Historic Sites

Timor-Leste is a fascinating and historically rich country, holding a heritage fraught with colonialism, conflict, and unending perseverance by the Timorese people. After hundreds of years of Portuguese occupation, Timor-Leste declared itself independent from Portugal on November 28th, 1975. Nine days later, Timor-Leste was invaded by Indonesia and brutally occupied for more than two decades. The island of Ataúro itself was used as a prison during Indonesian occupation; prisoners would be sent to the island to face years of isolation, and these prison sites still can be seen today. Many families of Ataúro still remember the occupation and the interactions they had with Indonesian military. On August 30th, 1999, the overwhelming majority of Timorese voted for independence from Indonesia in a UN-sponsored referendum, prompting brutal retaliation and violence from Indonesia and the militias it supported, killing thousands of residents over several years. At long last, the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste was recognized as an independent nation in 2002, ushering in a new era as one of the youngest nations in the world.

Learn more about Timor-Leste’s history by visiting one of the historical and cultural sites of the island.

  • WWII Memorial

    During WWII, Ataúro was occupied by Japan which built a fort on top of a hill. During an Indonesian occupation, a Catholic priest also built a grotto with a statue of Lady Mary.

  • Hole in the Ground Prison

    It is hard to imagine that such a beautiful place was once home to a prison that locked up violent criminals, but that was the case in Ataúro. In 1520, the Portuguese developed the island as a penal colony for their colonial rule. With the long swim back to the mainland and the out-of-sight, out-of-mind […]

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