Gedung Lawang Sewu, “the building with a thousand doors”, is THE iconic building of Semarang. The complex was constructed in phases from 1904 to 1919 and served as head office of the Dutch East Indies Railway Company (“Nederlandsch Indische Spoorweg Maatschappij”) until 1942. In that year the Japanese invaders took over the buildings and used the basement as a prison, where several prisoners were executed. In October 1945 Gedung Lawang Sewu was the scene of the five-day “Battle of Semarang” between Indonesian independence fighters and Japanese soldiers who refused to surrender. Six railway employees died in the battle and are commemorated by a monument in the yard.
After the Dutch relinquished sovereignty the Indonesian army as well as the Department of Transportation used the complex before it was returned to the Indonesian Railway Company. By then it was in a state unfit for use as a head office. The buildings stood empty for decades, and that is how Theo knew them in the 1970-ies. Unfortunately we do not have any pics of that time. It is said that a daughter of dictator Suharto intended to convert Gedung Lawang Sewu into a hotel, but these plans came to nothing because of Suharto's fall from power.
The decaying buildings attracted lots of tourists, domestic and foreign. For a small entrance fee one could roam through them from cellar to loft. Not surprising considering its history, Gedung Lawang Sewu is believed to be haunted. Adventurous youngsters dared each other to stay a night in the basement. One could even buy blurred photo's of the “ghosts”. In 2007 an Indonesian horror movie was shot on the site.
But there is good news in the end. By 2009 the Railway Company with support of the provincial government had developed a master plan for restoring and utilizing Gedung Lawang Sewu. Our photo's from June 2009 show the street-facing walls newly whitewashed - that was all the work having been done at the time. Three years later two of the four units in the compound have been fully restored.
The main L-shaped building “A” - the first one to be constructed from 1904 until 1907, that determines the status as landmark - had its leaking roof thoroughly repaired. Cracked tiles of ancient Dutch manufacture have been replaced by locally produced replicas. Missing doors have been replaced, electric lighting been refitted, and so on.... The two towers stand shining white again, but have not been put to their original purpose; they hold big water containers that used to provide running water to the building.
Building “A” is now closed to the public, awaiting to be put to good use: library, commercial exhibition centre, railway museum. A smaller building “C” at the back has also been restored. It houses a display on the restoration work and the office of the site manager.
At present an inventory is under way on the work that needs to be done on the I-shaped building “B”, which was added from 1916 to 1918. For one thing, its basement is flooded due to seeping ground water.
See more pics, before and after restoration, in the travelogues.
Open: 7am to 9pm.
Admission: Adults Rp 10,000, children and students Rp 5,000.
The former Dutch business quarter of Semarang is nowadays referred to as “Little Nederand” because of its many buildings dating back to colonial times. Unfortunately most of these are in a sorry state of delapidation, though some have been nicely restored.
Our pics with this tip show some of the latter. For an impression of the ruins we refer to the travelogue Roaming the Old Dutch Town. Our overview is by no means exhaustive. Following our itinerary undoubtedly your fancy will be drawn by others.
We propose the following walk. Start at Berok bridge, which is generally considered as the entrance gate of the old Dutch quarter. If you came through Jalan Pemuda, you just passed the well maintained Post Office.
Across the bridge turn north into Jalan Mpu Tantular. At the first corner on your right is the office of Jakarta Lloyd shipping company, evidently deserted. At the other corner of Jalan Kutilang is the office of another shipping company, Pelni. It is occupied and in better shape.
Before heading north cross the street into Jalan Tiang Bendera for the ruins of the State Gas Company office (travelogue). Back on Jalan Mpu Tantular going north you find another deserted office, of the Indonesian Batik Cooperatives (travelogue), next to the Pelni office.
At the next corner turn right into Jalan Kasuari, then right again into Jalan Branjangan. Here are several deserted warehouses, one of these belonged to G Moppenstedt (travelogue).
Next take Jalan Garuda on your left, and after that the second left, Jalan Kampung Perkutut 1. At the end of this street you get Tawang station in sight. On the corner left is the nicely restored cigarette factory Pabrik Rokok Praoe Lajar.
Head north toward Tawang station. Having seen its waiting hall follow the bank of the Tawang basin to the sluice gates, then go east along Jalan Taman Tawang. At the end of this you face the recently deserted regional office of the Indonesian Railways (travelogue). Behind it is a large flooded area. Retrace your steps to the Tawang Basin. On the corner facing the sluice gates is another ruined building (travelogue), next to it Hotel Pelangi Indah, formerly a tax office.
From the sluice gates walk south into Jalan Cendrawasih, formerly named Komediestraat, after the erstwhile theatre buiding on number 23. Before reaching this you pass by what looks like a pavilion in an overgrown garden (travelogue).
At next crossing turn right into main street Jalen Letnan Jenderal Suprapto. Walking along you pass the traffic police station on your left, and then have another deserted office building on your right (travelogue). Next on your left, number 33, characteristic Gedung Marba, named after rich merchant mrs Marta Bajunet who had the office built. But now it is used for storage only. Then on your right famous and well-restored Gereja Blenduk, formerly of the Dutch Reformed Church, now in use by the Gereja Protestan di Indonesia bagian Barat.
