Standing atop the 10 meters high and 288.75 meters long thick walls of Kuto Besak Fortress, one looks down on the passing boats and ships on the Musi River below. Built during the 17th century, Kuto Besak Fort is a legacy of the Palembang Darussalam Sultanate, that ruled from 1550-1823. Acting as a defense post, the location of the Fortress is both politically and geographically strategic as it forms and island on its own, bordered by on its south by the Musi River, the Sekanak River on its west, the Kapuran River on its north, and the Tengkuruk River on its east.
According to history, the building of the Kuto Besak Fortress was initiated by Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin I, who reigned from 1724 to 1758. The construction started in 1780 during the era of Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin. The fort was meant as a palace, which was built to replace the old Keraton Kuto Lamo or Benteng Kuto Lamo which did not look sufficiently grand. Today, the Benteng Kuto Lamo is used as the Museum Sultan Mahmud Badarudin II It took 17 years before Kuto Besak Fortress was finally used officially as the Sultanate’s governmental center from February 21st 1797.
Kuto Besak Fortress is a reflection of the multi- ethnic society of the era of the Palembang Darussalam Sultanate. Supervision of its construction was entrusted to a Chinese supervisor, while laborers were both native Palembang and Chinese who worked hand in hand in harmony. This is also one of the legacies that is passed down to this day as illustrated in many of the city’s special events such as at the Cap Go Meh and Imlek (Chinese New Year) Celebrations.
Each corner of the fort is strengthened with bastions. The Bastion in the west corner is larger and similar to other forts in Indonesia while the other three bastions are achitecturally unique, and are unlikely found elsewhere. The main gate, called lawang kuto, is located in the south facing the Musi River, while the other gates, called lawang borotan are located in the west and the east, although the west gate is today the only one that is still standing.
History tells us that in 1821 the fort was invaded by the Dutch colonial army. The Kuto Besak Fortress was taken and the reigning Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin II exiled to Maluku . This marks the end of the Palembang Sultanate era. The Dutch occupation left its marks on the fort as it carved its colonial style on Kuto Besak Fortress.
Today, the Kuto Besak Fortress is, unfortunately, closed to the public since it is used as a military base. However, the Fortress remains an attraction . As the sun sets in the afternoon, lights glow around the fort, creating sparkles that highlight the walls of the fort. As one of the historical landmarks, a trip to Palembang will not be complete without a visit to Kuto Besak Fortress.
Getting there is far from complicated. Take a taxi or find public transportation, an angkot, which passes by the fort. Buses also pass this historic complex, and so does the blue Trans Musi.