Kota Lama is the old town of Semarang, the capital of central Java. It is the fifth biggest city of Indonesia and it is still growing. Semarang was and is a trading city: a place where people gather to do business. This is not without reason. Semarang is located in a beautiful, fertile and geographically strategic area. Because of that Semarang attracted many Arabic, Chinese, European and Indian merchants overtime.
In the course of the 19th century the city became of great importance. As a result of investments in infrastructure Semarang developed rapidly in a wealthy and modern city in the first half of the 20th century. Kota Lama became a vibrant trade hub, with trading companies, warehouses, shops and financial institutions. This town was the beginning of the modern Semarang of today. Semarang’s expansion continued in the second half of the 20th century. As the city expanded southward, Semarang’s historic centre gradually lost its main function and vitality.
More than a tourist destination
Although today Semarang is still Central Java’s regional centre and trade city/
port, the city has lost its international appeal. Despite the relative vicinity of
tourist attractions such as the mosque of Demak, the temples and natural
beauty of Dieng, the railway museum in Ambarawa, the home of Raden Kartini,
the wood industry in Jepara, and the Borrobudur and Prambanan temple
complexes near Yogyakarta, Semarang city does not appear to benefit from its
strategic (‘hub’) location. Most tourists, whether they arrive by train or by cruise
ship, travel on to their next destination immediately; totally oblivious of the
attractions Semarang has to offer, notably Kota Lama.
Kota Lama’s unique urban and architectural heritage is one
good reason why it Kota Lama should be revitalised. But Kota
Lama should be more than an historic district for tourists. With
its trade contacts all over the world and connections with many
cultures, it used to be a dynamic place where people gathered
together, did business and spread ideas. Kota Lama was
an example of a wealthy global city driven by innovation and
trade. It was not only the location of Indonesia’s first railway, its
large international harbour and its highly rated modern architecture
testify to the importance of Kota Lama’s identity.
Revitalizing Kota Lama should not only be about showcasing
the past, but it should be about developing to the city of tomorrow
based on its authentic identity. Revitalising Kota Lama
only truly makes sense when it helps in the image of Semarang
as city of tomorrow.
A connected historical core
As such, Kota Lama cannot be seen as an isolated district.
It is part of a bigger historical core consisting also Pecinan,
Pekojan, Kauman and Alun-Alun. A strong point of Semarang’s
historical core is its historical identity, containing distinct features
in each quarter illustrating their different cultural and ethnic
backgrounds. These districts are roughly situated on both sides
of the Kali Semarang: this river was once the backbone and life
source of the city,but is now neglected and even a source of
pollution. To become a complete city – attractive to visitors and
residents both – all parts of the historic core should develop
their distinctive qualities and the Kali Semarang should once
again bring joy and prosperity.
The Semarang prince approaching
Kota Lama’s significance for the city of Semarang is evident
in thorough research, design and vision made by Semarang
architects, urban planners, engineers and universities over the
last two decades. In 2012 the board of Old Town Management
(BPK2L) published a vision for Kota Lama.
The vision mentions three main objectives:
• The ambition to become a World Tourism Destination
• Functional zoning and clustering in the area
• Developing a selection of priority buildings to develop
Setting these goals is one step forward, but how implementation
is achieved is another issue entirely. Recently both Major
and Governor put the development of Kota Lama on their priority
list. This vision can contribute to (new) policies that ensure