History of Lawang Sewu – The building that stands strong and majestic at the intersection
of five Semarang cities is still the heart of Semarang until now. Lawang Sewu is a silent
witness to history and life across time, cultural developments and changing times. Amidst the
hustle and bustle of an increasingly advanced city civilization, Lawang Sewu still stands static as the
pride of its people in every generation.
Its presence in the heart of the city seems to be a pivot that will always be followed by people who bring
their own stories. Even long distances are often not a problem for those who really want to
witness one of the nation’s great historical heritage.
Even by itself, Lawang Sewu already has a charm that makes many people can’t help but look at it.
The stunning white walls of Lawang Sewu from the front to the rear of the building, the
architectural carvings with a touch of New Indies style are enough to amaze.
The long history of Lawang Sewu also provides a magical and mystical touch, further strengthening the beauty of
this building as a historical place that must be visited.
Lawang Sewu may not be the only historic building in Semarang, but at least there are many stories that
influence the history of railways in Indonesia. Then what about the rumors of mystical stories
that are also believed by the people? Maybe it’s true if not only beautiful history is there.
Therefore, knowing the history of Lawang Sewu might be able to answer your questions.
Get to know Lawang Sewu
The name Lawang Sewu which is Javanese means ‘thousand doors’. The name is also a nickname so
that people can pronounce it more easily. In Dutch Lawang Sewu is also called Het
administratiegebouw van de Nederlandsch-Indische Spoorweg-Maatschappij. The building is
actually an office building belonging to the Nederlandsch-Indische Spoorweg Maatschappij (NIS).
Currently this building is an asset owned by PT Kereta Api Indonesia (KAI), which is a museum and gallery to
commemorate the history of railways in Indonesia.
It is also called Lawang Sewu because there are 429 doors in this building, along with 1,000 tall windows.
The building which has 3 floors is located at Jalan Pemuda, in the middle of Semarang City. The
laying of the first stone was carried out in 1904 and was completed in 1919. However, this building was
opened for use around 1907.
Overall, Lawang Sewu is a complex consisting of two main buildings. Each building has two
buildings A and B, as well as C and D. Building A is a building facing Tugu Muda and has two twin towers.
This first building also mostly uses large stained glass, the main staircase in the middle and the
pathway to the underground passage.
Right behind building A, is building B which has 3 floors. The 1st and 2nd floors are often
used for offices, while the 3rd floor functions as an attic.
As with other historic sites, Lawang Sewu is also an old building that has become a silent witness to the
changing times and the civilizations around it. To talk about the history of Lawang Sewu, maybe
we have to go back to 1864 when the Dutch government program wanted to make the first railroad in
At that time, to travel between cities takes quite a long time. because of that, the Dutch
government decided to build a railroad line to connect Semarang-Solo-Yogyakarta and also Kedungjati to
NIS connects Samarang Station and Responsible Station starting in 1864-1867. Initially, the
construction of this railroad line was intended to transport agricultural and plantation products from the
Kraton Solo and Kraton Yogyakarta to the port of Semarang. With the development of this
technology, making the NIS a great success and the increasing number of employees made them decide to build
a new office.
The office they will use for all administrative matters is located on Jalan Pemuda in the city of Semarang.
So that in 1904, the process of building the office building began by appointing JF Klinkhamer and
BJ Queendag as planning coordinators, and selecting Cosman Citroen as the architect for the building.
Through a gradual development process, the Lawang Sewu building was finally completed in 1918. This building
became the headquarters of the private NIS Railway Company, but when the Dutch withdrew and the government was
taken over by the Japanese in 1942.
So that in 1942-1945 the Lawang Sewu building became the Ryuku Sokyoku Office (Japanese Transportation
Bureau). The Japanese did not only use Lawang Sewu as a transportation office, but also used
the basement as a prison for executions. Then in 1945, in October to be precise the Dutch
government wanted to retake the Semarang area, causing a war that succeeded in making the Japanese
After the war, this building finally changed again to the DKARI office (Djawatan Kereta Api, Republic of
Indonesia). However, then the DKARI office had to move to the former de Zustermaatschappijen
office because Lawang Sewu would become the headquarters of the Dutch army in 1946.