You may want to have a peek into Samarang antique shop across the street from the church. Next you cannot miss the office of insurance company Jiwasraya, who inherited the building from Nillmij, the foremost insurer in the Dutch era.
By then you may be in need of a refreshment at Rumah Makan Ikan Bakar Cianjur, before reaching Berok bridge at the end of the street.
Pelni, short for Pelayaran Nasional Indonesia, is the biggest shipping company providing transport between Indonesia's many islands. Those with time on their hands or unwilling to fly to e.g. Kalimantan, Maluku or Papua eventually end up in a Pelni office.
The Pelni office building in Semarang originally belonged to Pelni's predecessor in colonial times, the KPM, Koninklijke Pakketvaart Maatschappij (Royal Shipping Company, since 1888). The building went over to Pelni after the government of the Republic of Indonesia in 1957 decided to nationalize Dutch assets in the country.
We walked to the ticket counter expressing an interest in seeing the building. “You are welcome, just go upstairs and report at the office.” There we were assigned a guide, Pak Sebastian. He took us all over the vast building, and explained why half of it is in bad repair. “That half is legally ours, but it is being used by Semarang Veem (Semarang Warehousing), and we cannot get them out. So naturally we don't spend money on it.” He could not tell when the building was constructed or who the architect was.
A must-see of ancient Dutch architecture - but unfortunately the interior only by appointment - is the “Marabunta Gedung Multiguna”. That is its present name for the marabunta (giant ants) on the roof, which are a later addition.
The original function of the building was as town theatre, probably since 1854. Here the Dutch colonial elite diverted themselves with comedies - indigenous people were not admitted of course.
After the Japanese occupation and independence war the building was in a bad shape. The military had taken possession and a first restauration was completed in 1956. A plaque states that it was inaugurated by Colonel Soeharto, then commander of the Diponegoro division (later president).
But that restauration did not last long. The foundations of the building were weakened by frequent inundations, and it partially collapsed in 1990.
Another restauration was necessary, for which as much as possible original materials were used, which had been salvaged by a fan of monumental buildings. Since May 31, 2006, the former theatre can be hired for marriage receptions and similar festivities. For reservations call 087832081932 or 024.3517754.
The “MGM” building is still owned by a foundation of retired military, Yayasan Rumpun Diponegoro. From the outside one can admire the characteristic canopy, the leaded glass windows, the wrought iron stairs, and the garuda bird sculptures (likely not original).
There are two railway stations in Semarang, Tawang and Poncol. Train travelers from abroad will be most likely get to know Tawang, because all executive and business class trains depart from Tawang, whereas economy trains depart from Poncol station.
Tawang station will soon celebrate its 100th birthday; its inauguration took place on June 1, 1914. It was conceived as a terminus for the line to Solo operated by the Dutch East Indies Railway Company (NIS, Nederlandsch Indische Spoorweg Maatschappij). Poncol station was not connected by rail with Tawang station, as it was operated by a different company, the Semarang-Cirebon Steam-tram Company (SCS). This was very inconvenient for passengers with an onward destination and even more cumbersome for the transportation of goods. It was the Japanese invaders who in 1942 linked the two stations.
The station still looks much like it was when newly built, except for one thing: it has become lower - or rather, it now stands deeper in the ground! The problem was flooding. The station was built in a marsh, that the Dutch converted into a polder. But the marsh became a built-up area and water management was neglected. As a result the station and tracks were flooded ever so often in the rainy season. To tackle the problem the level of the soil, tracks and all, has been raised several times, up to 1.5 metres in total. Fortunately the station was built with high ceilings. But look at the central building - the proportions are wrong, the porches are too low.....
In front of the station lies an artificial lake, meant as a basin to temporarily store surplus rain water. A nice promenade runs around the basin. But what with the basin being fed by an open sewer, what we saw was a lake of a stinking green soup.
Semarang's China Town - Pecinan in Javanese - should be discovered walking. And best set out early, because the day becomes hot in Semarang. Also by noon the market in Gang Baru closes. Because of frequent reconstruction little remains of the Chinese architecture with typical gables; one has to search for them. The atmosphere is still that of a busy merchant quarter.
We set out from Hotel Semesta, walking east along Jalan KH. Wahid Hasyim (formerly named Jalan Kranggan). Here are the gold shops, actually still outside the Chinese quarter, because the entrance gate is at the eastern end of the street.
Through the gate one enters Gang Warung. We recommend to turn into the first narrow street on the right, called Gang Baru, which is the market street. At the end of Gang Baru you run into one of the nine temples (klenteng) in the area; a temple often 'secures' a road ending in a T-crossing. Here turn left and follow Jalan Wot Gandul; number 12 is a well-preserved house dating from 1850, which has made it into the book ¨Chinese Houses of Southeast Asia” by Ronald G. Knapp. Farther on the same street is called Gang Pinggir. At Gang Pinggir number 31 is the office of Rasa Dharma (or Boen Hian Tong), the association that organizes social and cultural activities in the Chinese quarter. Gang Pinggir ends at a bridge across Kali Semarang (a smelly open sewer!). Follow its right bank, Gang Lombok, to Tay Kak Sie temple, the main one of the quarter. Here you can have a refreshment at the food court.
