Photo: Beautiful old buildings.

Museum Bahari (Maritime Museum)

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Indonesia’s maritime trading history literally put the archipelago on the map, and Jakarta’s Museum Bahari (Maritime Museum) focuses on the importance of this age of commerce and discovery as well as traditional seafaring and its significance to the nation referred to as “Tanah Air” literally “the land and the sea”.

The museum occupies historic spice warehouses built by the Dutch East India Company in the 1600s. Sadly on 16 January 2018 a fire ripped through the 17th century heritage buildings and razed much of the fascinating collection. It’s a crying shame, said to have been caused by an electrical short circuit which highlights the general neglect and lack of maintenance in many of Jakarta’s museums. Over 300 years of history up in smoke. Nevertheless, the museum is open to the public and what was salvaged is enough to still warrant a visit.

The museum has all sorts of boats ... big ones ...  Photo taken in or around Museum Bahari (Maritime Museum), Jakarta, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

The museum has all sorts of boats ... big ones ... Photo: Sally Arnold

The museum is about a 15-minute walk from Fatahillah Square in Kota Tua, not far from the entrance to Sunda Kelapa, Jakarta’s historic harbour. As you enter Jalan Parar Ikan, the street where the museum is located, on your right is Menara Syahbandar (Harbourmaster’s Tower). This watchtower was built by the Dutch in 1839 over one of the bastions of the original city wall and served as a harbour guard post, customs office, weather station and lighthouse.

A stone inscription in Chinese suggests (according to the museums signage) that this was at one point Jakarta’s zero kilometre marker (now designated as Monas). Over the centuries the swampy foundations have caused the tower to have a slight southward lean, and locals sometimes refer to it as Menara Miring—Jakarta’s own leaning tower. Your museum ticket includes entry to this area, so don’t forget check out the small buildings here filled with nautical equipment and climb the tower on the way back for a 360º view of old Jakarta from the red painted viewing platform at the top of the building.

... and small ones. Photo taken in or around Museum Bahari (Maritime Museum), Jakarta, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

... and small ones. Photo: Sally Arnold

The long whitewashed double-storey building that houses the remaining collection of the museum sits directly on the narrow street and retains much of its original structure and though the tiled floors are an obvious modern addition, you can almost detect the aroma of spice retained in the massive exposed wooden beams (well at least you can imagine).

Displayed on the ground floor of the museum are full sized traditional boats, massive anchors, cannons, and a delightful flotilla of scale models of Pinisi ships and other traditional vessels, although just sitting on the floor unlabelled, perhaps salvaged from the flames in another section of the museum. Look for the beautiful yellow-sailed model with oars and curled wooden details. If you have time and interest, you can read the informative but very text heavy displays covering Indonesia’s maritime history from prehistoric times to the present.

When all you needed was this much altitude to gaze across Batavia. Photo taken in or around Museum Bahari (Maritime Museum), Jakarta, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

When all you needed was this much altitude to gaze across Batavia. Photo: Sally Arnold

The upper level houses a library in one wing and in the other wing, moth-eaten life-sized dioramas of early Chinese traders, Arabic missionaries and European explorers who have graced the shores. There may have been more in this section, but due to the fire, the power was not working and it was difficult to see in the dark space. The stairs extend to the roof cavity and it is well worth a peek at the ancient structure.

Although the fire was a tragedy, we can hope that the powers that be take the opportunity when renovating to turn this terrific collection into the world-class museum it has the potential to be. Currently it remains mildly interesting, worth a quick look when you are in the area.

The museum is officially open Tuesday to Sunday until 15:00, but when we dropped by they said they would open until 17:00, so you could try your luck if you have left your visit until later in the afternoon. A later stay also offers the opportunity to watch the sunset from the tower.

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Museum Bahari (Maritime Museum)
1 Jalan Pasar Ikan, Jakarta
Tu–Su: 09:00–15:00
T: (0216) 693 406 F: (0216) 690 518;
Admission: 5,000 rupiah

Location map for Museum Bahari (Maritime Museum)

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