In 1994, the Lawang Sewu building was finally returned to PT Kereta Api Indonesia, which was then restored in
2009. All walls were repainted, rooms were cleaned and renovations were made to several parts of the building,
solely because this building has become one of Indonesia’s cultural heritage.
Therefore, in 2011, First Lady Ani Yudhoyono again inaugurated the building which now has the status of a
museum which is a place for domestic and foreign tourism. Now Lawang Sewu is not only a silent
witness to the history of the development of Indonesian rail transportation, but also a railway museum
building which holds many stories and the struggles of our predecessors.
Interesting Facts from Lawang Sewu
Apparently, Lawang Sewu also has some interesting facts, including:
1. Building Design Based on Climatic Conditions
As we know, the Lawang Sewu building has a unique charisma, where everyone who sees it will want to look at
it. Of course, this is not without reason. Lawang Sewu looks luxurious with a
distinctive building design apparently the result of quite a long and detailed thought.
Initially, an architect named P.de Rieu designed the building for the NIS office, but in the end the design
was deemed not good enough so they replaced the architect. The collaboration between Jacob K.
Klinkhamer, BJ Oedang and the easy architect GCCitroen resulted in a large, captivating design.
The Lawang Sewu building was apparently built to suit the needs of workers with the climate in Indonesia
which is tropical and tends to be humid. Therefore, this building has wide and many windows so
that there is good air circulation. As well as many doors that connect rooms to one another to
make it easier for workers to move to other rooms.
Similar to the typical Dutch East Indies colonial building style, Lawang Sewu also has a double gevel roof
type as a solution for much better air circulation. In addition, Lawang Sewu architects adhere
to a distinctive Romanesque Revival style with curved sides at every corner. Not to mention the
twin towers which are also typical of European buildings which are also the icon of Lawang Sewu.
2. Space Plan Adjusting Needs
Behind the magnificent buildings, Lawang Sewu also contains all the needs of local employees.
Where each room in the building has its respective function. Such as buildings for
offices with interconnected doors, so that employees can easily mobilize work.
Large hall room that functions as a conference hall, meetings and various types of events. The
twin towers are the place to store water. When entering the Lawang Sewu building you might be
able to see that the 1st floor houses a museum which contains documentation and also the history of
Indonesian railways. In addition, the Later floor on the second floor contains a hall, and the
recreation and sports halls on the 3rd floor.
3. Contain artistic value
When you enter the old Lawang Sewu building, you might be fascinated by the attractive style of the
building which also has artistic values. Like the stained glass that is placed right above the
main staircase, it has a philosophical value.
The four stained glass ornaments have different values and expectations. The first stained
glass symbolizes the beauty of the land of Java which is full of natural resources. Starting
from the flora, fauna to the produce, the prosperity is described beautifully with a touch of European
The second stained glass reflects the story of Semarang and Batavia at that time, where these two big
cities were centers of maritime activities. Then on the next stained glass is the symbol of a
flying wheel and images of the Goddesses of Fortune and Venus as symbols of luck and love.
In the curved area above the balcony are also sculpted works of art from pottery by HA Koopman.
There is also a small dome above the copper-clad water tower designed by L. Zijl.
4. The story of an urban legend in Lawang Sewu
It cannot be denied, Lawang Sewu is also not far from being mystical. Moreover, the building
had been empty and stalled for a long time, before finally being renovated again. Hearing the
name Lawang Sewu sometimes also makes us curious but also afraid because there are many mystical stories
that have become urban legends and are well known in society.
After NIS left Lawang Sewu, the building was used by the Japanese as an office and also a prison in the
basement. Behind the splendor of this building, Japan also often executed its prisoners, and
dumped their corpses into sinkholes.
