In Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, one of the largest squares in the world is located. This is Plaza Merdeka or Plaza de la Independencia, since Merdeka in Indonesian it means ‘freedom’ or ‘independence’. Its surface represents five times the size of Tiananmen Square in Beijing or 12 times the Parisian Place de la Concorde.
Nowadays it is a place of recreation for the inhabitants of the capital. An ideal space to practice sports outdoors or take a walk. It is also a space used to hold public events; from military or float parades to civic demonstrations.
In its surroundings we find many important buildings related to the governmental, religious or cultural sphere. But this was not always so. Let’s see how was the transformation of the Merdeka Square until it became the splendid square that it is today.
A little history
During the rule of the Dutch East Indies the administrative center was moved to what is now central Jakarta. There they built important buildings and of course, a square.
Previously, the area was an esplanade for grazing water buffalo. For this reason, it was called buffelsveld (buffalo field). Later, the name was changed to Champ de Mars and the place was used as a military training ground.
In 1818 the Dutch changed its name again. This time they put Koningsplein (King’s Square), although the locals called her Lapangan Gambir by a plant that grows around called gambir. This name remained throughout the colonial period of the Dutch East Indies until, in 1942, Japan invaded Indonesia.
In that space, the Dutch built athletics tracks, a stadium and various sports facilities. These facilities are no longer preserved, but some of the buildings that were erected are.. An example of this is the residence of the governor general, a huge and sumptuous palace called today Istana Merdeka.
Merdeka Square during the Japanese occupation and subsequent Indonesian National Revolution
In 1942, the Japanese armies took control of the island, expelling the Dutch from power. During the Japanese presence, the square changed its name again. At this time it was renamed Lapangan Ikada. This name was given since the stadium was in the area Ikatan Atletik Djakarta whose acronym is Ikada.
Following the Axis defeat in World War II, Japanese forces abandoned the island. At this time, the Dutch retook control of Indonesia and brought back the old colonial names. For this reason, the square was renamed Plaza del Rey.
This time the Dutch did not have it easy, since in 1945 Indonesia declared its independence from the Netherlands. After four years of armed conflicts and diplomatic struggles, the Dutch recognized the independence of Indonesia, that was on December 27, 1949.
The first thing the political leaders of the revolution did was, among many other things, change the colonial names and the square changed its name again. This time they named Plaza de la Independencia, medan merdeka in Indonesian From this moment, they began to think about how to transform it and turn it into an emblematic place of the newly independent country.
Merdeka Square from independence to today
By 1949 the square was a nerve center of the city. In its surroundings there was an important railway station: Gambir. Also the police headquarters, the office of the telephone company and important sports facilities, such as the aforementioned Ikada stadium.
In 1954 the Indonesian president devised a plan to build a national monument in the middle of the square. This had to reflect the splendor of the new nation and, for this reason, it was thought to erect an imposing construction. The tallest in Jakarta and bigger than the Eiffel Tower.
After years of deliberations, a project was designed in which the center of the square would be crowned by the gigantic monument and, from it, streets would radiate diagonally. Construction began in 1961 and took 15 years.
With the exception of the railway station, the vast majority of buildings and sports facilities were demolished. All this was replaced by the monument and gardens around it divided into four sections. They are the north, south, east and west parks.
In the 1970s, buildings began to be built in the south park, a fairground, exhibition halls, restaurants, nightclubs and even an amusement park were installed. In the 1990s, they thought of redesigning the square.
This new project had the intention of returning to the initial essence, being an open space and a green area. For this, all the buildings that had been erected in the south park were demolished. The appearance that the square has today is the result of this remodeling.
What can we see in Merdeka Square?
Of course, the whole square is spectacular. Among all the set we want to highlight the National Monument, also called mums, which, as we saw, is located in the center of the square. Let’s explore it a bit.
The National Monument or Momas
This is an obelisk-shaped memorial that is 132 meters high and was built on an area of 80 hectares. The set wants to represent the resistance and struggle of the Indonesian people for independence during the 1945 revolution. It was considered as a way to inspire patriotism to the new generations.
In the monumental complex you will be able to see, on the one hand, a relief of the history of Indonesia. This is situated around the monument and illustrates the history of this country starting from the Dutch colonial era. It places special emphasis on the resistance that the Indonesian people put up against domination and the struggle to achieve independence.
Inside the monumental cup, we find the Independence Hall. This amphitheater-shaped space houses different objects and documents that refer to the genesis of the country. An example of this is the original manuscript of the proclamation of independence.
Perhaps the most spectacular of all is what they call the Pico de la Tierra y el Fuego de la Independencia. The Earth Peak is a viewpoint located 115 meters high where visitors will have the opportunity to see the city of Jakarta from above. The impressive views, without a doubt, do not leave anyone indifferent.
Finally, at the top of the monument there is a gold cup weighing about 50 kilos with a burning flame that wants to symbolize the fighting spirit of the Indonesian people to achieve their emancipation. That is the Fire of independence.
Merdeka Square, an essential visit for lovers of squares
Merdeka Square is divided into two large areas. One spans the outer perimeter to the pedestrian path that circles the Monas. This area is full of huge trees, ponds and fountains.
The other area, the inner perimeter, is made up of large lawns, a large paved square and a beautiful central garden full of colorful flowers. Throughout the immense space you will find different statues of prominent figures of independence.
Getting to this central area of the Indonesian capital is very simple. There are thousands of options to do it by public transport, from train to bus. It is no coincidence that it is so well connected since, in addition to being in the center of the city, it is one of the favorite places for recreation among the residents of the capital.
Also, why have such a spectacular space, a sample of the splendor of the new nation and not facilitate its access so that national and foreign visitors can discover its wonders?
Of course, this is the place for lovers of national stories. If it is one of them, surely Merdeka Square will remind you of other squares built at the time, such as the one for the Revolution in Havana, don’t you think?
You might be interested…