Merdeka Square, Jakarta
Merdeka Square (Indonesian: Medan Merdeka or Lapangan Merdeka) is a large square located in the center of Jakarta, Indonesia. Measuring one square kilometer in area, if the surrounding fields within the Merdeka Square are included, it is considered the largest square in the world or one of the largest. At its center stands the National Monument, often called Monas (Monumen Nasional). The paved plaza surrounds the monument often host national events such as military and float parades, as well as civic demonstrations. The square is a popular destination for Jakartans for sports and recreation especially on weekends. It is surrounded by important government buildings such as the Merdeka Palace, the National Museum of Indonesia, the Supreme Court and various governmental ministries. During the colonial Dutch East Indies era the square was called Koningsplein (King's square). Merdeka is the Indonesian or Malay word for freedom or independence.
In the late 18th century when the Dutch East Indies government moved their center of administration about 4 kilometres southward, from coastal old Batavia (now Kota) to Weltevreden (now Central Jakarta), they built several important buildings including the square. There were two main squares in Weltevreden: Buffelsveld and Waterlooplein (now Lapangan Banteng). The squares began to took shape during Daendels' rule in early 19th century; Waterlooplein became the main parade and ceremonial square, while the Buffelsveld (buffalo field) was renamed Champs de Mars due to French influence, and used as a military exercise field. In 1818, during British rule in the East Indies under Stamford Raffles, the square's name was changed into Koningsplein (King's square) at the time the Governor-General's residence moved to a new palace, now known as Merdeka Palace. The colonial government built athletic tracks, a stadium and sports facilities on Koningsplein. The locals called the square Lapangan Gambir, after the name of a plant which grows around the field. The Lapangan Gambir became the location of Pasar Gambir, a Pasar Malam (night market) fair and festival to commemorate Queen Wilhelmina's birthday in 1906. Since 1921 Pasar Gambir was held annually, turning into the annual modern Jakarta Fair. The square's name remained the same throughout colonial Dutch East Indies era until the Japanese invasion in 1942.
In 1942, during the Japanese occupation of Indonesia, the square was named Lapangan Ikada (acronym of Ikatan Atletik Djakarta or Jakarta Athletic Bond). The proclamation of Indonesian independence was originally intended to be staged at Lapangan Ikada. It was however moved to a house in Jalan Pegangsaan (now Jalan Proklamasi). On the 19th of September 1945, Sukarno held his Indonesian independence and anti-colonialism/imperialism speech, during Rapat Akbar or grand meeting.
In 1949 Sukarno changed the name of Ikada field to Medan Merdeka. A design competition was held in 1959, followed by a second competition in 1960, but Sukarno did not accept any of the designs, and no winner was announced. Instead Sukarno, who had previously studied architecture, asked architects to refine sketches made by himself. His layout for Merdeka Square was based on a plan initially developed in 1892 with diagonal streets radiating from the monument.
Sukarno desired that the Indonesian people and the young independent nation had something to be proud of, a monument to commemorate the struggle for independence. So he initiated the construction of National Monument (Indonesian:Monumen Nasional or Monas) in 1961, but it was only completed in 1976. His ambition was to make the Monas the tallest building in Jakarta, higher than Borobudur and larger than the Eiffel Tower. The athletic tracks and sports facilities were demolished to make way for the construction of the monument.
The Merdeka Square is crossed by four diagonal streets which form an "X" with the National Monument at its center. The street is called Jalan Silang Monas and separates the square into four parts: North, East, South, and West parks. The north, east and west park remained a park, while the southern one was developed into a building complex. The south park became the fairground for Jakarta Fair from 1968 to 1992, while the southwest corner of the south park was used as Taman Ria Jakarta or Jakarta amusement park.
The design of the parks stayed relatively unchanged from the 70's to mid 90's until the ongoing renovation in the 2000s, which gave the Merdeka square its present look. The aim was to return the function of Merdeka Square as an open space and green area. In the early 90's the fairground and the amusement park in the southern park were demolished had been given the old park function once again. The road surrounding the monument is not accessible to motorized traffic.
In 2002, after Megawati was elected president, the Governor of Jakarta Sutiyoso built a high fence with gates and guards to enclose the entire square. While visitors can access the square without charge, beggars, vendors, homeless and other social groups were excluded. An army encampment has been set up within the compound to enforce the new rules. Other than attracted to the National Monument stands in the center, the square itself is Jakartans' popular destination for family recreation and outdoor sports activities during weekend, such as family picnic, flying kites, calisthenics, football games, jogging and bicycling. The paved plaza surrounds the monument often host national events as well as civic demonstrations. Military and float parades usually took place during Jakarta anniversary around 22 June and Indonesian independence commemoration around 17 August.
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The current design is mainly based on the site plan from the 60's that incorporated diagonal crossed streets that separated four cardinal parks with the National Monument in the center. A renovation began in mid 90's for the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Indonesian Independence in 1995, and continued well to the 2000s. The renovation moved the roundabout street further from the monument as it was feared that the vibrations from the passing vehicles would shakes and disturbs the monument foundation. However later decided that the vehicles should be prohibited to enter the square altogether. The further roundabout create a larger central garden around the monument. The ashpalt road was changed to French stone pavement and created a grand plaza around the monument.
The Merdeka square consists of two zones:
- Taman Medan Merdeka (Medan Merdeka Park). The large trees, reflecting ponds and fountains are located in this zone. The zone span from the fences on the outer rim of the park to the pedestrian path around the park.
- Ruang Agung (The Grand Space). It is the grand space to enhance the view of National Monument. There are no large trees or any visual obstructions allowed to remain in this zone. It is located from the pedestrian path to the National Monument in the center. It consists of grass fields, stone paved grand plaza, and a central garden around the monument filled with colorful flowers and decorative plants.
There are four parks in Merdeka Square according to the cardinal points:
- Taman Medan Merdeka Utara (North Merdeka Park). The entrance to the tunnel that leads to the National Monument is located on this north park. The statue of Diponegoro riding a horse and a bust statue of Indonesian poet Chairil Anwar also located in this area.
- Taman Medan Merdeka Timur (East Merdeka Park). Immediately located near the Gambir Station. The reflecting pond and the statue of Kartini, Indonesian heroine of women emancipation, donated by Japanese government that originally stood in front of Taman Suropati in Menteng is relocated here.
- Taman Medan Merdeka Selatan (South Merdeka Park). A nationalistic monument is located here. The spotted deer park is located on southeast corner. The south park also displays unique plants as the symbol of the 33 Indonesian provinces. The IRTI parking lot, souvenir and foodstalls for National Monument visitors is located in this southern park.
- Taman Medan Merdeka Barat (West Merdeka Park). The dancing illuminated fountain is located here. The fountain show with music is performed every weekend nights.
- State Secretariat and Bina Graha
- Merdeka Palace
- Supreme Court of Justice
- Ministry of Internal Affairs
- Army Headquarters
- Istiqlal Mosque, Jakarta (Northeast corner)
- Gambir Station
- Pertamina Headquarters
- Army Strategic Reserve Command (KOSTRAD) Headquarters
- Immanuel Church
- National Gallery of Indonesia
- Embassy of United States
- Vice President's Palace
- Jakarta City Hall, and Governor's office
- Ministry of Government-Owned Businesses
- Indosat Headquarters
- Ministry of Culture and Tourism
- Ministry of Defense and Indonesian National Armed Forces Headquarters
- National Museum of Indonesia
- Ministry of Communication and Information
- Ministry of Transportation
- Court of Constitution
- RRI (Radio of the Republic of Indonesia) Headquarters
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