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Sawahlunto Old Coal Mining Town

Date of Submission: 30/01/2015
Criteria: (ii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of the Republic of Indonesia to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Sawahlunto, West Sumatera
Coordinates: S 0 40 37 874 -0 40 50 221 E 100 46 10 430 -100 46 43 852
Ref.: 6057
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Sawahlunto is the oldest coal mining town in South East Asia. The municipality of Sawahlunto of West Sumatera is geographically located in a narrow-isolated valley along the Bukit Barisan mountain range. The Town itself is surrounded by several hills, namely Bukit Polan, Bukit Pari, and Bukit Mato. At the end of the 19th century, Dutch Indies had discovered and further exploited coal in Sawahlunto. Since then, this rural area developed and become a mining site.

Since the 18th century, invention of steam engine technology in West Europe has been applied in various activities of Industrial Revolution. Dutch Indies has conducted and mapped coal deposit from various places in their colony, the first location being Pengaron, Kalimantan. Unfortunately the quality of coal did not meet the requirements. In 1858, Dutch Indies discovered coal deposits about 200 million ton in the Sawahlunto valley. Those huge deposits could be used to support various activities such as industry, train and railway systems and shipping.      

Exploiting coal and mining in has rapidly expanded transport networks in Sawahlunto, from the remote area to the outer world. The railway network was used for transporting coal from the Sawahlunto to the west coast of Sumatera. In 1883, Dutch Indies build the Emmahaven Harbor (known as Teluk Bayur in) and it became the shipping harbor for coal exports, using S.S. Sawahlunto and S.S. Ombilin-Nederland steamship. In 1887-1892, they began to construct railways from Pulau Air Padang to Muaro Kalaban and from this station the road goes up to the Sawahlunto area.

Coal mining has significantly turned the Sawahlunto rural landscape into an industrial site. During its development at 19th century, mining enterprise devise the Sawahlunto mining site into five spatial activities as follows (I) coal mine industry, (II) commercial and trading area, (III) settlement area, (IV) administrative area, and (V) health utilities.

In carrying out the coal mining industry, the Dutch enterprise employed miners and mining experts from their colonial area. The enterprise used prisoners as forced labor, the Orang Rantai, and unskilled low-wage labor from Java, Bugis, Madurese, and Batak as well as Chinese (from the Singapore labor market).

Two centuries of coal mining operation have blended different layers of culture interaction from the East and West, reflected in the present society, culture, traditions, and the town spatial plan itself.  Several of heritage features still exist up to present. Approaching 2000, the production of coal mining decreased and Bukit Asam Company officially closed the mining activities. This decision had a big impact on the people who were likely to lose their livelihoods and might threaten the historic features of Sawahlunto. In facing challenges of the abandonment of mining town, the mayor states the municipal vision of Sawahlunto to become Kota Wisata Tambang yang Berbudaya, A Cultural Tourism Mining Town.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Sawahlunto shackled valley was transformed into a mining town during the 19th century by the influence of global industrial revolution development. This area played an important role as key contribution to the economic and social development in Central Sumatera and throughout the world. The Dutch Indies established systemic linkage (coal mining industry, train system and harbor) to ensure the distribution of industrial transportation infrastructure. This establishment shows a good example of a rapid regional development on the global economic growth. Its outstanding survival, in coherent series of distinctive collieries landscape, is a testimony of its heritage features of associated by-product processing and colliery housing and worker settlement institutions. It is also a living testimony of a diverse culture and tradition of the Minang, the Javanese, the Bugis, the Madurese, the Batak as well as the Chinese. The cultural interaction between eastern and western, transform this remote area into remarkable dynamics urban mining pattern.

Criterion (ii): Sawahlunto known as the oldest colliery site in Southeast Asia and this property represents an important stage of the evolution of world collieries, particularly the expansion of European colliery industry to the eastern part of the world. Coal mining industrial in Sawahlunto has given human values for the peoples around the mining site. For instance, health facility for the mining worker and officers over span of time had become one of the biggest hospitals in Central Sumatera. This place indeed also represents a place of cultural exchange that has assimilated technology exchanges and condenses all the aspects of mining heritage of Sawahlunto area. For the first time, Dutch Indies creates special compounds for miner workers settlement that came from various areas in East-Indies (now Indonesia) and the Chinese from Singapore labor market.  

Criterion (iv): The area shows significant structure of urban pattern that integrate the needs of industrial activities. The concentrated zone has also adapted to the local condition and culture. The characters can be seen through the heritage of mining features particularly the support facilities such as public kitchen, health utilities, workers settlement, and administration office. Since late 19th century up to 2008, the arrangement of the area still intact. Over the century, the Sawahlunto give a contribution to the regional development of Central Sumatera and industrial revolution development around the world.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Integrity: The area within the Sawahlunto mining site has set redistribution of wealth for social welfare and multi-facetted culture of the movement of people and the interaction of cultural groups. The heritage features such as mining tunnel Mbah Soero, housing of labor and mining employees (Tangsi Baru and Tanah Lapang), coal filtering (sizing plant), railway, government office, settlement, health facility and coal mining office are well protected by the municipal authority - regional regulation related to the management of archaeological property in Municipal of Sawahlunto (number 6 year 2007) and at national level through law on cultural heritage (number 11 year 2010). Presently, some of the mining features have been abandoned since the mining activities stopped in 2000. And this condition might be vulnerable to the integrity of the property.

Authenticity: Since the establishment of Sawahlunto as a coal mining site in the remote valley, the colliery landscape is still preserved in its identity as mining town. Although it is officially closed, the mining infrastructure and facilities are still in its functional use at small scale. The authenticity of the property is still reflected in a small scale activity of the Sawahlunto coal mining. Referring to the ICOMOS’s International Collieries Studies (Stephen Hughes, 2002), collieries are important because of their functional use. In Sawahlunto itself, this functional use is part of a mechanism or infrastructure that has maintained and modified, or renewed in order to maintain the primary function of an operational colliery. The main stakeholders, namely the Pemerintah Kota Sawahlunto (municipal authority), P.T. Bukit Asam (Tambang Batubara Bukit Asam Persero Tbk, owner of mining infrastructure), and P.T. Kereta Api Indonesia (The Indonesian Railways Co., major operator of public railways in Indonesia), commits to work collaboratively for preserving the authenticity of the Sawahlunto Old Mining Town.

Comparison with other similar properties

One of coal mining sites that have similarity with Sawahlunto Old Mining Town is Major Mining Sites of Wallonia (Belgium) in 19th-20th centuries. This site has similarities in mining infrastructure and labor recruiting. As a mining coal site, Sawahlunto has complete and intact infrastructures in urban planning and structure, architecture style influence (De Indische Empir Stijl), landform and multi-facette culture.

Based on ICOMOS’s International Collieries Studies on criteria applied to major sites and monuments, Sawahlunto Old Mining Town meets categories of large colliery complexes for instance Chatterley-Whitfield Colliery, United Kingdom and Zollern 2-4 Colliery, Germany.