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Freedom Square

A 137-metre (450ft) tall marble obelisk is set in the centre of Medan Merdeka (Freedom Square). There is an observation deck at the top surmounted by a 14-metre (45ft) bronze flame sheathed in 33kg (73lbs) of gold symbolising the spirit of freedom. It was commissioned by Sukarno and completed in 1961 – a combination Olympic Flame-Washington Monument with the phallic overtones of an ancient Hindu-Javanese lingga. The National History Museum in the basement contains 12 dioramas depicting historical scenes from a nationalistic viewpoint. A high-speed elevator rises to the observation deck, where on a clear day there is a fabulous 360-degree view of Jakarta.

Mesjid Istiqlal

The imposing white-marble Mesjid Istiqlal (Istiqlal Mosque) on Jalan Veteran is the largest mosque in Southeast Asia and was built on the former site of the Dutch Benteng (Fort) Noordwijk. During the Islamic fasting month, Ramadan, the mosque is filled to capacity. Tours of the mosque are available.

National Museum

On the west side of Medan Merdeka lies one of Indonesia’s great cultural treasures, the National Museum. Known as Museum Gajah because of the bronze elephant statue in front, presented by King Chulalongkorn of Siam, it was opened in 1868 by the Batavian Society for Arts and Sciences – the first scholarly organisation in colonial Asia, founded in 1778. The museum houses valuable collections of antiquities, books and ethnographic artefacts acquired by the Dutch during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Objects of interest include Hindu-Javanese stone statuary, prehistoric bronzeware and Chinese porcelain. The star collection is housed in the Treasure Room – a stupendous hoard of royal Indonesian heirlooms. The Ceramics Room features the largest collection of Southeast Asian ceramics under one roof.

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