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Fort Rotterdam and the I La Galigo Museum within: History of South Sulawesi

Standing majestically at the western coast of Makassar, find Fort Rotterdam is recognized as the city’s most iconic landmark. With historical traces dating back to the Kingom of Gowa from the 16thth century to colonization by the Dutch, ask this Fort has silently witnessed many episodes in Makassar’s history, remedy playing a most essential role in its development.

Its magnificence and authenticity has always captivated those who set eyes on it. A journalist from New York Times, Barbara Crossette even described it as “the best preserved Dutch Fort in Asia”.

Originally called Benteng or Fort Jumpandang or Ujung Pandang, the huge complex was first built in 1545 in the era of Imanrigau Daeng Bonto Karaeng Lakiung or Karaeng Tunipalangga Ulaweng, the tenth King of Gowa. Initially, the fort was made from a mixture of Stone and burnt clay, and took the shape of a typical square Portuguese architectural style.

During the reign of Sultan Alauddin, the 14th king of Gowa, the fort’s construction material was replaced with black Karst, rocks from the mountain sides of the district of Maros. The fort was also expanded and took on a new shape resembling a sea turtle, thus the fort gained a new name, namely : Benteng Pannyua (Penyu) or Fort Sea turtle. The shape is not only unique, but also contains deep meaning.  For just as a sea turtle lives both on land and at sea, the glory of the Gowa Kingdom also stretched on land as well as over the seas.

Indeed, the Bugis were then a recognized and respected power all across the Indonesian seas even to the Straits of Malacca

Between 1655 to 1669, Dutch forces attacked the Gowa Sultanate, which at the time was under the rule of Sultan Hasanuddin. The city’s strategic location made it an ideal place to fully control the spice trade passage, and to become the starting point that would eventually open up the route to the seas of Banda and Maluku, the original Spice Islands.

Led by Dutch Governor General Admiral Cornelis Janszoon Speelman, Dutch forces launched a massive attack on Makassar for a full year. At this time, major parts of the Fort were devastated as the Dutch began to occupy the land. As a result of the defeat, the Sultan of Gowa was forced to sign the Bongaya treaty that gave the Dutch authorities full control over Makassar’s trade.

Governor General Speelman subsequently rebuilt parts of the fort that were destroyed.  Not only applying Dutch distinct style to the structure, but Speelman added another bastion at its west side. The fort was later renamed after Speelman’s hometown: Rotterdam. The fort grew to be the center for stockpiling of spices and an important Entrepot.  Eventually this led to Makassar becoming the center of the Dutch Colonial government in Eastern Indonesia.

In 1938 Dutch authorities established the first ever Museum in South Sulawesi, namely the Celebes Museum, located within the complex of Fort Rotterdam itself. Initially the museum occupied building no. 2 only, which was once the residence of Admiral Speelman. Its collection came from various excavations that included ceramics, currencies, gold and jewelries, and others.

By the time of the Japanese occupied Makassar during World War II, the Celebes Museum already occupied three buildings of the complex. To its collection were added wooden tools, several types of ships, farming equipment, house ware, musical instruments, weaponry, and many others.

After the War, the museum was officially re-established in 1970, bearing the name by which it is known today, namely: Museum La Galigo. La Galigo was the Pajung Lolo or Prince of the Luwu Kingdom in the 14th century who was also the son of Sawerigading Opunna Ware, a legendary Bugis hero. The name also refers to the famous I La Galigo, the world’s longest epic poem. Exhibiting various collections from the early Celebes Museum as well as other additions including the collection of the kingdom of Sawito, Wajo, Mandar, Luwu, Bone and others, the present Museum  occupies building no.2 and no.10 within the Fort Rotterdam complex.


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