Were Colonial Hotels the Outposts of European Culture? Testimonies of Russian Travelers to Netherlands Indies from Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries

Savitskiy E.E.


The article aims at testing the concept of M. Peleggi, who pointed at the important role of the tourism infrastructure, which rapidly developed in South and East Asia after the construction of the Suez Canal, especially hotels, for the spread of the modern European way of life and asserting the prestige of imperial power among the natives. The sources used are the notes of Russian travelers who visited the island of Java in the Netherlands Indies in the late nineteenth – early twentieth century. The analysis proves that the hotels in Batavia and Beitenzorg cannot be classified as outposts of European culture or colonial «comfort zones». All travelers experienced considerable inconveniences, and attitudes towards the furnishings of Javanese hotels ranged from indignation to condescension. Only one hotel out of the four under review offered European cuisine, while none of them had any European entertainment worth mentioning. Hotel visitors experienced their European identity not because they felt at home there, but, on the contrary, because they contrasted their cultural experience with the hotel living conditions. At the same time, observing the hotel life allowed some guests making remarks about greater bodily freedom than is customary in Russia, the rationality of clothing, and the rejection of certain proprieties. The sources, however, do not mention any sexual or any other transgressive hotel-related experience. Hotels did not stand out as a place for violation of social or ethnic boundaries. In general, however, as all travelers described in more or less detail, they did not prove to be culturally significant colonial institutions.


colonial hotel; Netherlands Indies; Java; Batavia; Beitenzorg; Russian travelers; imperial identities.

DOI: 10.31249/rsm/2020.04.02

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