April 4, 2003
Did she die of malaria or typhoid fever or in childbirth? She had probably just arrived in the Dutch East Indies. For a short time I sit on her grave and contemplate.
In her days, Banten was a lively little town and an important center of transport, especially for spices: pepper, nutmeg, cloves.
These days Banten is a sleepy village, which comes alive on the weekends when day-trippers/pilgrims from Jakarta come to visit the Mesjid Agung, the big mosque and the tombs of the sultans of Banten.
The first thing you see is the Kaibon Palace. In spite of recent restoration work, it is still more a ruin than a palace. On Saturdays the alun alun, the central square, is full of warungs where you can eat, talk, and smoke--favorite pasttimes of all Indonesians.
The Mesjid Agung dates back to the 16th century. It has a three-tiered roof and the minaret is curious to say the least. It is not a slender finger pointing towards the sky, rather it is a plump tower which I mistakenly had taken to be a lighthouse. A spiral staircase leads up to a balcony from which you''ll get a breathtaking view. From here you can clearly see that the harbor has become silted up. It was once bigger and more important than the harbor of Jakarta.
Next to the mosque is Keraton Sarowosan, the Sultan’s palace, but only the outer walls remain. The bathrooms in the palace had clean, running water . . . An ingenious system of aqueducts and water tanks 2km long, brought fresh water from Tasikardi, an artificial lake which was fed by numerous mountain streams. Tasikardi was once the Sultan’s Water Palace, where he and his family would relax. It was surrounded by Royal Pavilions, all gone today.
These days, Taskardi is a boating lake and picnic place. It is well worth the 2km walk (and 2km back again, of course!). Along the route you will see two small brick buildings with arched roofs. These were used to filter the water. The bricks are Dutch. They were brought over from Holland on the ships as ballast, so that the ship was deeper in the water and would not list. On the way back, the ships were laden with spices and other products from the east.
North west of the mosque is the European graveyard and Fort Speelwijck, which was part of the city’s defense. A few crumbling walls are all that remain.
There are no hotels in Banten. We were staying in Serang, a pleasant provincial town, 10km to the east. We took a public minibus to get to Banten--a 30-minute ride.
From journal West Java