Benteng Pendem, Long Path Underground
Nusakambangan is probably one of the most familiar terms for Indonesian regarding law enforcement. It is the Indonesian Alcatraz situated on Cilacap regency of Central Java, where most dangerous criminals are jailed or executed. Facing this island on the mainland, there is a building that marks how important Cilacap was during colonial era. It is Benteng Pendem.
Benteng Pendem was a Dutch fort name Kusbatterij od de Lantong te Tjilatjap. During VOC era, it is the main defence for Cilacap harbour, the final destination for spice trafic along the south coast of Java before taken straight to Netherland. It is so-called Benteng Pendem for it was buried 4 meters under the surface of the hill nearby when the first time locals discovered it.
Excavated since 1987, the fort was reveled in relatively intact condition. Benteng Pendem was built between 1861-1879 on 10 acres of beach wall. Today, it covers only 6 acres land. The lack of historical record and information causes some the rest of its area to the north taken and functioned as part of the area coverage of Pertamina (Indonesian Mining and Oil Company).
Sitting only on a slightly higher level than the sea, Benteng Pendem was buried in purpose since its first construction as an undercover defence. The special experience of the Dutch damming up the beach can be seen from the fort’s construction. Instead of flooding the fort, sea water enters the compound during the flood tide and fills the moat for extra protection.
Upon entering Benteng Pendem, thick and bare stack of brick on the mason wall welcome everyone with eerie atmosphere. Haughty, you can feel the harsh time of colonial era from the fort. Its main entrance is a wide curved gate. This half circle opening and ceilling can be found in major parts of Benteng Pendem.
Inside the fort, darkness is blinding for a while as your eyes previously adapting the brightly shining sun outside. Eerie atmosphere is getting even thicker when your skin feel the moist but dry air on the interior. Dark corridors inter-relates a chamber from the others. Bringing flashlight is advisable during the tour.
It takes about an hour to explore entire part of the fort. It has 60 chambers totally, with fourteen as barracks, thirteen as cannon storages, seven for defense fort, and the rest for headquarters, weaponry storage, surveillance, prison, ammunition storage, aid station, and kitchen. Due to bad condition from aging, some parts of the fort were left buried.
Overall, Benteng Pendem is among only a few Dutch buildings that remain architecturally and physically intact. There is a vent on each room of cannon storage section. The holes are facing the sea as the cannons placed inside them as the sea defense. Right across them is a chamber previously the fort’s former aid station.
Each visitor should pay IDR2.500,00 for admission ticket, a very cheap price comparing with the knowledge we get. There are gazebo and a children playground for visitors taking after enjoying the fort compound. Apart from its gloomy atmosphere, Benteng Pendem is a good alternative for an adventurous trip the area.