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Bogor: the palace in the park

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In 1744, in the fertile heartland of West Java, a grand colonial mansion was taking shape. Gustaaf Willem van Imhoff, Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies, had commissioned it as his summer residence, a refuge from the stifling heat and the threat of disease in Batavia (modern-day Jakarta). The construction site could not have been more different from Batavia’s bustling streets. It was 50 kilometres to the south, in a forested river basin at the foot of several towering volcanoes. Van Imhoff eventually named the area Buitenzorg, “without worries”, but for the local Sundanese it became known as Bogor.

Van Imhoff did not live to see the mansion’s completion but his successor carried on the work. Over the years the residence was enlarged and renovated until the British invaded Java in 1811. A bright young official by the name of Stamford Raffles was placed in charge as lieutenant-general; for the next four years he would take up residence at Buitenzorg Palace. Under his tenure the palace grounds were re-landscaped into an English garden, and a memorial was built to his first wife Olivia Mariamne, who died of malaria while in Bogor.

In 1817, a year after Java was handed back to the Dutch, the first botanical garden in Southeast Asia was established in the palace grounds. Its founders may not have realised the significance of the site: the governor-general’s retreat had incorporated part of the samida, a man-made forest planted in the late 15th century when Bogor was the seat of the Sunda Kingdom.

Today the botanical gardens cover an area of 87 hectares (210 acres), with an orchid house, laboratories, two guesthouses and a zoological museum inside its grounds. Bogor has grown into a city of just over a million, and from Jakarta the long journey in a horse-drawn carriage is no longer a reality. A heavily-used commuter railway line links the two cities, as does the Jagorawi Toll Road. The grand European abode that Van Imhoff began no longer exists; it was completely rebuilt in 1856 after an earthquake. But its neoclassical replacement has stood for more than a century and a half, hosting successive governor-generals and the presidents of modern Indonesia.

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Lotus in bloom

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The cupola on Istana Bogor (Bogor Palace)

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The Istana’s West Wing

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Istana Bogor is one of six presidential palaces in Indonesia

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Grand Garden Café, formerly Café de Daunan, in the Botanical Gardens

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Cloud formations over an urban forest

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Fountains and cut grass at Lotus Lawn (Lapangan Teratai)

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Beauty in white

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Lotus Lawn, with Grand Garden Café at its crest

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Crossing the Ciliwung River

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Cacti in the Mexican Garden

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Statues of Nandi and Parvati, behind a 19th-century inscription in Old Sundanese

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Lady Raffles Memorial

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The Treub Laboratory, built in 1914

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Nusa Indah Guest House

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A small Dutch cemetery

36 Comments Post a comment
  1. Beautiful photos and an interesting bit pig history!

    May 17, 2015
  2. Sorry, should be “of”

    May 17, 2015
    • No worries – thank you for reading!

      May 17, 2015
      • Thanks. The Swype keyboard sometimes creates a bit of embarrassment for me.

        May 17, 2015
  3. What a quiet location for an overcrowded island

    May 17, 2015
    • It was a weekday so the gardens were very peaceful… I don’t think I would have enjoyed it as much with the weekend crowds.

      May 17, 2015
  4. I still think that we were extremely lucky with the weather in Bogor, especially after days of overcast and torrential rain in Palembang, as well as on our flight back to Jakarta. I thoroughly enjoyed that way-too-short day-trip since we met really nice new friends and tried some local dishes too.

    May 17, 2015
    • I felt the same, Bama… we really should have stayed overnight in Bogor! Shame we didn’t have another day off. I’m wondering if I should dedicate another post to those dishes we sampled and our time with Bart and Badai.

      May 17, 2015
  5. Did you see rafflesia flowers?

    May 17, 2015
    • We didn’t this time, Nurul. Bama and I were also hoping to see the titan arum (bunga bangkai raksasa) but the flower bed was empty.

