Our first glimpse of what looked to be an abandoned Dutch fort came on our way back from our Christmas trip to Jogja. Our van had been winding through the jungle for about five hours when we came upon a vast area of rice paddies and Joel spotted some buildings in the distance. The structures looked like collapsing ruins so we assumed that they must be abandoned. Wanting to investigate when we got home, Joel wrote down the name of the town we were in, Ambarawa. We thought if we came back by ourselves we could explore freely. How wrong we were.
After some Googling, we learned that the buildings were indeed built by the Dutch in 1838 and called Benteng (Fort) Willem. It was used as an internment camp by the Japanese to hold 15,000 Europeans during WW2. Our friend Patricia is from Ambarawa so we asked her about Benteng Willem and to our surprise it is far from abandoned. The compound is part of a military complex with lots of administrative buildings, homes and even a still functioning prison. Patricia contacted someone at the prison and arranged for us to tour the areas with the abandoned buildings. When we arrived we were told by the military personnel that there were no tours and Patricia had to let them know that we had prearranged access. Thank goodness she’s a local! Joel and I certainly do not have the Indonesian language skills to have conveyed that message. It was definitely worth our while, as the grounds and buildings were intriguing and have retained some semblance of their original beauty despite their decrepit state.
Joel and our friend Clark that joined us ventured up these stairs to find that the building was pretty fully inhabited and the tenants were less than pleased to see tourists. After that run in we all stayed downstairs.
After Benteng Willem we visited Ambarawa’s train museum. Photos from there and of our whole traveling crew up soon!