History of My House and Neighborhood

One aspect that I’ve enjoyed most about life in Dili is my neighborhood. My roommates and I have great landlords, a beautiful garden, and plenty of friendly school children running about.

Living here got me wondering about the specific history of my house, or at least the neighborhood where I am living. Clear-cut historical information is hard to come by, but I’ve been asking around a bit and I managed to gather some information. As best as I can tell, the Farol neighborhood was originally built to house staff for Banco Nacional Ultramarino, a Portuguese bank, after they began operations in Timor-Leste in 1912.

Photo of BNU Dili office that I found from 1967.

This was long before urban migration to Dili, and I believe that the population in that era would have been closer to 15,000 (contrasted to today’s ~250,000). The northeast part of the neighborhood, close to the lighthouse photographed below and just west of the port, would have been the original portion.

Dili Farol 1967

In the wake of the Portuguese Carnation Revolution, control over Timor-Leste quickly shifted from Portugal to Indonesia, who invaded in 1975. During this time, Farol was seized for use as quarters for the Indonesian military (TNI). This was likely due to its central location and proximity to the port, in addition to the relatively high quality of the housing.

Following independence and the expulsion of the TNI in 1999, the first Timorese to lay claim to the houses obtained ownership informally. I’ve learned that the case in my neighborhood of Farol tells only a small piece of a much larger challenge surrounding property rights in post-conflict situations. For some properties in Timor-Leste, there may be three titles that were issued: Portuguese, Indonesian, and Independent Timorese. Determining whose claims to a piece of property will ultimately be upheld is a key source of potential conflict in Timor-Leste’s near future.

Many Timorese and foreigners may be interested in investing in their small business or homes, but often choose not to because their rights to the land are not entirely guaranteed. Why spend your money on improvements if someone else might simply take it away? Resolving every dispute for ownership of land will be an extremely arduous and complex challenge. It will inevitably lead to small-scale conflicts, but if managed correctly, will not be a cause for national instability.


I just discovered an excellent old album of photos from around Dili and the rest of Timor-Leste from 1966-67 on Panaromio. I am going to paste some that I didn’t use above in gallery here below. Would somebody mind downloading these photos for me to get from them later? Megabytes do not come cheap over here…

Palácio do Governador 1967
Sporting Clube de Dili 1967
Sé Catedral 1967 – I believe that this is the one close to my house
Porto de Dili 1967
Dili 1967
Dili Aeroporto 1967