Retrace your steps across the bridge and turn right into Gang Warung, then left to see the house at Gang Besen number 12, an original Chinese house that they were restoring when we visited. In Gang Warung 110-112 you may have an early lunch at restaurant Tio Ciu 77, one of many in Pecinan. At the western end of Gang Warung you are back at the gate.
Roaming the narrow streets of Semarang's Pecinan we spotted this original Chinese house. One of very few (or the only one?) remaining. Some labourers were busy with restoration work, and let us look around.
There was no furniture in the house, except for a finely carved wooden statue of an angry deity in the front room. The inner court featured a tiled bathhouse, water being pumped from a well.
On the facade was a board saying: “Barokah Chinese Food, Halal” which would indicate that the house served as a restaurant. But the labourers said: "that was only put there for shooting a movie". So we wonder what the house will be used for when it has been restored and whether it will be open to the public.
If you are lucky there is a meeting or an exhibition going on at Gang Pinggir number 31, the seat of the association Rasa Dharma, Chinese name Boen Hian Tong. The association organizes many of the community activities and celebrations in Semarang's China town. We once saw here an exhibition in honour of the late president Wahid Hasyim (nicknamed Gus Dur).
Lately we found the main door closed, but were invited in through a side door at the right (when facing the building). The ladies in attendance were very pleased with our interest in the Chinese community, and let us make these photo's.
The association was founded in 1876 and has used the building since. On the ground floor is the meeting and exhibition room, as well a shrine dedicated to the founders. Upstairs is an altar for the Chinese deities Long Kun Ta, Kuan Yin, and others.
This main temple in Semarang's Chinese quarter is a must-see. It is located at a square near Semarang river, which is the centre for festivities like Chinese new year. The temple dates from 1771, when it was built in a chili garden, hence the name of the street: Gang Lombok.
The temple is always open to visitors. Burn an incense stick or two at one of the altars, who knows what it will bring you. One can also admire the artwork of an adjacent building used for funeral rituals.
In 1405 Chinese admiral Cheng Ho is believed to have visited Semarang, and in 2005 this feat was commemorated in the temple square. Since then a mock-up of his ship sits there in Semarang river, and a statue of the admiral adorns the square.
At a corner of the square is a food court for welcome refreshments in the heat of day.
In the yard of Gedung Lawang Sewu, facing Pemuda street, stands this monument commemmorating six employees of the Railway Company, who gave their lives trying to wrestle control of the complex from Japanese soldiers who refused to give up after Japan had surrendered. Originally they were buried on this spot, but in 1975 their remains were transferred to a heroes cemetery.
There is some confusion about the time frame. A small plaque with the names of the victims refers to the five-day Battle of Semarang from August 14th to 19th 1945. This can hardly be correct, because Japan capitulated on August 15th, and Indonesia declared its independence on August 17th. Indeed, authoritative history sources date the Battle of Semarang on October 14th to 19th.
The monument itself bears the date September 8th, 1945, presumably the date the employees died. Yet the history record states that only on September 28th “AMKA”, the Young Railway Workers, resolved to take over control of all railway assets from the Japanese.
Is there a historian who can clarify the course of events?
Marabunta, the Ants Building was previously used as an opera house to perform works of dramatic arts during the Dutch colonial era. The two giant red ants perched on top of the MGM symbolize Indonesian nationalism. Red ants are called marabuntah in local language. Red for bravery and ants for their spirits of solidarity.
The roof in the hall shaped like an overturned vessel.
Taman Sri Gunting or Sri Gunting Parks, in the era of Dutch Colony, this is a field with the green grass, long ago this place was used by the Dutch Army for parade practice and marching, also called as PRADE PLEIN, located at the east side of Immanuel Church
Nilmij Building is the first modern building after Indonesia get its independence, the unique architecture of building which stand at Jalan Suprapto and designed by an architect "Thomas Karsten" and now used as an insurance company office"Jiwasraya"
The Provincila Government of Central Java aware that a few of old buildings which stranded along Jalan Suprapto were spend its historical value for tourism, that is why in the end of 1990 the government start to improve the infrastructure of this area.
Long ago it was one of a very poor location in rainy season, the floods created a very bad traffict condition for the peoples and also a threat for old building conservation.
Now all peoples and tourist could enjoy walking throughout this site to see many ancient building which still exist, among others: Immanuel Chucrh or Gereja Blenduk, The old building use as an office of insurance company"Jiwasraya", the old house of a rerstaurant "Ikan Bakar Cianjur", an old building "MARBA" etc.
This is one of popular old building in Semarang downtown, established in 1750 and renovation in 1894 by the Dutch architects HPA De Widle and Westmass.
This is Immanuel church with unique architecture, the red dome is a semicircle and by Java Language it is called Blenduk (semi circle).
The building is decided by local Government as one of Semarang Heritage building