Jakarta’s recorded history dates from about 400 AD when it was a Hindu port settlement called Sunda Pura (Holy Town), under the ancient Indianized kingdom of Tarumanagara. By 700 AD it had become part of the vast Hindu Sunda Kingdom. In the 12th century, the area was known as Sunda Kelapa and served as Java’s main harbor for Asian and Middle Eastern traders. The Portuguese arrived in 1512 and a decade later reached a trading deal with the Sunda Kingdom to provide military assistance against the threat of Islamic Javanese. On June 22, 1527, Muslim leader Fatahillah conquered the area and renamed it Djaja Karta, signifying his “glorious victory” over the Portuguese colonists and the Sundanese Hindus – most of whom were massacred. June 22 is now celebrated as Jakarta’s anniversary.
The Dutch seized power in 1619 by destroying Djaja Karta, which was rebuilt and renamed Batavia, becoming the centre of political and economic activity. The city grew, with neighborhoods of Chinese, Indian Muslims and ethnic groups from throughout the archipelago. In 1699, much of Batavia was devastated by an earthquake. In 1740, simmering Chinese resentment against discriminatory Dutch policies prompted a rebellion. The Dutch responded by massacring most of the approximately 11,000 Chinese residents. This ethnic cleansing of the city’s mercantile class caused a recession, overcome only when more Chinese came to make money. By the early 1800s, the so-called “Queen of the East” had become polluted, overcrowded and disease-ridden, prompting its administrators and many wealthier residents to move south.
In March 1942, the Dutch surrendered to the Japanese wartime occupation forces and the city was renamed Jakarta Tokubetsu Shi (Special Municipality of Jakarta). When Japan surrendered to the Allied forces in August 1945, Jakarta was to have become the new nation’s capital. But the Dutch occupied the city and refused to recognize Indonesian independence, so the capital was temporarily Yogyakarta, until the Dutch formally transferred sovereignty in December 1949 after four years of fighting.
The departure of the Dutch led to massive rural migration into Jakarta, which was seen as the center of economic opportunities. Founding president Sukarno ordered the construction of numerous statues and monuments, as well as hotels and other prestigious projects. The city’s slums spread as the nation shuddered toward near economic collapse in the early 1960s. After Sukarno was replaced by General Suharto in 1966, Jakarta had a new governor, Ali Sadikin, who in 11 years cleaned up much of the city, bulldozing slums, banning pedicabs, and improving public services and infrastructure. His projects were partly funded by legalized gambling – a policy later overturned by Islamic politicians.
In May 1998, Jakarta suffered three days of riots that left over 1,000 people dead and forced Suharto from power. The city was beset by a recession but has since rebounded with massive development and economic growth. Jakarta’s biggest challenges include traffic congestion, pollution and annual flooding.