UNESCO’s advisory board has deemed Jakarta’s Kota Tua to be unqualified to join its World Heritage list, arguing that the area is, among other reasons, not “unique”.
The board, the France-based International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), said in its report that Kota Tua lacked “integrity and authenticity” as an old town. Many 20th century architectural developments, described as “unsympathetic intrusions” by ICOMOS, “have irreversibly changed the visual appearance and skyline of Kota Tua.”
UNESCO also raised concerns about several future projects, including high-rise developments, the construction of 17 islets through land reclamation in Jakarta Bay, the proposed giant sea wall and the mass rapid transit (MRT) infrastructure.
“Kota Tua is not unique as a harbor city formed by the globalizing trade routes of colonial activities as there are many others, including some which have already been inscribed on the World Heritage List. As a result, ICOMOS considers that the justification provided is not appropriate in relation to the serial property proposed,” the report, released last week, said.
The government responded to the report by immediately withdrawing its proposal for Kota Tua.
“We would not be able to submit another proposal if UNESCO officially decided that Kota Tua could not receive World Heritage status. Therefore, the government decided to withdraw the dossier,” Yunus Arbi, the ministry’s subdirectorate head of world heritage objects, told The Jakarta Post recently.
The government first submitted the nomination dossier for Kota Tua and four outlying islands in Thousand Islands regency, namely Onrust, Kelor, Cipir and Bidadari, to UNESCO in 2015.
However, the proposal was deemed incomplete, so the government submitted a revised proposal last year.
In the proposal, titled “The Age of Trade: Old Town of Jakarta and 4 Outlying Islands”, the government introduced Kota Tua as the city that saw the largest volume of trade in Asia during the “golden age” of trade in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Onrust Island was used as the Dutch East India Company's (VOC) shipyard in 1613, while the other three islands were used for defense, quarantine and prisons for political opponents.
Despite emphasizing the glory days of Kota Tua, only a few tangible objects remained in the area, ICOMOS noted.
The city walls and Batavia Castle had been demolished, while the former’s canals had been converted into streets, the body said.
“On contrary, the contemporary […] Kota Tua contains an impressive ensemble of 20th century interwar buildings, erected for Dutch businesses connected to maritime trade, such as banks, insurance companies, produce brokers, etc” ICOMOS said in the 2018 Evaluations of Nominations of Cultural and Mixed Properties report.
The Jakarta administration has long struggled to manage Kota Tua, given the lack of concrete plans to revitalize the area. Jakarta Gubernatorial Decree No. 26/2014 on the master plan for Kota Tua has yet to provide detailed plans on the project, a factor that has hindered the city administration from thoroughly revitalizing the area.
Jakarta Cultural Heritage Expert Team (TACB) member Candrian Attahiyat said a number of projects in Kota Tua had been developed without proper consideration for history or sustainability.
“For instance, Kali Besar has been turned into a reservoir. This shows that the city administration is not ready to receive World Heritage status from UNESCO,” Candrian said.
Candrian added that the eviction in 2016 of Pasar Ikan residents in Penjaringan, North Jakarta, had destroyed the old walls in the area. He suggested that the city administration and the government also exclude Thousand Islands from the proposal and focus solely on Kota Tua in the future.
Yunus said the mismanagement of the area was caused by a lack of communication between the government, the city administration and private parties.
ICOMOS recommended Indonesia pay “close attention to current investments and revitalization projects for 19th and 20th century architecture in Kota Tua, as these projects need to be guided by heritage conservation concerns in order to preserve, in the long-term, the character of the city”