Image courtesy of Robert Speirs

On Saturday, 20 April 2024, the Menteng Heritage Society, Indonesian Heritage Society and Tugu Kunstkring hosted the first ‘Menteng Open’, a walking tour and lecture event focused on the heritage houses of one of Jakarta’s oldest districts, Menteng.

‘Minting’, as it was then called, was already scribbled onto old Dutch maps back in 1695. What was once just greenfield sites outside of the central Kota Batavia is now Jakarta’s most precious real estate, typified by its beautiful, leafy roads and grand homes.

Interestingly, this verdant and spacious aesthetic was very much in the original ‘plan’ for this district, as explained by Sven Verbeek Wolthuys, author of ‘250 Years in Old Jakarta’, during his insightful presentation during the ‘Menteng Open’ event. Responding to a housing shortage at the start of the 20th century, land in the Menteng and Gondangadia areas were purchased and developed as ‘Garden Cities’, arguably an atmosphere that remains to this day. Beautifully planned boulevards were lined with new housing, built in the classical colonial style, as well as iconic buildings like Gereja Theresia and Bataviasche Kunstkring, a fine arts gallery, today the Tugu Kunstkring Paleis.

H.E. Lambert Grijns, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Indonesia, shares old photos during the Menteng Open tours of his residence. Image Courtesy of Robert Speirs.

Whilst the Menteng district was declared a cultural heritage area in 1975, with some iconic public buildings preserved, much of the area’s original residential homes have been radically altered or torn down altogether. Based on independent research, Sven Wolthuys found that only 15% of Menteng’s historic houses remain standing or unaltered.

It this fact that sparked a group of concerned citizens to create the Menteng Heritage Society (Perkumpulan Pelestari Cagar Budaya Menteng), made up of longterm Menteng residents, architects and history enthusiasts. Officially created on 8 March 2024, the group is made up of prominent founders, including: Shanti Lasminingsih Poesposoetjipto, Halida Nuriah Hatta, Kamala Chandrakirana, Fauzi Bowo, Arya Abieta, Alwi Rubidium Sjaaf, Yozua Makes, Bambang Eryudhawan, and Bani Maulana Mulia.

H.E. Lambert Grijns, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Indonesia, Timor-Leste and ASEAN, has widely publicised and built interest of the cause across social media, developing popularity around the hashtag #preservementeng on Instagram through his videos.

Walking group together with HE Lambert Grijns, image courtesy of Lily Ina Tjang (IHS).

The Menteng Open event on 20 April, organised together with the Indonesian Heritage Society, brought about a rare opportunity for the public to gain entry to some of Menteng’s last heritage homes. It was an intensely popular event, quickly reaching its limit of 100 people split into four tour groups, welcoming interest from members of the Diplomatic communities.

Through this event, which included a tour into the residences of the Dutch, Belgian and Egyptian, the public could see for themselves the unique architectural styles these old homes possess — unique bell-shaped roofs, hot air exhausts and stained glass windows are now lost art forms. The tour thus bolstered the importance as to why these heritage buildings should be preserved as memories of Indonesia’s interesting past.

Giving important context to the tours was Wolthuy’s lecture, aptly held at the beautiful Tugu Kunstrkring Paleis, one of Menteng’s heritage buildings. The ‘Lost Jakarta’ publisher delved into the history of Menteng, captured images of the past, the challenges  – and indeed realities-  that the district faces in preserving its history, which one might argue as being very much part of the area’s inherent value.

Menteng Open Heritage Tour Committee at Tugu Kunstkring, including Indonesian Heritage Society, Menteng Heritage Society and Lost Jakarta. Photo courtesy of Lily Ina Tjang (IHS).

Both of the heritage societies shared that education, awareness and financial assistance is the key to save the last few houses and preserve Menteng’s historic charm. The success of the Menteng Open was proof of this, as it is through such experiences that the wider public can build both an awareness and appreciation of the area’s heritage, and understand that this is not a ‘homeowners’ issue, but rather an issue of conserving the city’s identity for many years to come.

References and Links
Sven Wolthuy and Lost Jakarta: @lostjakarta |
Indonesian Heritage Society: @indonesianheritagesociety |
Tugu Kunstkring Paleis: @kunstkring

Edward Speirs

Edward Speirs

Edward, or Eddy as he prefers to be called, is the Head of Publishing of the NOW! Magazine, and the host of the NOW! Bali Podcast. He enjoys photography, rural travel and loves that his work introduces him to people from all walks of life.