Sat, 22 Feb 2003

Ancient fortress may soon be thing of memory

Bambang M., Contributor, Yogyakarta

Preserving a heritage site is a tough job. A clear example of this can be found in Yogyakarta, where what remains of the once five-kilometer-long ancient fortress which surrounded the Yogyakarta Palace is now only 600 meters.

While some parts of Benteng Baluwarti fortress gave way to nature's onslaughts or were destroyed during war time, others were deliberately destroyed by local people living nearby.

And unfortunately, the destruction of the fortress, which once protected Indonesian guerrillas fighting for independence from an attack by Dutch soldiers, still goes on -- even until today.

Soelistin Oyek Maryadi, a local resident living in Wijilan village in the inside part of the fortress, "added" a new room to her house. In the process, she constructed a door at the fortress' inside wall which opened up into a three-meter long space up to the outer wall. There, after adding a roof, she had a new room for her house.

"I did it with the Kawedanan Hageng Sriwandono (an institution under the palace administration)'s permission," Soelistin said earlier.

Later on, it was found out that the institution she named did not have the right to give such permission since it is the responsibility of another institution, Kawedanan Hageng Pengageng (KHP) Wahono Sartokriyo chaired by the brother of the sultan of Yogyakarta KGPH Hadiwinoto. In fact, the KHP Wahono Sartokriyo had earlier issued a letter prohibiting Soelistin from extending her house due to the fortress status as a heritage site.

Soelistin's case was reported to the police on Dec. 16, 2002, according to Indra Dewa Kusuma of the working group of the local Archeological and Historical Heritage Preservation office.

Soelistin, he said, had violated Law No. 5/1992 on cultural conservation that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail or Rp 100 million in fines, if convicted.

But Soelistin, who demolished her "new room" on Dec. 22, also demanded all buildings in the area that were built in the same way be demolished as well.

"I have no problem demolishing mine. But others should do the same," Soelistin insisted. She was referring to, among other things, a nearby building built in the same way that had been there for the last two years, left undisturbed.

Still, the damage has been done, serious damage. Most tourists passing the streets surrounding the palace, like Jl. Brigjen Katamso or Jl. Mayjen Sutoyo, would not be aware that they are traveling around the palace unless they are told so because the remaining sections of the fortress are no longer visible, obscured by houses or stores.

Beteng Baluwarti, which was built in the 1780s, originally had five plengkung or gates that connected the palace complex with the outside. However, only four of them are still there at present, including the southwest and northwest bastions.

According to historian Arief Akhyat of Gadjah Mada University, the existence of common people's houses within the fortress, locally known as the jeron beteng area, began in the last half of the 1800s. At that time, as the palace was in need of money, it rented some of the jeron beteng area to people of Chinese descent at expensive rates.

"But it might be somewhere around the revolution time that people started to attach their buildings to the fortress as many went to the palace to seek shelter," Arief said.

To build a house inside the fortress area, locally known as magersari, people were required to ask the KHP Wahono Sartokriyo office, which is in charge of managing the palace's properties and vehicles. The permit, however, only allows them to build a house but does not automatically entitle the permit holders to own the land.

Unfortunately, according to the head of the Yogyakarta Municipality's Building and City Planning office, there's no detailed regulation on constructing a building in the jeron beteng area. It was only in 1988 the local government issued regulation No. 5/1988.

"The regulation stipulates that constructing a building by attaching it to the palace fortress is not allowed," said Harundono, expressing regret that the regulation came in late, since many buildings were already attached to the fortress by that time.

The regulation, according to Harundono, also required the houses to be built at a minimum distance of three meters from the fortress and that they should not be higher than the fortress. The design, too, he added, should be made in such a way to blend with the palace environment.

But, rules are made to be broken. Many of the houses are not only "glued" to the fortress, but are also higher.

Another form of destruction includes shortcuts created by breaking the fortress' wall to connect the inside and outside parts of the fortress. Such destruction can be seen in the Suryomentaraman area where the shortcut allows people living inside the fortress to access Jl. Brigjen Katamso.

"We find it difficult to demolish the houses (which violate the regulation) because they were built before the regulation was issued. Besides, the area has been transformed into a dense residential area," said Harundono, explaining why the municipality had no plan to restore the fortress.

Chairwoman of Jogja Heritage Society Laretna T. Adishakti, better known as Sita, said the damage to the fortress occurred due to the absence of strict law enforcement.

"The regulation is there, but not the enforcement," said Sita, who is also chairwoman of the Indonesia Heritage Year 2003.

She suggested that in order to prevent further damage, all permits allowing people to build buildings that could damage the fortress should no longer be issued.

Related offices including the Yogyakarta municipality city planning office should actively inform people about the regulation to prevent people from destroying the fortress, otherwise, more destruction will take place in the future due to people's ignorance.

So far, nothing has been done, there's not even a sign mentioning the law or regulation in the area. In that case, local residents cannot be entirely blamed for the destruction.