Dubbels, ‘Gezicht op Batavia’, see reference below.

Located in the north-west of the island of Java, Jakarta is the capital and largest city of Indonesia with an estimated population of around 10 million. The population of Jakarta metropolitan area is estimated at 35 million, making it one of the largest metropolitan areas of the world.

Geographic location of Jakarta on a current day map.

The Dutch colonial name for the city of Jakarta was Batavia, named after the Batavi tribe that is said to have lived in the Netherlands in Roman times.

Anonymous, ‘Gezicht op Batavia’, print, c. 1700-c. 1799. Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. Link:

A small port city first developed in this part of Java in the fourteenth century. After conquering the Javanese port of Jakatra in 1616 and driving the local population out, the Dutch East India Company built a new city in its place. In search for a permanent base in the Indonesian Archipelago, the port was chosen because it was strategically located. The bay sheltered ships from the wind but was sailable year-round. Larger ships however had to anchor outside the port as it was too shallow let them enter.

Anonymous, ‘Plattegrond van Batavia’, etching on paper, ca. 1720. Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. Link:

The Dutch East India Company made Batavia its Asian headquarters and built the city in Dutch style with canals and stone city walls. To protect the city a large fort facing the sea was built (left-centre of image). The Company’s trade and warfare were coordinated from here, goods were stored in the warehouses, and ships were be repaired at the Company wharf. Batavia was Company’s central entrepôt for trade in Asia and its main link to Europe as the Company fleet from Europe arrived and departed from here. The Company’s main interest in the region was the lucrative trade of pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and mace. To purchase these goods the Company mainly imported cotton textiles from India.

Anonymous, ‘Twee Chinese jonken, 1607’, etching on paper, ca. 1644-1646. Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. Part of: I. Commelin, Begin ende voortgangh, van de Vereenighde Nederlantsche Geoctroyeerde Oost-Indische Compagnie (Amsterdam: J. Janssonius, 1646), No. 10. Link:

Batavia however did not only rely on Company shipping. Portuguese ships connected it to Macao and Malay shipping to the wider archipelago. Chinese junks (seen drawn here) linked Batavia to China and Manila taking silver and spices and bringing tea, silk, textiles, and porcelain. In general, the migration of Chinese merchants, artisans and workers was an essential part of Batavia’s development in the early modern period.

‘Huis en landgoed Brandes buiten Batavia’, Drawing, 1785. Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. Part of: Max de Bruijn, An Duits, Remco Raben, The world of Jan Brandes, 1743-1808: drawings of a Dutch traveller in Batavia, Ceylon and Southern Africa, p. 146-151 met afb., 24. Link:

Batavia’s population growth was halted in 1733 by the outbreak of malaria in the city. Newly constructed fisheries at the coast proved breeding grounds for the parasites. Urban development was pushed outside the city walls where manors and plantations, as seen depicted here, had been established by wealthy Batavians from the seventeenth century onwards. This shift to the outskirts and hills, as well was the relocation of the port to accommodate larger steamships in the nineteenth century, led to the decay of the Old City.


Feature image: Hendrick Jacobsz. Dubbels, ‘Gezicht op Batavia’, canvas oil paint, 1640-1676. Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. Link:

Blussé, Leonard. Strange Company Chinese Settlers, Mestizo Women and the Dutch in VOC Batavia. ACLS Humanities E-Book. Foris Publications, 1986.

Emmer, Pieter C., and Jos J.L. Gommans. The Dutch Overseas Empire, 1600–1800. Translated by Marilyn Hedges. Cambridge: University Press, 2020.

‘Jakarta’, 9-9-2023).

‘Batavia’, 9-9-2023).