Wars, suffering and blood shed fills the world’s history. That’s why many of the world’s older buildings have tragic histories that still mark them today. Lawang Sewu saw some of the most devastating events in Indonesian history. So, there’s really no surprise that people think of the site as the most haunted building in the country. In fact, the name itself means ‘a thousand doors’. And it’s up to each visitor to decide where some of those doors might lead to. If you like architecture, history, and spooky places, make sure you stop by. The house of a thousand doors will welcome you.
Where is Lawang Sewu?
Lawang Sewu is a landmark building located in Semarang, the capital city of Central Java. The name of the building translates to ‘A thousand doors’ in the local Javanese language. This takes on slightly creepier undertones when you consider the building’s dark history. However, the name originally referred to the actual structure of the building. It doesn’t actually have a thousand doors. But there are so many large windows that locals assumed it did, giving the site its name.
From the outside, Lawang Sewu looks like any other colonial era building. It includes several buildings with two towers on the main building. There was also a tunnel that connected the main building to the harbor and the governor’s mansion. In front of the building, there’s a monument that’s dedicated to 5 building employees who were killed during the Indonesian War of Independence. This was 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 painstakingly restored Lawang Sewu and turned it into an eye-catching part of Semarang’s cityscape. It’s also a popular tourist attraction for people who enjoy architecture or history. And it draws in people trying to get ghost photos as well.
The History of Lawang Sewu
Lawang Sewu’s construction began in 1904 with the main building, which was completed in 1907. The workers finished the rest of the buildings in 1919. The architects designed Lawang Sewu to incorporate classical features with new technology. The result was a style somewhere between Traditionalist and Modernist. It was originally used by the first railway company in the Dutch East Indies, the Nederlandsch-Indische Spoorweg Maatschappij. It was not until the Second World War that the buildings took on a darker twist.
The Japanese invaded Indonesia in 1942 and took over the Lawang Sewu buildings. They turned the basement of one of the buildings into a prison, where they performed executions. People lived and died terribly in the halls of Lawang Sewu during the Second World War. So, 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 conflict.
After World War II
But even after the war ended, there was no peace for Lawang Sewu. It became a pivotal site in the Indonesian fight for independence from Japanese forces. Indonesia declared its independence on October 14, 1945. 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.
The battle was devastating for both sides. It was eventually won by the Indonesian forces, giving them control of the city. The Japanese forces surrendered and Indonesian forces attempted to seize their weapons. However, the garrison at Semarang refused to hand them over. This sparked fighting in the streets as well as a massacre of Japanese civilians.
The total death count from this battle is a point of contention. Some sources claim that thousands died and others that only a few hundred were killed. Whatever the truth, Lawang Sewu saw more bloodshed and pain. And this just added to the legends about the site.
Lawang Sewu’s Recent History
After the war, the Indonesian army took over the Lawang Sewu complex and returned it to the national railroad company. And in 1992 the government declared it a Cultural Property of Indonesia. Unfortunately, this didn’t make a lot of difference. The Indonesian government and locals neglected the building over the years that followed. By 2009 it was a sadly dilapidated mess. People who entered the building found it dark, blackened by neglect and pollution, and home to mice and rats.
It was during this stage that the site began to get the reputation of being haunted. This was partly due to Kejawen or Javanese spiritualism, which emphasizes the impact of violent deaths on spaces. Wanting to prove their courage, men would sneak into the building at night. They’d even try to spend the night there. They also told stories of their experiences and of the ghosts they saw.
Soon after, the Indonesian government made the decision to make Lawang Sewu a tourist attraction, and started renovations. In 2011, First Lady Ani Yudhoyono inaugurated the site and opened one of the buildings for tours. The government also tried to erase the ‘spooky image’ the building had built up over the years. This hasn’t been very effective. Ghost tours are one of the most popular attractions amongst tourists. And tourists rush to sign up when the basement, the site of many executions during WWII, opens for night tours.
Ghost Photos and Hauntings
Despite the efforts to clean up Lawang Sewu’s image, stories of hauntings and ghost photos began to do the rounds. Visitors to the buildings often report seeing headless spirits wander the corridors and grounds. A vampiric ghost was also said to haunt the basement where the executions were performed. This doesn’t stop people flocking there when it opens for night tours.
But even more spooky is the Dutch woman’s ghost who is often seen at the site. She is believed to have committed suicide there many years ago. And she was even captured on film during a TV show. Her ghost is one of the more common spooky sights in Lawang Sewu. And the sight of her will raise the hair on the back of your neck!
If you like spooky things, or just want to get some ghost photos, then make sure you check out Lawang Sewu while you’re in Indonesia. Not only is it the home of many chilling ghost legends, it’s also a famously historical building.