Tracing the Historical Heritage of Coal Mining in Sawahlunto City

The lyrics of the song “Kota Mati” sung by Ariel, the vocalist of the band Noah (formerly Peter Pan) which was released in 2007, feels like describing the atmosphere of the city of Sawah Lunto in the 1990s. At that time the city of Sawahlunto became a quiet city. Many places where buying and selling transactions take place, such as markets, shops and stalls, are closed because customers are left behind. Bukit Asam Co. stopped coal production in the early 1990s because it was no longer productive for mining. Thousands of workers were laid off masse which caused the regional economy to be disrupted so that Sawahlunto began to be abandoned by its inhabitants.
Quoted from the website on June 14, 2022, Yenny Nanny, a historian at Andalas University, said that “From 50 thousand residents in 1995, it fell sharply to 43 thousand in 2000. People’s purchasing power also declined following the closing of shops in the market,” she said. The traders moved to other cities in West Sumatra where the economy was still good, she said, where by 2000 Sawahlunto’s economic growth was minus 6.27%.
But slowly, the area began to rise when led by Mayor Amran Nur in the early 2000s, Sawahlunto became a new magnet as a tourist area for mining towns, Yenny said. The former mining industry, which used to be the lifeblood of the city and is no longer used, has become a tourist attraction, and Dutch heritage buildings have been renovated according to their original form.
Before 1890 Sawahlunto was just a small paddy field surrounded by hills. Local people already know and use coal as a raw material for cooking. They mine coal traditionally.
The resource nicknamed “black gold” plays an important role in starting the ship’s engine to transport the exploitation of the colonized areas. Initially the Dutch brought coal from Europe. In order not to depend on European supplies, the colonial government explored the potential of Dutch East Indies coal.

In 1867 the Dutch colonial government commissioned the geologist Willem Hendrik de Greeve to uncover the potential for coal deposits in the hills along the Ombilin river. Three years later, de Greeve compiled a report on the discovery of ombilin coal entitled “Het Ombilin Holenveld in de Padangsche Bovelanden en het transportelsel op Sumatra West”. After studying this report, the colonial government decided to continue exploration and finally build coal mining infrastructure starting in 1883 until 1894.

Source: Willem Hendrik de

In 1887, in order to support the operation of the transportation system, before the opening of the mine, the colonial government prepared a railroad that connected the mine site and the port. After the transportation route was ready, the colonial government started coal mining in Ombilin. Starting from the Sungai Durian field which has the highest coal content. While the coal fields on the Durian River began to be mined, slowly a small town began to grow which was located in a rice field area near the Sungai Durian mine. The rice fields are crossed by the Lunto River and from there the small town gets its name, Sawahlunto.

In 1894, the railroad from Sawahlunto to Teluk Bayur port was used to transport coal mining products as well as a means of transportation. From Bayur bay, coal is transported using the steam ships SS Sawahlunto and SS Ombilin-Nederland. The construction of facilities is also continuing, including the Sawahlunto train station which was built in 1918 which is now a railway museum. We have to admit that the Dutch government is very reliable in regulating urban spatial planning. Likewise in the Mining City of Sawahlunto. the Dutch government built a city with all the facilities such as stations, markets, St. Church. Barbara, the Hospital, the Societeit Building, the ration warehouse which we can still find today.
Prior to independence, coal production peaked in 1930, with production of over 620,000 tons per year. Ombilin’s coal production is able to meet 90% of the Dutch East Indies’ energy needs. The Netherlands made a big profit from coal exploration in Sawahlunto.
In the period 1942–1945, the mine was controlled by the Japanese occupation government. In the period 1945–1958, the mine was managed by the Mining Directorate and in the period 1958–1968, by the bureau of the state mining company. In 1968, the Ombilin mine became the Ombilin production unit of state coal mining company Bukit Asam. Production reached in 1976 with a total of 1,201,846 tons per year.

Source: Bukit Asam Co/

In the 1990s, coal reserves were depleted, only underground mines continued to operate. Bukit Asam Co. as a coal exploration company in this area continues to lose money. To reduce operational costs thousands of employees were forced to lay off. This has really hit the economic sector of the people of Sawahlunto city because people’s purchasing power has dropped dramatically.
Finally, the economic disaster of Sawahlunto gradually recovered after Mr. Amran Nur was elected mayor in 2003. He proposed the idea of ​​making the city of Sawahlunto a historical tourist city. After discussing with various parties, he began to develop this former mining town into a historic tourist city.
In 2011, he received the Change Figure award from daily Republika. He was considered successful in bringing Sawahlunto, which at that time was threatened with becoming a “ghost town” after the closure of the Bukit Asam coal mine operation, into a tourist city. He is an engineer who graduated from the Bandung Institute of Technology (Institut Teknologi Bandung) and chose to return to his hometown, although previously he was a successful businessman overseas.

