A whole day of sight-seeing in Jakarta: Monas, Istiqlal Mosque, Catholic Cathedral a must visit

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(Editor’s Note: this article which I wrote first came out on CNN iReport, which has since been discontinued.)

The Indonesian leader created a National Monument Committee in August 17, 1954, which then held a design competition in 1955 for the structure to be built in front of the Presidential Palace.

Only one design out of the 51 submitted for competition met the criteria imposed by the committee. It was done by Frederich Silaban, a Christian architect, who also designed Jakarta’s Istiqlal Mosque, the biggest in Southeast Asia.

Istiqlal MosqueIstiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia. (Photo: Rezky Ramadhani on Unsplash)

Soekarno wanted a building that would reflect Indonesia’s character and live for centuries. Construction of the Monas started in 1961 with Soekarno ceremonially driving the first concrete pile. More than 10 years after, Monas was opened to the public on July 12, 1975.

From Wikipedia: “The towering monument encapsulates the philosophy of Lingga and Yoni. Lingga resembles an alu (rice pestle) and Yoni a lesung (rice mortar), two important traditional Indonesian tool.” The two tools also speak of Indonesia’s agricultural industry.

Lingga is the 117.7-meter obelisk standing on a 45-meter square platform (goblet yard) at 17 meter in height. Its builders clad the obelisk with Italian marble. Topping the obelisk is a bronze symbol of fire (Flame of Independence) covered with 50 kilos of gold. The fire symbol is 14 meters tall and six meters in diameter.

Some say the obelisk (lingga) also represents phallus, the male symbol, and the goblet yard (yoni), the female’s.

Entering Merdeka Square is free, but going inside Monas costs about a dollar, inclusive of the National Museum at the basement and for viewing Jakarta’s skyline at the top deck. A diorama of Indonesia’s ancient history is well preserved, a room containing the Declaration of Independence (Proklamasi) read by Soekarno can also be viewed.

At night, Monas is clothed with light, with the fire symbol atop seemingly in flame.

Nearby Merdeka Square are the Istiqlal Mosque and Gereja Katedral Jakarta (Jakarta Cathedral), the two symbols of Indonesia’s tolerance and co-existence.

Catholic CathderalJakarta Cathedral in Indonesia. (Photo: CEphoto by Uwe Aranas, through Wikimedia)

Istiqlal Mosque is Southeast Asia’s biggest Islamic house of worship, both in building size and capacity, as it occupies nine and a half hectares and accommodates 120,000 worshipers.

In front of the five-story mosque is Jakarta’s Catholic Cathedral. It is called a cathedral because it has a “cathedra,” the throne of the bishop.

My guide, M. Syarifuddin, smiled proudly as he related to me that Indonesia’s Muslim youth stand guard over the Catholic house of worship on every Christmas Day to protect it and worshipers from any potential attack.

“During Christmas Day, which is a national holiday in Indonesia, many Muslim youth stand guard to protect Christians and their cathedral from any attacker,” beams M. Syarifuddin. “Worshipers at the cathedral also park their cars at the parking area of Istiqlal Mosque.”

“And when Muslims observe Ramadan, Christians come to Istiqlal Mosque to share the Islamic month’s spirit of peace and show their respect,” he adds.

When United States President Barack Hussein Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama came to Indonesia on March 9-10, 2010, they visited Istiqlal Mosque. Upon hearing the same story, Obama cited Istiqlal Mosque as Indonesia’s symbol of tolerance.

My half-day brief adventure in Jakarta also brought me to Glodok (China Town), the oldest in Indonesia, to the former seat of the Dutch colonial government in Batavia City (later Jakarta) at Fatahillah Square.

My guide and I also had lunch and coffee at the Batavia Cafe, said to be serving Jakarta’s best coffee.

After the almost a day guided touristic adventure, I came away inspired; Indonesians are really friendly and help you along.

M. Syarifuddin’s narrative about Islam’s and Catholicism’s two houses of worship inspired me to believe that peace, tolerance and harmony can be achieved.

Great adventure, that! (EKU)

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