Beyond the Palace Walls
Yogyakarta is the living, beating heart of Javanese culture. Antonius Martono shares with us some of the city’s best secrets.
Most people who visit Yogyakarta explore Jalan Malioboro and the Sultan’s Palace. But there is a lot more to this city, including Vredeburg Fortress and the ancient path around the former palace that once served as the front line in the Javanese’s defence against the expansion of Western culture. I recently made my second visit to the city of my ancestors after staying away for 10 years, and had the chance to explore the real Yogyakarta.
To know the Javanese and to know Yogyakarta, Kota Gede is a good place to begin. Located southeast of Yogyakarta is an archaeological site that contains the remains of the Kraton, the Royal Graveyard and Royal Mosque of Mataram. The site dates back to the late 1500s and early 1600s. In high Javanese, the site is called Pasar Gedhe. As I had expected, there was not much to see of the Kraton, or Royal Palace, at the site. My father and grandfather used to tell me that there was nothing there anymore but local legends and tales about the palace. While the mosque and the graveyard (the precursor to Imogiri, the current royal graveyard) were quite intact, only a few sections of the original palace walls remained. The ancient palace began to fall in disrepair when the centre of power shifted from Yogyakarta to Kartasura, near modern Surakarta. It further lost political and cultural significance after Imogiri became the royal cemetery for the sultan and his family. The remains of the Royal Graveyard in Kota Gede provide evidence of the past glory of the area. Graves trace the lines of connection from the Mataram Kingdom and earlier kingdoms, and the placement of the graves can be considered a physical representation of silsilah, or the genealogy of the rulers. Although it is guarded and maintained by juru kunci (literally, keepers of the keys), I was able to gain access to the sacred inner part of the graveyard, where the mausoleum of Panembahan Senopati (the founder of the Mataram Kingdom) is located. A small gravestone covered in white fabric marks the resting place of one of Senopati’s grandsons, Prince Martapura, who is my ancestor and who held the throne of Java for less than a month.
Royal Bath in the City of Culture
The identity of Yogyakarta has changed over the years as it has played different roles in Indonesian history and social life. For years, Yogyakarta was known as the “City of Education” and the “City of Culture.” Recently, Yogyakarta was named by the United Nations as one of 88 historical cities around the world, including Kyoto, Paris and London. It was the only city in Indonesia to receive the honour. To this day, the Kraton plays a major role preserving Javanese culture and traditions. When I visited the Royal Palace, preparations were being made to welcome visitors with a traditional dance. The palace itself is a veritable treasure.
trove of ancient artefacts that point to the origins of Javanese culture. Most visitors head straight for the Prambanan and Borobudur temple complexes, but I preferred to explore the heritage in the city itself. My first stop was Taman Sari. This was part of the royal gardens and was called the Water Castle. Built in the 18th century, it served a number of functions, including as a workshop, meditation area, defensive area and a secret retreat. It also represents the modern history of Java since it was built during the reign of Sultan Hamengkubuwono I, three years after the great Mataram Kingdom split according to the Giyanti Agreement. Few people know that Taman Sari was built on top of the former royal palace, Pesanggrahan Garjitawati. It is very interesting that Taman Sari combines European and original Javanese architectural styles. The completion ofTaman Sari’s construction was marked by a relief that shows birds drinking the nectar from flowery trees. It symbolizes the year 1691 on the Javanese calendar, or 1765 on the Gregorian calendar. Taman Sari can be divided into four areas. The first is the artificial lake, Segaran, located in the west. The second area is a bathing complex to the south of the lake, called Umbul Binangun. The third area, now completely gone, was the Pasarean Ledok Sari and Garjitawati Pool, located to the south of the bathing complex. The fourth area extends far to the east and to the southeast complex of Magangan. Today, the area around the Taman Sari complex is filled with the houses of the 2,700 residents of Kampung Taman. The community is known for producing batik and traditional paintings.
Crossing the City Wall
Looking for the origins of traditional Javanese houses, I drove back to Kota Gede, hoping that the ancient city would reveal its mysteries to me.
The only well-preserved building in the area that may reflect Javanese architectural traditions is Sekar Kedhaton. The small building is beautiful, covered in ornaments that carry their own unique legends. The building was originally owned by Prawiro Soewarno, whose name will not be unfamiliar to Yogyakarta’s bon viveurs, having gained a reputation as a jeweller to Javanese aristocrats and the royal family. Sekar Kedhaton is a treasure trove of artefacts from Yogyakarta’s distinguished past. The establishment includes a twostorey restaurant and lounge. The ground floor is decorated in traditional Javanese style and houses the restaurant, as well as playing host to elegant rijsttafel ser- vice, that stately colonial dining experience. The second floor is the luxurious lounge, where wine and other beverages are available. The second floor also provides access to the hotel’s President Room, with its sweeping views over Kota Gede. But Sekar Kedhaton, of course, is not a traditional Javanese house in the strictest sense. I was told to drive north to Kudus, where I could find a well-preserved joglo, or traditional Javanese house. The house in Kudus is an antique knockdown house designed using solid teak and ornamented with beautiful traditional carvings and elevated floors. It was built based on the three necessities of life, according to Javanese tradition: food, clothing and shelter. All these appear in the different parts of the house. The best of the traditional houses were three independent constructions, each with its own roof, and together they formed one whole. The three parts were the Pendopo, in which visitors were received, the Pringgitan, a narrow passage to the back of the house, and the Dalem (ageng), the private space for the family. What I had planned as simply a fun journey to Yogyakarta turned out to be an enlightening trip back into the past, which opened my eyes to the majesty of Javanese culture.