Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Koningsplein / Lapangan Silang Monas and Jalan Medan Merdeka

What is now Medan Merdeka was in the VOC era referred to as Buffelsveld ("Buffalo Field") In addition to grazing of cows and buffaloes, a brickworks existed there until at least 1797. At the northern end, there may also have been the Buiten Ziekenhuis ("Outer Hospital"). In 1796 and 1804, military exercises were conducted on Buffelsveld.

In 1809, Governor-General Daendels named the plain "Champ de Mars" and decided it would be used as a military exercise field although at the time the area was still swampy and had an uneven terrain. In 1818, the Dutch Government renamed it Koningsplein ("King's Square), a name which endured until the end of the colonial era. The building of homes around Koningsplein started in the same year, although at that time Rijswijk and, later, Noordwijk were still the residential areas of choice for the elite. It was not until after the middle of the 19th century that grand houses on spacious grounds began to dominate the four sides of Koningsplein and it became truly the most fashionable address in Batavia.

Other facilities found on Koningsplein over the years included a horse-racing track in the 1840s and 1850s, a velodrome around the turn of the 20th century and a hotel and amusement park in the 1920s. Visitors to Batavia frequently commented on the Koningsplein, but opinions were varied. The Photographers Walter Woodburry and James Page, founders of Woodbury & Page, spent five months boarding in a house on the southern side of Koningsplein from May to October 1857. Woodbury was very impressed by this area, as is clear from a letter to his mother on 26 May 1857 only eight days after arriving in Batavia. He noted:

Koningsplein as it is called Hyde Park of Batavia and the residence of all the fashionables amongst them my self. This part of the town is a perfect paradise with banyan and coconut trees and other beautiful trees planted some 40 years ago).

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