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Semarang Old 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:
Central Java
Ref.: 6011

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Semarang is a colonial city par exellence.  Established in 17th century, Kota Lama Semarang is a best preserved colonial city with remarkable testimony of important historical phases of human civilization - in economic, political and social - in the South East Asia and the World. Although it is today a sprawling metropolis of 1.2 million inhabitants, it’s old centre retains a group of buildings  with various architectural styles coming from medieval, baroque and modern style.  It’s unique urban landscape shows a development of a fortified city which is growing in to an international and cosmopolitan port city in it’s age.  There fore it is worth to preserve Kota Lama Semarang, especilly from today’s thread: extensive flooding and land subsidence.

It starts from the establishment of V.O.C. fort that adjacent to the Samarang riverbank. The fort has five bastions, so it is also known as De Vijfhoek. After the fortified wall was demolished in 1824, these site growing up as a modern trade city. The Industrial Revolution also became a trigger to accelerate the development of the region. Simultaneously with the opening of investment program for foreign private firms, causing this ex-fort area became crowded with commercial transactions also loading- unloading activities. The site was dominated by office buildings, warehouses, stores, banks, and foreign consulates. The infrastructure development have also get the attention, such as the widening of Semarang riverbank, setting up a new harbor, and provide the reliable transportation system for public and comodities . The site also connected to harbor directly through railway from Tawang train station on the North side and Jurnatan train station on the South side. During the Gemeente Samarang governor. Slowly, the city had grown up, so that the new development focused on the southern part, so that the former region fortress was known as the Old City/Kota Lama (oudestadt). From the history of the old city area, it can be concluded that Semarang Old Town site has an important and significant role in the early phase of the establishment of the Semarang city.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Semarang Old Town is the location of important point for Semarang city growth. On the site, trading activities involving international cruise lines have been developed since early 20th century. Utilization of steam and gas engines are the common thing at that time. Together with the train stations, ports, Kali Semarang, as well as Chinatown, Kampung Melayu, the site shaped the Semarang region as a whole. There are three key words to understand the Semarang Old City in the early 20th century, there are cosmopolitan, trade, and services. The site also integrated with industrial plants and the natural resources that come from  Central Java. So that it gives the impact of modern culture for all cities in Central Java. Colonial architecture appeared and crossed with local conditions, presents the unique character to the site. All of it is because there has been an obvious aim for directing the site as the center of trade and services in Semarang.

Criterion (ii): Semarang represent exceptional examples of multi-cultural trading towns in Southeast Asia, forged from the mercantile and exchanges of Javanese, Malay, Chinese, and Arabian cultures and Dutch colonial powers for almost 350 years, each with its imprints on the architecture, urban form, and technology and exhibit to exhibit an important interchange of human values in Asia during the early of 19th century.

Founded about 16., Semarang Kota Lama was developed from a fortified city.  During the end of the 17th century, the fortress had to be torn down due to economic growth, especially to accomodate the use of steam locomotif as a mean of transportation to support Semarang which in those days becomes a notable international trading port city.  The use of steam locomotif which brought by the torn down of the fotress had change Semarang Kota Lama which in the 17th century was an introvert city with it’s fortification becomes more open, multicultural and cosmopolit. 

Kota Lama Semarang as a multicultural and cosmopolitan international trade city can be seen through the fact that the city becomes the residence of important business offices during the time.  Namely the central office of Oei Tiong Ham corporation, a Chinese typhoon wellknown as the monopoly holder for opium and sugar trading and important businessman internationally, laid in Westerwallstraat or Kepodang street today.  The corporation was the 1st corporation hires foreigner employee. 

The use of steam locomotif as an important transportation mean to mobilizise comodities from other region of Java led in to existance of Vereeniging voor Spoor-en Tramweg personeel, the 1st labour movement in Indonesia (1918), which is closely related to the estblishment of Indonesian Comunist Party as the 1st Comunist Party in Asia (1921) led by Tan Malaka.  This history shows the richness of Semarang urban development provides a fertile ground for the interchanges of human values in Asia.