Source: The late Amran

The Mine City of Sawahlunto was finally declared a World Heritage Site by The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on 6 July 2019 in the city of Baku, Azerbaijan. The designation is part of UNESCO’s annual 43rd session of the World Heritage Committee held June 30-July 10 2019. The Sawahlunto mine is registered under the name Ombilin Coal Mining Heritage of Sawahlunto, one of a total of 36 sites nominated for the World Heritage List. .
Sawahlunto is located in the eastern part of West Sumatra Province. Sawahlunto can be reached by land using either public or private transportation and takes approximately 2 hours. There are 2 alternative land routes. The first alternative is via the northern route via Padang Panjang and Batusangkar with a slightly longer travel time and via the southern route through the town of Solok.
Tourists who want to visit the historical traces of coal mining to Sawahlunto are advised to take at least two days. This is so that visitors can enjoy this historical tour in its entirety starting from visiting museums, coal mining areas, coal hauling sites to former coal mining areas. You can stay at the Inna Ombilin Heritage hotel in the city center. This hotel was founded in 1916 under the name Ombilin Meinen, an asset of Bukit Asam Co. In the last few years, renovations have been carried out, and management has also been mandated by a hospitality specialist State-owned enterprises, namely Hotel Indonesia Natour Co. or the Inna group.

Source: Hotel Inna Ombilin

Hotel Inna Heritage Ombilin is located in the city center, precisely on Ahmad Yani street, Pasar village, Lembah Segar co-district, Sawahlunto City. Before starting your search for coal mining destinations, don’t miss visiting the Great Mosque of Nurul Islam, the Santa Barbara Catholic Church, the Cultural Center Building and the triangular square in front of the Bukit Asam Co. office, all of which are old historic buildings. The location of the buildings is not too far from the Inna Heritage Ombilin hotel. So, let’s now take a walk through the historical heritage of coal mining in Sawahlunto:

1. The Goedang Ransoem Museum

During the reign of the Dutch East Indies, the Gudang Ransum (Ration Warehouse) building was a public kitchen area for mining workers which was built in 1918. This place had two large warehouses and a kiln. The cooking fuel at that time used a steam system; directly below the cooking chamber was a crypt with chimneys which fed steam to the 20 hearths. This hot steam comes from hot water that is boiled using a boiler on the hills which steam flows into the kitchen.

The Goedang Ransoem Museum building was once a place for cooking activities for soldiers on a large scale during the Japanese occupation until the Second Dutch Aggression. During the independence revolution, this area was used as a place to cook army food. After independence, this building was used as the Ombilin Coal Mining Company Office, the Ombilin Junior High School (Sekolah Menengah Pertama) building (1960–1970), the Ombilin Coal Mine employees’ residence (until 1980), and the local community’s residence until 2004. Next, in 2005 the area it was conserved and arranged by the government of Sawahlunto City for museum events until December 17, 2005 it was officially opened by the former Vice President of the Republic of Indonesia, Jusuf Kalla.

In addition to seeing various cooking utensils from the Dutch era, visitors can watch documentaries about the activities of workers in the ration warehouse in the past. It is located on Abdulrahman Hakim street, Tanah Lapang Village, Lembah Segar District, Sawahlunto City.


Source: Large cooking

2. Mbah Soero Tunnel

Mbah Soero is a foreman who heads the chain (as chained forced laborers) at the Sawahlunto coal mine site. The tunnel is 1,500 meters long, 2 meters wide and 15 meters deep from the ground below the city of Sawahlunto. As the name implies, Mbah Soero comes from the island of Java and he oversees thousands of chain people who were imported by the Dutch from various regions. These forced laborers are political prisoners or residents who were forcibly taken from various regions.
It was built around 1898 for coal mining activities during the Dutch Colonial period. Inside, there were traces of mining and excavation tools in the form of hoe and shovel. Visitors who want to enter are required to wear mining clothes. Some of the tunnel walls have been installed with paving blocks, but many are left as they are. This is one of the silent witnesses to the history of the suffering of the chain people as a result of the Dutch colonialism. Please visit this site on Abdurrahman Hakim street, Tanah Lapang village, Lembah Segar sub-district, Sawahlunto city.

Source: detik/


3. The Sawahlunto Railroad Museum

This museum was formerly a railway line from Teluk Bayur – Padang Panjang – Bukit Tinggi – Sawahlunto. This station was actively used from 1894 to 2000 to transport coal mining products and passengers. Because the mining output has decreased which has an impact on the station’s operations and travel activities, the station is finally decommissioned. The local government in collaboration with PT Kereta Api Indonesia turned it into a museum. 2005. Former Vice President Yusuf Kalla inaugurated this museum.
In the exhibition room you can observe a collection of clocks, communication signaling devices, miniature locomotives, safes, rail jacks, guard bells, photo documentation, etc. Meanwhile, in front of the station there is a statue of Dr. J.W Ijzerman, who was a principal engineer of the Dutch railway service who was very influential behind the construction of railway lines in the Dutch East Indies.
One of the phenomenal collections in this museum is the German-made E1060 toothed steam locomotive which is nicknamed the “mak itam”. It is able to pull 40 coal wagons with a capacity of 130 tons per trip. The name “mak itam” which means black uncle was given because its body is jet black and when it runs this locomotive emits thick black smoke.
2012 was the last year that “Mak itam” operated serving tourists on the Kalaban – Sawahlunto route. After that, it had to be retired due to a damaged steam room heating pipe. The latest news, it is being repaired and will be operated again. You can see it on A. yani street, Pasar village, Lembah Segar sub-district, Sawah Lunto city.


