Jakarta is strange city to live in. It’s easy enough to write it off as just another metropolis, one that experienced so much growth and development in such a short space of time that it lost its roots. Especially considering how conservation seems to have been a vague afterthought for a lot of its historical sites. There seems to be no better example of this than Candra Naya, an 18th century building, nestled between towering modern buildings which guard this once sprawling compound, and where a 7/11 serves as its gate.
Built in 1807 for the family of the Batavian magnate and landlord, Khouw Tian Sek, Candra Naya just seems to breathe history, due to its many traditional Chinese architectural features which remain intact. As neither of us were Architecture students, we appreciated the building purely from a layman’s perspective, but further reading can be found if you do a quick search of Candra Naya’s architecture.
Originally, Candra Naya was a sprawling residence with three main buildings separated by a series of courtyards. It had to have been quite a sizable place as the main building which was two stories tall housed the main family, while the surrounding area housed concubines and their children, as well as the servants needed to maintain the estate. Most of it was demolished in 1995 to make way for a superblock, with only the reception hall and the lotus pond as its sole survivors – and even those had gone through a temporary disassembling.
Today, you can walk through the halls and read Chinese philosophies which are mounted on the reception hall walls. Enjoying for a moment a brief glimpse into what life must have been like as a wealthy individual in Jakarta, or as it was then known – Batavia. The weird juxtaposition between the old and new in Candra Naya is a very particular type of beauty. It’s hard to fully explain how it feels to walk the halls there. There was nothing to see, and yet everything at the same time. It felt like Jakarta’s very soul in a nutshell.
The adjoining coffee shop served as the perfect place to ponder the weird sense of awe we felt at touching upon a historical spot that has for the most part, remained undiscovered by Jakarta’s own citizens. It feels completely bizarre that Candra Naya and Khouw Tian Sek isn’t more well known as by all accounts, Khouw Tian Sek was so wealthy that he commissioned three massive compounds in Jakarta, and probably contributed significantly to Batavia’s development as a city.
The building has served a multitude of purposes over the years, but is now mainly occasionally used for functions. If you go with groups like Sahabat Museum, they can explain in more detail the cultural significance of the place, but as it is, it really is a gorgeous place to spend the afternoon in.