace is the official residence of the President of Indonesia and is on the other side of the northern border of Merdeka Square. It was built in 1879 by the Dutch authorities as an administrative centre and residence for their Governors-General.
The palace is only open on special weekends and visitors have to register in advance. For most visitors, it will only be possible to see the palace from the outside.
Be careful because much of the road around it is restricted and guards will shout at you if you walk too close.
Just northwest of Merdeka Square is the Istiqlal Mosque, the largest place of Islamic worship in Southeast Asia. Indonesia is the most populous Muslim nation in the world and so this mosque is an extremely important site in the country.
The mosque can hold up to 200,000 people during the most important religious events of the year. Although it is not as ornately decorated as some other Islamic buildings around the world, the sheer size and subtle design is quite spectacular.
It is possible for tourists to visit the mosque. You’ll need to sign in at the entrance and will be given a short guided tour. Although this is offered for free, your guide will probably ask for a tip at the end.
Although about 90 per cent of Indonesians identify themselves as Muslim, the country is relatively tolerant and the state recognises four other main religions.
Almost 10 per cent of the country is Christian although the majority are Protestants. Catholicism arrived in Indonesia with the Portuguese who began trading with locals in the 16th century.
The Jakarta Cathedral is directly opposite the Istiqlal Mosque and its prominent position and size is testament to the diversity and tolerance of Indonesian society. It was opened in 1901 and is designed in the Neo-Gothic style.
It is open to visitors and is worth popping into when you visit the mosque across the road.
Time Travel Turtle was a guest of Garuda Indonesia but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.