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Exploring Otanaha, the Most Ancient Fortress in Gorontalo

Gorontalo Fortress
Otanaha Fortress of Naha Family

If you are looking for a hidden paradise to explore on Sulawesi, you have to visit Gorontalo Fortress. The province is famous for its water destinations and tremendous hills that you can find in its remote areas.

You will feel the silence of nature and have plenty of time to contemplate while enjoying the fresh air and magnificent panorama. Gorontalo itself is the province that was established after being separated from North Sulawesi province, and its capital is also called Gorontalo.

Otanaha Gorontalo Fortress
Otanaha Gorontalo Fortress

What makes Gorontalo unique is the bumpy mountains and tropical forest – a place where endemic animals, such as the Tarsius and Maleo birds live. The Tarsius is the smallest primate in the world, just 10cm in length, while the Maleo is known as the bird whose egg is bigger than the bird itself. Among all the tourist destinations in Gorontalo, the most ancient fortress – situated on the top of a hill – is worth visiting. It is called Otanaha Fortress –located in Dembe I, Kota Barat, approximately 9km from the city centre.

Tribute to Naha Family
The Otanaha Fortress is related to the Gorontalo Kingdom and was used as a bastion or a blockhouse to withstand attacks from outside the kingdom. The first iteration of Otanaha Fortress was back in 1522 when there was an interaction between a Portuguese sailor and King Ilato of Gorontalo. The Portuguese offered the king to build a fortress to protect his territory after they were allowed to stop in Gorontalo due to the bad weather and lack of food.

Otanaha Fortress of Naha Family
Otanaha Fortress of Naha Family

After the fortress was built, the Gorontalo Kingdom found out that the Portuguese used their good relationship with the kingdom to drive away from the Portuguese pirates. Furthermore, the Portuguese tried to take control of the Gorontalo area from the king. Consequently, the Gorontalo Kingdom expelled the Portuguese from the area. Although the Portuguese has gone away, the fortress still stood firm and became an important building to protect the king’s family.

King Ilato had two daughters, named Ndoba and Tiliaya, and one son named Naha. When Naha was crowned as the new king, he ruled Gorontalo and was involved in a war with Hemuto, the leader of the northern region. As a part of his strategy, King Naha used the fortress as a site to protect his family; his wife, Ohihiya and their two sons, Paha, or Pahu, and Limonu. The fortress became the last defence to hold off an attack from Hemuto soldiers. Unfortunately, during the war, King Naha and his son Paha were caught and killed by Hemuto. The Gorontalo Kingdom struggled to fight back and Limonu took his revenge and killed Hemuto.

Following this war, the fortress has been presented to the king’s family. There are three parts of the fortress and each of them represents the name of Naha’s family. The first and main fort is named Otanaha. In the local Gorontalese language, Ota means fort and Naha is the name of the king who died in the fortress. The second fort is called Otahiya in which Hiya represents Ohihiya, King Naha’s wife, whilst the third part is named Ulupahu, which means Pahu Fort.

Sunset and Limboto Lake
Not only it is known as the most ancient fort, but Otanaha Fortress is also the most solid building. It was built with unique materials; composed of sand, coral reef, and the albumen of the Maleo egg. The locals said that the Maleo egg serves as adhesive for the building materials and it has made the fortress stand for centuries, standing seven metres with a diameter of 20 metres.

Since it is located on the top of a hill, visitors must go up 348 steps to reach the three forts. It is challenging to conquer all the stairs; however, you will find four stopovers to take a rest when heading up there. From the parking area to the first stopover, you must pass 52 steps and then continue 83 steps from the first to the second stopover. From here, a view of the city centre can be seen, although it is a bit vague. To reach the third stopover, visitors still need to pass 53 steps and 89 steps from the third to the fourth stopover. Finally, from here to the fort, 71 steps must be passed.

Limboto Lake
Limboto Lake

When arriving at the fortress, visitors will realise that the three forts look much like the Roman Colosseum, but smaller. It features a bushy field located in the middle of the fort where you can stand and see the surroundings. You will be able to enjoy the spectacular view of green hills and local houses that can be seen clearly from above.

The line of the trees is breathtaking. One of the best panoramas from the site is the view of Limboto Lake with its huge expanse of water. Limboto Lake is an estuary of 23 rivers and connects directly to the sea. A long time ago, during the Gorontalo Kingdom era, the fortress was used as a watchtower to observe the ships passing the lake. At that time, Limboto Lake was the main trading route between regions.

Green Hills of Gorontalo
Green Hills of Gorontalo

For me, the best moment is witnessing the sunset from the top of Otanaha Fortress. The orange sky will reflect on the water of Limboto Lake and a group of birds will fly around. Visitors may take pictures freely and experiment with the best angle. However, littering during exploration is not allowed. Fort Otanaha is very clean and it makes visitors feel comfortable to stay longer while enjoying nature.

How to Get There
If you have arrived in Gorontalo City, then it is not difficult to visit Otanaha Fortress. From the city centre, you need to drive 30 minutes. If you don’t drive, there’s local transportation called “bentor” or “becak motor”. It costs around Rp30,000-50,000 and they will take you to the gate of Otanaha Fortress. You also need to pay the entrance fee of Rp5,000. This site opens from 8 am to 6 pm. Remember to stay fit if you decide to walk up from the entrance gate, and do not forget to bring some snacks!

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