A prominent museum in the Indonesian capital Jakarta was severely damaged by fire over the weekend, resulting in substantial damage to its invaluable collection. The National Museum of Indonesia, the country’s premier repository of historical and archaeological artifacts, caught fire on Saturday evening, according to local media reports.
Though the blaze was quickly brought under control – Komarudin, the chief of the Jakarta police force, told reporters that it was extinguished by 10 p.m. – the building has sustained considerable damage, prompting fear that its collection has sustained serious damage.
“Our top priority now is to save as many artifacts and historical objects as possible from the rooms affected by the fire,” Education, Culture, Research, and Technology Minister Nadiem Makarim told a press conference at the National Museum yesterday morning, the local news site Tempo reported. “We will save what can be saved.”
Housed in a neoclassical building completed by the Dutch colonial government in 1868 – a second wing was added in 2007 – the museum boasts a collection of around 190,000 items, according to its website. These include archaeological artifacts, ethnographic items, an extensive array of Asian ceramics, and a particularly rich collection of Hindu-Buddhist artifacts from pre-Islamic Indonesia. Among its most prized possessions is the Buddha Dipangkara, which is believed to be the country’s oldest bronze Buddhist statue.
The fire broke out in four rooms of the museum’s original Building A, police said.
Makarim said that a joint team consisting of experts, police, and firefighters will assess the damage and compile a list of items lost in the blaze. “Experts will provide us with an assessment of the losses, but the fire has destroyed display rooms, and the lobby, and even caused the roof to collapse. The museum contained many flammable materials,” he said.
“We cannot enter the building right now to inventory the collection because the firefighters said that it is not safe yet,” he added. “Safety is number one priority.”
The cause of the blaze remains unclear, but Asril Rizal, the chief of the Central Jakarta Fire Handling and Rescue Agency, told the local media that he suspected that the fire was triggered by an electrical short circuit.
Dyah Chitraria Liestyati, the chair of the Greater Jakarta Association of Indonesian Archaeologists, issued a statement yesterday calling the fire an unprecedented disaster, and urged the National Museum to do a thorough investigation to ensure that it does not happen again.
“We ask the management of the National Museum to conduct detailed data collection on the collections, artifacts, and the building that are impacted by the fire, so that real handling measures can be prepared,” she said in the statement.
In July, the Netherlands officially announced that it would return to Indonesia 472 cultural artifacts that were taken from the country during the 350-year period of Dutch colonial rule, some of which were scheduled to be displayed at the National Museum.