on Citarum Riverbank

The Citarum is an ancient river. However, the river has not always flowed many kilometers to reach its estuary at the Java Sea. The formation of the Bandung basin some hundreds of years ago once trapped the waters of the Citarum River.


The Citarum is an ancient river. However, the river has not always flowed many kilometers to reach its estuary at the Java Sea. The formation of the Bandung basin some hundreds of years ago once trapped the waters of the Citarum River.

Just how vast was the Bandung basin, and where was it located? The basin approximately stretched 60 kilometers long and 40 kilometers wide. You wish to see it? Just visit one of the cafés in Dago, North Bandung, and look towards the east, and then southward and westward.

Citarum housed an entire civilization, similar to how Ancient Egypt originated on the banks of the Nile River.

The basin spanned from Nagreg to Bandung’s east to Padalarang to its west. Mountains surrounded the basin, forming something that looked like a giant bowl.

In the prehistoric era, the basin attracted the attention of humans to establish settlements along the riverbanks. On the edge of the basin in the Citarum watershed is the Pawon Cave, which is believed to be the prehistoric site of an ancient human settlement.


Indonesian Society of Cultural Heritage chair Bambang Subarnas presents a statue which was used as a movie prop in late 2012 and was found on July 1, 2013 in the Pawon Cave complex in Cipatat district, West Bandung regency, West Java. The statue’s presence undermined the esthetic and scientific value of Pawon Cave, a site of prehistoric culture that is protected as a national cultural heritage.

Unsurprisingly, a set of human bones was found in 2004 at a depth of 143 centimeters at the site in Gunung Masigit village, Cipatat, West Bandung regency, West Java. The bones, which were in a fetal position, were estimated to be around 9,500 years old.

Citarum housed an entire civilization, similar to how Ancient Egypt originated on the banks of the Nile River, Ancient Mesopotamia on the banks of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, and the Ancient Indus civilization on banks of the Indus.

Surely, it is not easy to uncover the lives of prehistoric humans in the Citarum river basin. This is like looking for a needle in a haystack, the “haystack” in this scenario being hundreds of thousands of years old. What is left is usually artifacts and human bones.

However, far towards the river’s downstream area in Karawang regency, West Java, the Batujaya complex serves as more complete proof of the Citarum River’s historical importance in supporting ancient human settlements.


Excavators of the West Java Archeology Agency discover fossilized human bones on March 21, 2017 in Pawon Cave in Cipatat, West Bandung regency, West Java. The prehistoric human bones requires further laboratory research to determine its exact age, although researchers believe that they are older than previously discovered bones, which are 6,600-9,500 years old.

Uncovering Batujaya

The Batujaya Buddhist temple complex is believed to have been built between the 5th century AD and the 8th century AD.

Thus, Batujaya is older than Borobudur. This is highly surprising, perhaps because Batujaya is located in a coastal area. The temple was built in an area that might have been a melting pot of several different cultures.

“In Indonesia, there is no other culture as ancient and as advanced as [the one that built] Batujaya Temple,” archeologist Hasan Djafar told Kompas on July 13, 2013.

Unfortunately, Batujaya does not enjoy the same level of fame as Borobudur and is relatively unknown, despite being located only 50 kilometers east of the nation’s capital, Jakarta.

What is the proof that Batujaya was advanced? “Batujaya’s bricks are special. It is clay mixed with rice husks, heated at a temperature of 700 degrees Celsius and baked perfectly. As a result, the bricks have remained in good condition for hundreds of years,” said Hasan.

It is clay mixed with rice husks, heated at a temperature of 700 degrees Celsius and baked perfectly. As a result, the bricks have remained in good condition for hundreds of years.

Due to seawater erosion and the availability of materials such as shells, an innovation emerged in the form of stucco, a white plaster made from limestone, sand, gravel and crushed shells. It is usually plastered on walls. Stucco was a superior material in the past, with strength comparable to concrete.

As the area around it developed, the Citarum served as a border to two kingdoms, the Galuh and Pakuan kingdoms. The capitals of the two kingdoms were established quite far from the border. Galuh’s capital was in Kawali, Ciamis regency, while Pakuan’s capital was in Bogor.


A number of tourists visit Blandongan temple on March 27, 2011 at the Batujaya temple complex in North Karawang, West Java. The temple complex is believed to have been built in the 2nd century AD, and stands testament to the oldest civilization in the archipelago.

When the era of ancient Hindu kingdoms came to an end and Islam flourished, the Citarum once more stood as a border, this time between then Banten and Cirebon sultanates. For centuries, Citarum flowed far from the hustle and bustle of large cities, despite the continued presence of human settlements on its banks.

It was only in 1670 that Bandung regent Wira Angunagun established a town where the Cikapundung and Citarum rivers met. The town was later known as Dayeuhkolot, or “old town” in Sundanese.

On May 25, 1810, Governor-General Daendels moved Bandung’s capital 10 kilometers north so it was closer to De Groote Postweg, or the Great Postal Road. Bandung regent Adipati Wiranatakusumah II was reportedly angered by Daendels’ decision, despite his fear of publicly opposing the Dutch colonial leader.

Bandung’s Point Zero

The location that Daendels had chosen was then a lush forest, but it later grew to become one of Indonesia’s largest cities: Bandung.

