Sunda Kelapa on the estuary of the Ciliwung River was once the main port of Jakarta and that of the Sunda Kingdom of Pajajaran from the 13th to the 16th century, when it was a well known regional trading hub. In 1619, during a tumultuous time, officials of the Dutch East India Company seized the port then named Jayakarta and built a new town, Batavia there. The port took on the name of the new town and continued to function as the city’s main port until the late 19th century, when a new port became necessary due to increasing traffic after the opening of the Suez Canal. The port regained its old name after Indonesia regained its independence.
Today Sunda Kelapa continues as a commercial harbour for regional trade with hardly a change in its layout and operations from the 17th century. Considered a living legend, the harbour is a reminder of Indonesia’s prominent maritime past and ship building prowess. Its popularity and fame as a trading port prior to the arrival of the Europeans contributed to the establishment of Jakarta and its success thereafter to the expansion and development of the city.
The port retains structures dating to the 18th and 19th centuries, such as the harbour master’s tower built in 1839 that still provide excellent views over the harbour and several 17th century go downs used for storing of tea, coffee, cloth and spice. They have now been converted into museums displaying replicas of Indonesian fishing boats, scale models of European sailing vessels, old photos of the harbour and other maritime artefacts.
Sunda Kelapa now accommodates fleets of wooden row boats and Makassar schooners or wooden ‘pinsi’ sailing craft that still ply the waterways of the myriad islands of Indonesia. These ships have been brought up to date with the addition of diesel engines, communication equipment and electric lighting but sail remains the main mode of ‘power’. The larger vessels carry about seven sails and can be loaded with 950 tons of cargo of all sorts. Surrounded by relics of a bygone time port operations are mostly stuck in the past. Porters still unload cargo by muscle power and hand trolleys.
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Chandrishan Williams is a travel writer who writes under the pen name, Caleb Falcon. He specializes in writing content based on the many exciting world adventures that await intrepid travellers. Google+