Growth and decline
Semarang and Kota Lama’s main period of growth began after the Verenigde
Oostindische Compagnie (VOC) settled at the mouth of the river Semarang.
The city gained importance as one of the archipelago’s trade, financial and
administrative centres in the course of the nineteenth-century. Thanks to the
construction of major infrastructure and its fertile hinterland, its resources were
rapidly exploited, Semarang developed in a wealthy and modern city by the first
half of the twentieth-century. Kota Lama became a vibrant trade hub with national
and international trading companies. The offices, warehouses, shops, financial
institutions and array of other business related facilities that emerged, ensured
Semarang, and notably Kota Lama, grew into one of the country’s most modern
and wealthy cities. As the twentieth-century progressed, Semarang gradually expanded southward:
a development strongly influenced by the master plan for Semarang designed
by Herman Thomas Karsten. Kota Lama lost its position and attraction as Semarang’s
national and international Central Business District. Consequently, and notably since the 1980s, many of Kota
Lama’s historic and elegant buildings have been abandoned and left empty.
Today many of Kota Lama’s fine buildings stand idle and dilapidated. Despite their
increasingly poor appearance however, many people from Semarang and beyond
continued to recognise and value their beauty and their significance for
Kota Lama. Now, in 2016, after almost 30 years of on-going
efforts, both large and small, to revitalise Kota Lama and its built heritage, the time seems
right to put words into action. Now, the time has come to kiss Semarang’s Sleeping
Beauty back to life and help it regain its role as Semarang’s princess.
Today it is now or never, because this beauty is rapidly declining. Without
immediate action it will be lost forever. Its unique architectural and urban qualities
deserve to be appreciated now and by all future generations – the question is
how can this be done?