Strolling Around the Old City of Pekalongan

Old houses with chipped and peeled-off paints are facing one another. Centuries-old gates and windows stand erect, challenging time. Let’s get nostalgic, so they whisper.

Entering the Blimbing Road area, which meanders around Pekalongan River, the atmosphere is quiet and still. It is like being pulled back to the past, when the street was still called Juliana Weeg Street. Ancient Chinese houses are still visible on the left and right of the now-paved roads. This area is not as glorious as it used to be during its heyday. But each house still has an interesting story to tell.

Back in colonial era, Blimbing Street was one of the Chinese villages—along with others such as Salak Street, Sultan Agung Street, and Hasanuddin Street. These areas were formerly called “Chinese-Wijk“, reserved for Chinese citizens.

At the time, the colonial government deliberately gave birth to ethnic-based settlement areas. The goal was to segregate each one, and made it easier for them to manage population levels and criminality. In Pekalongan, one of UNESCO’s creative cities, the memory of this colonial policy can still be traced while walking around the Chinese Village. The Arabian Village can be found towards the intersection of Semarang Street and Surabaya Street, in Sugih Waras area.

The Arabic village in Sugih Waras has become the center of trading for batik raw materials and weaving cloth since the 1950. The Arab village is a silent witness on Pekalongan’s triumph with its batik cooperative during the reign of the Old Order. Back then, the price of mori fabric—basic fabric to make batik– throughout Indonesia is determined here. The remnants of the market hubbub are now out of sight. Only batik producers are still increasingly mushrooming in this area.

Art deco buildings can also be found around the corners of Pekalongan City. According to a 2011 survey, there are at least 286 ancient buildings that can be categorized as Heritage Buildings in the city. The buildings were built around the year 1930 until 1970. Further investigation is still underway before the buildings can be officially announced as cultural heritage.

Another historic area is the North Field (Lapangan Utara) of Pekalongan. A small white monument to the south of Jetayu Field is a marker of the midpoint of Java. The monument was named MylPaal; and was built by Governor General Daendels in 1808. Myl in Dutch means miles, and Paal is the point, a marker for the Daendels Way.

Some of the old buildings in the city square have been restored and its function has been altered. The sugar industry headquarter now becomes National Batik Museum. Jatayu sports hall becomes the center of batik culture and innovation.

Moving north, an orange-painted building was the first bank in Pekalongan, but today it becomes the office of PT. Pertani.

As we left Jetayu Street, let’s turn to Rajawali Utara Street. There, a lemonade factory from the 1920s is still operating. The Oriental Lemonade factory is still run by the third generation. The good news is that you can still taste this priyayi (noble) drink inside the factory!

Arjati, that’s how the government of Pekalongan named this historical area. Arabian, Javanese and Chinese are three ethnic groups that make the city grow and flourish. Last April, this historical area got a revamp. Arjati Heritage Walk invites young people to remember and revisit history while walking through the charming old town.

Despite the differences, life was harmonious back then. Po An Thian Temple, St. Petrus Catholic Church and Al-Ikhlas Mosque are just a stone’s throw away from each other around the Jetayu Square. This is indeed a memento of history—as well as a mandate. Strolling around this area reminds us that differences are a blessing.