      May 17, 2015
  6. What a lovely place. It looks very peaceful, but maybe not so much on a weekend. It’s not at all how I think of bustling Indonesia.
    Alison

    May 18, 2015
    • It was so quiet, Alison. I think you and Don could easily have wandered around these gardens for hours.

      May 18, 2015
  7. That looks beautiful. Australia is so young, we lack that kind of history! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    May 18, 2015
    • You’re more than welcome. 🙂 I feel the same about Hong Kong – we have precious little artifacts and historical sites from before the 19th century.

      May 18, 2015
  8. Reblogged this on themonkseal.

    May 18, 2015
  9. Beautiful collection you have here!

    May 18, 2015
    • I appreciate it, Swati – we really lucked out with the weather that day!

      May 18, 2015
  10. Ah finally, you post it James 🙂
    Maybe, you can come again in June, when Bogor celebrates its birthday. There is an-open-house for the palace, so you can come in and enjoy the inside tour. I’m expecting to host you and Bama again in Bogor 🙂

    May 19, 2015
    • I wish I could, Bart, but June is going to be a hectic month! Thank you for taking the time to meet us – it was a lot of fun to have you and Badai show us around. 🙂

      May 19, 2015
  11. Have you eat soto mie Bogor, James? 😀

    May 19, 2015
    • Actually I did, Wien – I had soto for lunch with the risol and green sambal. Enak! 😀

      May 19, 2015
      • Ah nice to know about that! Soto mie agih is one of the famous.

        May 19, 2015
  12. Bogor looks an amazing place, James. Captured well in your photos. 🙂 I have an opportunity to teach in Bogor (or Jakarta). It’s like night and day – do I need city and traffic, or a peaceful getaway like you described? 😀

    May 19, 2015
    • The gardens were so peaceful, Lee. It was such a change from the traffic jam we got stuck in while trying to leave Jakarta! I don’t know about the rest of Bogor though, it is a city with motorbikes, cars and lots of angkots, plus it gets packed on weekends. It would be so interesting if you moved to Indonesia for a change, though Singapore is clearly your favourite Asian country! 🙂

      May 21, 2015
  13. Shame on me for not having a post about Istana Bogor as detail as yours, James. But I’m very glad for having the best time with you, Bama, and Bart. That’s what matters.

    May 20, 2015
    • Hatur nuhun lagi, Badai, for being our guide! I would love to visit Istana Bogor on an open day – it already looks so beautiful from the outside.

      May 21, 2015
  14. The Awayfarer #

    It’s interesting to see a botanical garden with such a mix of western and eastern architecture. Bogor seems like a great place to spend the day.

    May 31, 2015
    • Funny how you saw that in the photos – I felt the architecture there was very Western, except for the roof of the cafe. Bogor was such a change from the traffic jams and chaos of Jakarta.

      June 3, 2015
  15. Hi,

    Nice Photos. 🙂

    – Vinay

    June 2, 2015
  16. So nostalgic! I grew up in Bogor and went to school nearby (actually, right across the wide expanse of the palace garden) and watching the deer eat was our favorite passtime activity after school. Hahaha!

    Thanks for sharing the story!

    June 2, 2015
    • Wow! I had heard of the deer but didn’t get to see them this time – it sounds like we were on the “wrong” side of the palace! I’m glad this post stirred up some fond memories for you. 🙂

      June 3, 2015
  17. My knowledge of Indonesian geography improves with each of your lovely, informative posts James 🙂 What a remarkably well preserved place! Very similar to the colonial structures in Calcutta – the guest house and cemetery in particular – and even here in Chennai. Only most of ours are in dire states of disrepair.

    June 5, 2015
    • Well Madhu, the same can be said of your posts from various places in India. 🙂 I had no idea of the charms of Lucknow or Calcutta until you drew them to my attention. What a shame about the deteriorating condition of all that built history. I think the gardens and colonial structures in Bogor are well kept because they are the city’s pride and joy – and its main tourist attraction!

      June 5, 2015

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