Standing majestically on the north side of the large Merdeka Square stands Istana Merdeka Istana Negara, or the Freedom Palace, the Official Residence and Office of the President of the Republic of Indonesia.
Facing the large Merdeka Square, here every 17th August on Indonesia’s Independence Day the State Ceremony is held on its steps and the palace gardens fronting it, attended by all dignitaries and Diplomatic Corps and watched by the public. 34 students representing Indonesia’s 34 provinces will march to the main stairs, then one of the chosen students will walk up the steps to receive the Red and White flag personally from the President to raise the national flag on the large flagpole, to the accompaniment of the National Anthem : Indonesia Raya.
Then the original Proclamation of Independence text is read out at exactly 10.0 am, the exact time it was announced on that historic day on 17 August 1945 by Soekarno, Indonesia’s first President. This will then be followed by 17 gun salutes.
Now that the original Red and White flag has become frayed, and the original flag can no longer be flown, it still “accompanies” the flag that is to be raised.
The gardens in front of the Merdeka Palace were witness to the historic moment when the Red, white and blue flag of the Netherlands was finally taken down for the last time on 27 December 1949, and Indonesia’s Red and White flag raised high into the blue sky, denoting the end of Dutch sovereignty over the Indonesian archipelago after 300 years of dire colonization. This historic moment was witnessed with unabashed tears and exhuberance by the thousands of people standing in its grounds around the flagpole, crying out : Merdeka, Merdeka – Freedom, Freedom!
For this reason, the Palace was henceforth called the Merdeka Palace.
The official recognition of Indonesia as an Independent State from the Netherlands, was also signed in this building in 1949 signed by Sultan Hamengku Buwono IX for Indonesia and the representative of the Dutch Crown, A.H.J Lovink, thus concluding the War of Independence (1945-1949), when even after declaring Independence, Indonesian youth fought and died in battles against Dutch troops for the nation’s Independence.
Merdeka Palace today stands in a large complex decorated with old shady banyan trees and manicured lawns that also include Istana Negara or the State Palace, Bina Graha – the Office of the President, a mosque, and the offices of the State Secretariat.
Merdeka Palace is, in fact a newer building, built between 1873-1879, the original palace building being the present Istana Negara – the State Palace – that faces the other side, to Jalan Juanda. This Palace is today used for banquets.
It was in the Istana Negara that the Linggarjati Agreement was signed in November 1946, temporarily ending armed hostilities between the Indonesian people and the Netherlands government, with the intention of making the Indonesian archipelago into a Federal Republic. The Republik Indonesia Serikat (or the Federal Republic of Indonesia) was born, but was later on 17 August 1950 unanimously disbanded to become the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia , in bahasa Indonesia named : Negara Kesatuan Republik Indonesia, or NKRI. which the country strongly upholds until the present day. (WS)
The Palace and its grounds are open to the public on specified weekends, but one must register well in advance at the Office of the State Secretariat. However, daily one can only see the Palace and its surroundings from the outside. A Jakarta double decker Tourist Bus regularly plies the route around the Merdeka Square (Lapangan Merdeka) several times daily. This tour is free and passengers can alight or step out at any of the stops.
The front of Merdeka Palace shows a wide portico with impressive Corinthian pilars. A 16-step wide staircase of white marble leads to the terrace. To its side is a porch where digniaries riding in by horse carriage used to alight. The first room is the Credential Hall, where today the President receives the credentials of foreign ambassadors.
Of interest are the four mirrors here where one shows a bullet hole in it. This was shot by Maukar, a fighter pilot who attempted to assassinate President Soekarno in 1960. The hole has been left for historical purposes.
More recently , this is where President Bambang Susilo Yudhoyono and First Lady Ani Yudhoyono hosted US President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama on their first visit to Indonesia as President of teh Unites States.
Behind this room is the Reception Hall and Sitting Rooms to receive guests for the President and the First Lady.
At the back of the Reception Room is a terrace that faces manicured, tranquil gardens with shady trees, that connect Istana Merdeka with Istana Negara. There are a number of fine sculptures here by Indonesian sculptors, most of which were collected by President Soekarno.
The Istana Negara was built by a certain J.A Braam towards the end of the 18ith century. After his death, the country house was bought by the Dutch colonial government to become the residence of the Governor Generals. The first Governor General who lived here was Van der Capellen. Originally there was a second floor, but this nearly collapsed, so that only the ground floor was maintained.
Unlike other grand mansions on Java during this classicist period, this palace does not have a wide open terraced front, but it has a narrow portico supported by many pillars. Its front has five large latticed doors through which one enters into a waiting area which is today filled with Indonesian paintings. In the center of this Palace is the dining hall, built in neoclassic style. Here, state banquets are usually held.
Talking about the Merdeka Palace is not complete without mentioning the Merdeka Square. This square is one square kilometer wide with at its center the towering National Monument, forming an obelisk on its platform, with a golden flame on its top. In the 19th century this was the elite neighborhood, where ladies and gentlemen used to stroll in the afternoons to see and to be seen.
During Dutch days, this square was called “Koningsplein”, meaning King’s Square. Today, on North Jalan Merdeka stands the Palace of the President, on South Jalan Merdeka is the office of the Vice President, the Office of the Governor of Jakarta, and the Ministry of Mining. On West Jalan Merdeka are other important government offices, including the Supreme Court, the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Communication and Information, the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Eonomy, the National Museumand around the corner the Indosat Building, with opposite it, the Bank Indonesia complex.
While East Medan Merdeka is where stands the Gambir station and the Emanuel Protestant Church.