Wars, suffering and blood shed fills the world’s history, and this is one of the reasons why many of the our planet’s older buildings have tragic histories that still mark them today. Lawang Sewu, in Semarang, the capital city of Central Java, saw some of the most devastating events in Indonesian history. The name itself means “a thousand doors” in the local language. However, this takes on slightly creepier undertones when you consider the building’s history. The name originally referred to its actual structure, even if It doesn’t actually have really a thousand doors.
From the outside, it looks like any other colonial era building and includes several buildings with two towers on the main structure. There was also a tunnel that connected the main building to the harbor and the governor’s mansion. In front of there’s a monument that’s dedicated to 5 building employees who were killed during the Indonesian War of Independence, a four-year conflict that extended from 1945 to 1949 after World War Two. The local people fought against the Dutch, who wanted to bring Indonesia back under their control.
The locals have carefully restored Lawang Sewu and turned it into an interesting part of Semarang’s cityscape, and It’s also a popular tourist attraction for people who enjoy architecture and history. But not only: it draws in people trying to get ghost photos as well.
Lawang Sewu’s construction began in 1904 with the main building, which was completed in 1907 and the workers finished the other buildings in 1919. The architects designed Lawang Sewu to incorporate classical features with new technology, and the result was a style somewhere between Traditionalist and Modernist, called New Indies Style, an academically-accepted term for Dutch Rationalism in the Indies. It was originally used by the first railway company in the Dutch East Indies, the Nederlandsch-Indische Spoorweg Maatschappij, but It was not until the Second World War that the buildings took on a darker fame.
The Japanese invaded Indonesia in 1942 and took over the Lawang Sewu buildings, and they turned the basement of one of the buildings into a prison, where they performed different executions. People lived and died terribly in the halls of Lawang Sewu during the Second World War, thus it’s not so surprising that the locals now believe that the building is haunted: many of the ghosts that people have seen there are connected with this period.
But it was enough: after the war ended, Lawang Sewu became a key site in the Indonesian fight for independence from Japanese forces. Indonesia declared its independence on October 14, 1945 and shortly afterwards, the building bore witness to the 5-day Battle of Semarang. During this fight, Indonesian and Dutch forces retook Semarang, and they used the tunnel leading into the main building of Lawang Sewu to sneak into the city.
It was was a devastating battle for both sides, eventually won by the Indonesian forces, who take control of the city. Japanese surrendered and Indonesian forces attempted to seize their weapons. However, the garrison at Semarang refused to hand them over and this sparked fighting in the streets as well as a massacre of Japanese civilians.
The total death count from this battle is unknow: some sources claim that thousands died and others that only a few hundred were killed.
After the war, the Indonesian army took over the Lawang Sewu complex, returned it to the national railroad company and in 1992 the government declared it a Cultural Property of the country. Unfortunately, the Indonesian government and locals neglected the building over the years that followed and by 2009 it was a sadly decayed mess, home to rats and pollution.
It was during this stage that the site began to get the reputation of being “haunted”, partly due to Kejawen, the Javanese spiritualism, which emphasizes the impact of violent deaths on our world. Wanting to prove their courage, people sneaked into the building at night.
Soon after, the Indonesian government made the decision to make Lawang Sewu a tourist attraction, and started renovations. It was 2011 when First Lady Ani Yudhoyono inaugurated the site and opened one of the buildings for tours. In addition, the government also tried to erase the ghost stories the building had attracted over the years. However, it seems that ghost tours are one of the most popular attractions amongst tourists!
Despite the efforts to clean up Lawang Sewu’s image, stories of hauntings and ghost photos began to spread: visitors often report seeing headless spirits wander the corridors and grounds, and a vampiric ghost was also said to haunt the basement where the executions were performed.
But even more spooky is probably the Dutch woman’s ghost who is often seen there. She is believed to have committed suicide there many years ago.
In 2007, a horror film entitled Lawang Sewu: Dendam Kuntilanak (Lawang Sewu: Kuntilanak’s Vengeance) was released based on these urban legends. It told the story of a group of high school students from Jakarta who were trapped in Lawang Sewu and featured ghosts of a Dutchwoman, a man with a ball and chain wrapped around his leg, and a kuntilanak, a female vampiric ghost in Indonesian and Malay mythology, often spirits of women who died while pregnant.
If you like macabre things, supposedly haunted places, or just want to get some ghost photos, then make sure you visit Lawang Sewu if you’re in Indonesia. Not only is it the home of many macabre ghost stories. Above all, it’s a famously historical building.
Source and images: Wikipedia