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Jakarta, Indonesia

Updated on January 14, 2012
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The capital and largest city of the Republic of Indonesia. The city was originally called Jacatra, then after the Dutch colonization was renamed Batavia as capital of the Netherlands East Indies.

In 1949, when Indonesia became independent, it was renamed Djakarta ("glorious fortress"); the official spelling now omits the initial "d". Jakarta is situated on the northwest coast of the island of Java, at the mouth of the Tji Liwung (Liwung River); the capital territory (city and suburbs) is 228 square miles in area.

There are indications that the site has been inhabited since the 5th century. At the end of the 16th century Dutch colonists established their trading post on the existing settlement of Jacatra and in 1614 the first European buildings were erected by the Dutch East India Company. Today's city, however, owes most of its origins to Jan Pieterszoon Coen (1587-1629), who constructed a fort and walled town, renamed Batavia. The Chinese lived within the walls of the city until 17 40, when they were segregated; Jakarta's Chinatown is now the center of commerce.

In the 18th century Jakarta's prosperity declined, partly due to unrest under Dutch rule and partly due to widespread malaria. During the Napoleonic Wars the city was occupied by the British, but was returned to the Netherlands in 1814. During the 19th century the town's prosperity grew with the cultivation of such imported plants as coffee, cinchona and rubber.

The population increased at a corresponding rate and immigrants arrived from Malaya and other foreign trading countries.

Between World Wars I and II Kemajoran airport was built; this established Jakarta as Indonesia's main link with the outside world.

After World War II, and especially after independence, there was a fresh influx of population as villagers, their homes torn apart by war and revolution, poured into the capital. Jakarta is now one of the most densely populated cities of the world. Residential suburbs were extended, but today it is estimated that not more than 20% of the population living in the city center is adequately housed. The remainder live in rudimentary shacks (kampongs) which lack basic amenities.

The mixture of western and oriental influence is very apparent. Horsedrawn carriages and handcarts jostle with modern automobiles in the congested streets; the most popular means of transportation, however, is the betjak, a two-passenger tricycle taxi. The kalis or canals, first created by the Dutch colonials as a reminder of their homeland, have for over 300 years fulfilled the comprehensive function of providing drainage and transportation, a ready source of water and communal bathing and washing centers.

A new harbor has replaced the original one. The modern port at Tanjungpriok is connected with the capital by road, railroad and canal and it is useful not only to the hinterland of western Java, but also to the whole archipelago.

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