For many years Banten (Bantam) was Batavia's greatest competitor. It was an important harbour town where European and Asian merchants bought pepper. The VOC tried to outplay its competitors through blockades.
In 1682, the Dutch had a unique opportunity to outplay Banten. The ruling Sultan, Abdul Kahar Abun Nazar, also known as Sultan Hadji, requested their assistance in the fight against his father and rival Sultan Ageng Tirtayasa. The VOC dispatched soldiers and the civil war took a decisive development, favouring Sultan Hadji. The assistance came at a price. On April 17, 1684, the sultan signed a treaty which accorded the VOC the sole right to trade in the kingdom of Banten. To ensure that the treaty was adhered to, a fort was built opposite the city.
The rudimentary elements were already there; in 1682 a group of sailors under the command of Rombout van Hoogstraten occupied a bastion in the sea wall of Banten and called it Fort “Speelwijk”, after the Governor General Cornelis Jansz Speelman (1681-1684). Surveyor Ewout Verhagen incorporated the existing structures into his design of the new fort: Speelwijk became the north bastion and the Banten sea wall served as the connection with the new northeast bastion Zeewijk. The southwest bastion was given the name Rivierpunt. On the fourth corner was a half bastion named Rottenest (later Nieuwpunt). From this bastion was it possible to fire at the Sultan’s palace Diamant. On three sides of the fort was a moat, while on the south side a small piece of land separated it from Banten River.
The construction began in 1685 with the erection of a wooden palisade. The land was piled up and temporary bamboo buildings erected, which were replaced by stone ones after the construction of the stone wall. Within the fort there were watch-posts, storages, barracks, workshops, commander’s dwelling and a church. There were three entrance gates: The Land gate at the riverside, the Water gate and the small commander’s gate in the sea wall.
Fort Speelwijk was completed in 1686. The armament comprised 48 cannons. In the 18th century, some improvements were made, such as the construction of ammunition cellars and improvement of the hospital and barracks.
Because the fort was located on the coast and potable water was in short supply, the soldiers suffered from tropical diseases. Governor General Herman Daendels (1808-1811) planned to demolish the fort. His plans were overtaken by the clash that erupted between him and the sultan which resulted in Banten being directly subjugated under Dutch authority in 1810. The fort had lost its purpose, was abandoned and fell into decay.
In 1911, Governor General Alexander Willem Frederik Idenburg (1909-1916) visited Banten. He ordered the remains of the fort and the European cemetery to be cleaned up and maintained. As a result, Fort Speelwijk became the first protected monument or cultural heritage property in the Netherland East Indies. It was the first step to the “Monumenten Ordonnantie” (monument law) of 1931.Today Fort Speelwijk, which is well maintained, serves as a tourist attraction.