Therefore, do not be surprised if Lawang Sewu also leaves a sad and sad story in it. That
there may be more other events that the story doesn’t reveal, makes the back building and the underground
part leave a less pleasant story.
Many believe that there are many sightings and mystical things that happen under Lawang Sewu.
Thus, visitors are not allowed to enter some parts of the Lawang Sewu building for security and
5. The Five Day War
The transfer of ownership of the Lawang Sewu building as the NIS office to the Japanese occurred in 1942.
After being owned by the Japanese, in 1945 the youth of Semarang decided to fight over Lawang Sewu.
So that on October 15-19, for five consecutive days the Railway Youth Force (AMKA) fought with the
Japanese army in front of the building.
The Japanese army, numbering around 500,000 people, was in and around the building, while AMKA was across
the street, namely Wilhelminaplein or now known as the Tugu Muda area. The outnumbered AMKA
troops held out for five days though were still ultimately outmatched.
The war that left defeat and sadness made many warriors fall. The brave young man was moved to
be buried in Giri Tunggal, because previously it was only in the Tugu Muda park.
6. Become the Best Photo Spot Place
It is undeniable, the beauty of the old Lawang Sewu building is still stunning to be the best photo
backdrop. The building design is unique and in the style of the Dutch East Indies, making every
corner of Lawang Sewu look charming. Starting from the front building which shows how the
building looks like a palace, the unique dynamic alleys, to the front garden of Lawang Sewu which is also
often a photo spot, even a place for pre-wedding.
What’s more, the nuance of Lawang Sewu towards dusk with dim orange lights makes the photo mood even more
aesthetic. Even Lawang Sewu is sometimes also the venue for holding events with a semi-outdoor
7. Lawang Sewu as a
Mandatory Tourist Place to Visit in Semarang
When discussing the city of Semarang, Lawang Sewu is certainly one of the city’s iconic places.
Similar to the mandatory tourist attractions in Semarang, Lawang Sewu is also one of the
influential historical places for the city of Semarang. So, do not be surprised if you visit
Semarang City, all tourists will visit Lawang Sewu at least once. Witness the nation’s
historical heritage that should not be missed.
Iconic Places in Semarang Besides Lawang Sewu
Besides Lawang Sewu, several other iconic places are also treasures of Semarang City that you shouldn’t
miss. For example, the Old City of Semarang, which is a beautiful area typical of the Dutch
East Indies, is the same as Lawang Sewu.
This Old City was once a trading area used by the people of Semarang from the 19th to the 20th century. In this
area there is also the Vijhoek Fort with its main street called Heerenstraat.
Not only Dutch heritage, the city of Semarang also has the iconic Sam Poo Kong on Jalan Simongan, Bongsari.
As one of the largest pagodas in Semarang, Sam Poo Kong is also a legacy of a Muslim Chinese
admiral Cheng Ho, who is also known as Sam Poo.
Not only those three historical places, but Semarang also has more interesting tourist spots such as the
Great Mosque and other places that are suitable for hanging out. If you have plans to visit the
city of Semarang, you can look for various recommendations for places to hang out, historical places that
must be visited, even culinary tourism typical of Semarang. All the recommendations you can
find in this book!
The history of railways in Indonesia is perhaps still rarely known. Because Indonesia itself
has a long history, especially if you want to discuss each region.
Therefore, studying history in general is not enough to make us understand how big this nation is, and the
many things it has gone through. Lawang Sewu, which is a silent witness to the long history of
the city of Semarang, is also evidence of developments in a civilization.
From the history of Lawang Sewu, we learn that all the technological advances and conveniences that we
experience today are not just the result of thousands of trials. But also the hard work of our
predecessors who fought in development, power struggles and sacrifices.
In the end, when time has passed, the price of an achievement can only be understood by studying history.
From there we are able to fix things that were missed in the past.
Thus the discussion about the history of Lawang Sewu along with interesting facts. Hopefully
all the discussion above can add to your insight.
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