Criterion (iv): Semarang reflect a mixture of influences which have created a unique architecture, culture and townscape without parallel anywhere in South East Asia. In particular, they demonstrate an exceptional range of office, warehouse, townhouses, and shop houses. These buildings show many different types and stages of development of the building type, like: Medieval, Baroque and Modern Colonialism. Also became the first location in Southeast Asia for the presence of steam locomotive technology (Brazil, 1852 Chili,1852 - India,1853 - Australia, 1854 Argentina,1857 - Semarang/ Java, 1864)

Founded about 16., Semarang Kota Lama has maintained a remarkable unity of character through it’s adherence to it’s original layout. The lay out of the city is the evidence that in it’s early stage Semarang Kota Lama belongs to the ctiteria of a medieval city with the church as it’s center, a square, a town hall and surrounded by fortification.  As the economic growing the city decorated with baroque style monuments – such as the Imanuel chuch which is nowadays one of most popular land mark of Semarang city, and later on with modern style, namely the central office of Oei Tiong Ham in Westerwallstraat (today Kepodang Street) – a Chinese typhon who played important role in international sugar trading in the early of 19th century.  Interspersed with this mix of baroque and neoclassical style monuments is a homogeneous ensemble of offices and warehouse with arcades, balconies, wrought-iron gates and internal courtyards –many of them evocatively time-worn.  Many of famous artchitets works reside in Kota Lama Semarang, such as: J.P. de Bordes W. Westmass, HP De Wilde, Henry Thomas Karsten and Lim Bwan Tjie.

Due to the remained unchanged urban lay out, the richness of it’s architectural, and the critical interface with technology, Kota Lama Semarang offers a laboratory of urban development for the world and therefore worth to be preserved.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The excavation results of Yogyakarta Archaeological Agency during 2009-2014, inform that the fortified wall was suspected have approximately 2 meters high and 60 centimeters thick. Beside, the deep research in terms of archeology, history, architecture, and related scientific fields is not easy to be done, and still continue to be pursued. One of the efforts of the academic field has been started since 2012, through the International Conference. Through that conference, were collected many of ideas and thoughts for the Old City preservation. In fact, the cultural remains, especially architecture and urban artifacts were visible and still clearly.  According to the City Regulation no. 8 in 2003, the site of Semarang Old City has an area of ​​- / +40 acres. Many of the remains, especially architecture from the colonial period, most of them are still intact. But these buildings are in a vulnerable state. It is about the process that happened more than 50 years, causing material deterioration. Flood and abandonment of the old building give contributed to the damage process. The omission and the theft of the unique elements of the building have accelerated the loss of artifacts in the region. However, the efforts to concern and awaring for the Kota Lama site as the ‘precious’ thing have been stretched in recent years. Such as Old Town festival, community activities, workshop, exhibition, storytelling, etc. The society did not keep silent about the limitedness, many activities are initiated so that significant changes will appear on the site. In fact, the awareness only is still not enough. The serious commitment, and efforts need to be more strategic in giving the effect. So that the expectation of Semarang people could continue to grow and manifest the conservation spirit in correct direction. The approach of cultural science is more advanced, which was then combined with the science of management, in particular Cultural Resource Management or in the international world it is known as the Cultural Resources Management / Archaeological Heritage Management. In support of this theory, then the other sciences go to support the advanced studies such as: urban design, architecture, history, economics, hydrology, environment, conservation engineering, property, community empowerment, and so on.

Comparison with other similar properties

Semarang belongs to the international trading port city network of Asian in the 17th,18th, 19th centuries.  A like with other international port cities: Penang, Vigan, and Batavia, Semarang embrace life style and architecture blend of Asian and Western. However, in contrast to those cities, Semarang shows distinctly it’s strong connection to the earliest development of steam locomotive technology in South East Asia as a transportation mean to support it’s trade.