The spot that Daendels picked to establish the city is now known as Bandung’s Point Zero (Bandung titik nol).

Why did Daendels move the city? In the book Bandung, Citra Sebuah Kota (Bandung, Images of a City; 2007) by Robert PGA Voskuil et al., it is explained that the city was moved due to the threat of the Citarum flooding.

Citarum’s Demographic

  • Population (2015) = 18.641.637 people
  • Population (2015) = 18.641.637 people
  • Highest population density: Bandung City with 14.900 people/km2
  • Lowest population density: Cianjur with 584 people /km2
  • Population density at Citarum River Basin: 3.759 people /km2
  • Population growth at Citarum River Basin: 1,16% (annual)

Source: The Ministry of Public Works and People's Housing, November, 15, 2016

Five years ago, when Kompas walked through Dayeuhkolot, almost no old buildings could be seen in the area. Voskuil said that the original Dayeuhkolot had “vanished”, possibly because regent Adipati Wiranatakusumah II built the new town with materials taken from the old town.


A vehicle passes through the red line marking Kilometer 0 on Jl. Asia Afrika in Bandung, West Java, in this Aug. 1, 2008 file photograph. The story goes that Governor-General Daendels stuck his walking staff into the ground to mark the spot for building a new town.

In the past 200 years, this was not the only time Baleendah and Dayeuhkolot faced problems that forced its residents to move to another area. However, residential and industrial zones mushroomed in the floodplain of the Citarum after independence, instead of during the colonial era.

Developing housing and infrastructure in a floodplain is similar to challenging nature. It is as if the residents deliberately constructed buildings in an area that would almost certainly be flooded; even more so when the buildings are constructed in areas lower than the water level of the Citarum.


Floodlights decorate Gedung Sate on Oct. 23, 2015 in Bandung, West Java, a major city located in the Citarum river basin.

Neglecting Agriculture

It is unclear how spatial and regional planning contributed to land management in the Citarum watershed.

The fact is that spatial planning has never been a priority in infrastructure development. In many places, spatial and regional planning has been effective only on paper. As a result, land conversion occurred on a massive scale.

For example, in Karawang, the granary of West Java, up to 180 hectares of land is converted every year. This means that rice fields measuring half a soccer field are turned into either a residential or an industrial zone every day, despite Karawang’s fame for its fertile soil.

In the 16th century, when Sultan Agung of Mataram planned to attack the Dutch colonial forces in Batavia, he used Karawang as a granary for his army. Thousands of Mataram soldiers were sent to Karawang to work as farmers to guarantee logistical supplies for the war.

Economic Growth

  • Number of poor people : 4,2 million people (BPS 2014)
  • Work force :
    18,98 million people (2009)
    21,01 million people (2014)
  • Healty housing :
    1.082 house (2009)
    1.836 house (2014)

Source: The Ministry of Public Works and People's Housing, November, 15, 2016


Local residents walk on April 4, 2013 along the Central Tarum irrigation canal that runs through vast rice fields in Karawang, West Java. The canal draws water from the Citarum River to irrigate thousands of hectares of rice fields in Karawang.

After the Jatiluhur Dam was opened, the rice fields in Karawang, Bekasi, Subang, Purwakarta and Indramayu received water through technical irrigation systems. Tertiary culverts stretch through many other watershed areas.

The combination of the water supply from Jatiluhur’s technical irrigation system and West Java’s fertile soil created an unparalleled agricultural zone in Indonesia. Nevertheless, land conversion was a bigger temptation.

Turning Our Backs on Citarum

Another example is the construction of the nation’s primary industrial zones along the West Tarum line

Foreign investors disbursed billions of US dollars in investment to establish factories for various industry sectors.

Industry in Citarum River Basin (Ministry of Industry, 2010)

Source: Litbang Kompas/ ERN, from the Citarum River Basin Organization, Greenpeace Indonesia, and The Centre for Industrial Data and Information (Pusdatin) Ministry of Industry (2012)

Land conversion is also closely linked to the toll road construction. Apart from the northern coastal toll roads, such as the Jakarta-Cikampek and the Cikampek-Palimanan, there is also the Cikampek-Purwakarta-Cileunyi toll road east of Bandung.


Greenpeace activists gather on Dec. 12, 2012 during the “I Choose Toxic-Free Citarum” campaign near a factory’s waste disposal pipe along a stretch of the Citarum River that passes through Sukamaju village in Majalaya, Bandung regency, West Java.

Today, it seems that the shadows of the toll road infrastructure loom over the Citarum watershed areas. Toll gates connect to almost all points in the watershed areas. It is no wonder that land conversion has been accelerating in recent years.

Residential and industrial zones are constructed facing the toll road and with their backs to the river. The consequence is clear: The Citarum River is being used for nothing more than to collect waste – liquid waste, solid waste and even toxic waste.


Writer: Haryo Damardono | Language Editor: Lucia Dwi Puspita Sari | Reporters: Her Suganda, Cornelius Helmy Herlambang, Mukhamad Helmy | Photographers: Agus Susanto, Cornelius Helmy Herlambang, Iwan Setiyawan, Rony Ariyanto Nugroho | Illustrator: Toto Sihono | Web Designers: Deny Ramanda, Rafni Amanda, Vandi Vicario | Producers: Haryo Damardono, Septa Inigopatria, Prasetyo Eko Prihananto