Defining a nation?
Published/Last edited or updated: 3rd July, 2018
Indonesia’s National Monument, abbreviated to Monas, (yep that’s Mon-umen Nas-ional) is a symbol of the nation’s struggle for independence. The towering gold flame-topped white marble obelisk extends from a square plinth in the heart of Lapangan Merdeka (Freedom Square), the geographical centre of the city.
The project was conceived by Sukarno, the first President of Indonesia, to inspire nationalism in the new republic with a symbol that would “rival the Eiffel Tower”. After two failed attempts of finding a suitable design via architecture competitions, Sukarno himself in collaboration with architect Friedrich Silaban, an enthusiast for the International Style who had designed the nearby Istiqlal Mosque, designed the monument.
The design is based on the linga-yoni, an ancient Shaivite Hindu symbol (a nod to Indonesia’s past and Sukarno’s ancestry) representing creation and regeneration, the feminine and the masculine, although in the case of Monas, it’s the masculine phallic tower that is most memorable (also perhaps a nod to Sukarno). The numeric dimensions of the monument are also symbolic and refer to the date of Indonesia’s declaration of independence, 17 August 1945—you can count 17/8/45 as the basis of just about every measurement of the design. The “yoni” (feminine) base is 45 metres square with a central 17 metre square section, and the museum below, 80 metres square while the “linga” towers 117.7 metres above with the distance from the viewing platform to the peak of the flame another 17 metres.
Our guide mentioned that originally 35 kilos of gold leaf coated the bronze flame, but on the 50th anniversary of independence another ten kilos were added. This kind of numeric symbolism is common in many Indonesian designs—you can also see it in Silaban’s Istiqlal Mosque and the Indonesian coat-of-arms. Construction of the project began in 1961 and took a staggering 14 years before it was completed under President Suharto, Sukarno’s successor.
The monument is topped by an observation platform with great views of seemingly endless Jakarta and on the rare clear day you can see Gunung Salak and the Thousand Islands in the distance. Beneath is a diorama-filled museum which offers a short history of Indonesia—assisted by the heavy hand of political propaganda—in around 50 panels. The history lesson is continued in the outer courtyard with cement reliefs of monumental events.
To visit the monument you first have to find the entrance, and at Monas this is no easy feat as evidenced by the numerous tourists walking around the monument’s perimeter looking for it. The entrance is located 45 metres (note the number) from the northern perimeter fence of the monument and requires you to descend some poorly signed stairs into a tunnel where you purchase your entry tickets then climb back up inside the enclosure to visit the museum, wander around and marvel at the sheer size of the erection or join the long queue for the lift to the top.
It can be a considerable wait to visit the observation platform (one hour for us on a quiet day), so do this before you see the museum as queues build quickly. Bring water, but if you have forgotten, vending machines are available in the museum below. The views over Jakarta are impressive, but you may want to weigh up just how much of an impression verses wait time (best avoided on weekends), and you may be better off finding a rooftop bar with city views instead.
As a tourist attraction, Monas is somewhat underwhelming (although we do love a diorama and a view), and the monument can be admired from afar, but the surrounding park with a multitude of sellers, picnicking families, political rallies and general hubbub of people hanging out and relaxing is an interesting window into the heart of Indonesian life.
The ticketing system requires you to purchase a “Jak Card” for 10,000 rupiah and have a minimum balance of 20,000 rupiah, so you pay 30,000 rupiah, however the actual entry fees are 5,000 rupiah for the lower level plus an additional 10,000 rupiah if you wish to catch the lift to the top, less for students and kids. The remain 15,000 rupiah on your card can’t be refunded, but can be used on the TransJakarta Busway and for entry to Jakarta History Museum, Museum Wayang and Fine Art and Ceramic Museum at Kota Tua (too bad if you have already visited these museums).
Address: Central Jakarta–best place to enter is from behind Gambir train station
Coordinates (for GPS): 106º49'37.23" E, 6º10'30.93" S
See position in Apple or Google Maps: Apple Maps | Google Maps
Admission: 5,000 rupiah plus 10,000 rupiah for the lift, though you’ll end up paying 30,000 rupiah.
Sally spent twelve years leading tourists around Indonesia and Malaysia where she collected a lot of stuff. She once carried a 40kg rug overland across Java. Her house has been described as a cross between a museum and a library. Fuelled by coffee, she can often be found riding her bike or petting stray cats. Sally believes travel is the key to world peace.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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