Source: “Mak Itam”

4. The Sawahlunto Coal Mine Museum

This museum stores various collections of coal mining activities from 1891 to 1970. It contains a collection of coal mining equipment, archives, miners costumes, coal transport vehicles, coal sorting machines to audiovisuals and photos explaining the history of Ombilin coal mining. The museum, which was once a resident of former President Suharto, was inaugurated on June 14, 2014 by Bukit Asam Co.
It is located in the city center, precisely on M. Yamin street, Saringan Village, Barangin sub-district, Sawahlunto City. Near this museum stands Bukit Asam Sawahlunto Office. An old building left by the Ombilin Mining Unit. Built in 1916, this building has a Dutch architectural style and has become an icon of Sawahlunto.

Source: The Ombilin Coal Mine

Source: Some collections in

5. The Mountain Silo

The mountain silo, formerly called area C, is a coal storage and transshipment facility that is distributed by rail to Teluk Bayur port. It has an area of 2.5 Ha consisting of the main parts, namely the mountain silo building, the ampeyan (coal carrier to the port) and the control room. It is about 200 meters long, the tunnel is 150 meters long and has 38 blocks of partitions.

Source: The Mountain

There are three silos in this former coal mine. The three Silos, with the connecting rail above, and the Sizing Plant (a place for washing and grouping coal), are set in Bukit Barisan which surrounds the City of Sawahlunto. The coal hauling rails are supported by tall iron poles, connecting them with the Sizing Plant which is at the other end of the tracks. The three silos, which are at least 40 m high, used to store coal that had been cleaned and ready to be transported to Teluk Bayur Port.
The Sawahlunto Mountain Silo is not far from the Sawahlunto train station. From Sawahlunto station, The Silo tower is clearly visible. The address for The Mountain Silo area is Sukarno – Hatta street, Saringan village, Barangin sub-district, Sawahlunto City.

6. The Kerkhoff

Kerkhoff means church yard. It is the tradition of the Dutch, who are predominantly Christian, to bury their families next to the church. Over time, it became a Dutch cemetery term. This Dutch cemetery complex is the only one left in West Sumatra with an area of about 7000 m2 totaling 94 graves.

Source :

The construction of the cemetery building consists of bricks and reinforced concrete which is neatly plastered. Each night has a different form. Generally consists of tombstones, gravestones, jirat, cupola and ornaments – ornaments of European architectural style. This historically valuable cemetery has been designated as a cultural heritage number 60/BCB-TB/A/06/2007. You can visit it in the village of Lubang Panjang village, Barangin sub-district, Sawahlunto city.

7. The Dark Tunnel

The Dark Tunnel (lubang kalam) is an 828-meter-long railway tunnel built in rock through the foothills of the row. It was built to open Sawahlunto’s access to the outside. Work on the tunnel began in 1892 and was completed four years later. The tunnel construction involved Indonesian forced laborers brought in from various regions. You can visit it in the Talawi Hilir village, Talawi sub-district, Sawahlunto City. If you have the guts please enter it.


8. The Blue Lake

The blue lake is formed from former coal excavations in the form of a large basin. Rainwater filled this basin over the years to form a lake. The lake water looks sparkling blue in the sun. Around the lake grows trees lined up to form a natural frame. The blue color of the lake occurs because of the mineral content of the lake bottom. You can feel the calm atmosphere on the blue lake which is located in the Tumpak Tangah Village, Talawi sub-district, the city of Sawahlunto.


9. Kandi Lake

In contrast to the Blue lake, Kandi lake was formed from the breakage of the embankment holding the Batanghari river flow. River water flows into a large former mining pit so that it becomes a lake. Since then the lake has been used by the local government as a tourist attraction. It was inaugurated directly by the Minister of Culture and Tourism on December 1, 2006 which was then held by Mr. Jero Wacik.


The plants around Kandi Lake also contribute to making the atmosphere feel cooler and more comfortable. The air there is very fresh. You can sit back looking at the lake or eat with your family.
You can fish on the shore of the lake. The tourist facilities here are also very complete. There are water bikes, banana boats, animal parks and even outbound areas. Come on, visit Kandi Lake, which is located in the Salak village, Talawi sub-district, Sawahlunto city.

The descriptions of the Sawahlunto mining heritage sites as above are arranged in order from the closest to the city center where you are staying. This makes it easier for you to trace the history of the Sawahlunto coal mining area.

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