Surakarta – also known as Solo – is the sister city of Jogjakarta, the off-shoot of the Mataram Sultanate after its split around three hundred years ago. Although it has similar culture and heritage with Jogjakarta, it does possess its own distinctive uniqueness. Surakarta has undergone various changes through modernisation, adaptation and integration; but compared to the other cities in Java, Surakarta still retains much of the Javanese authentic identity. The destination proves a magnet for culture vultures, heritage celebrants, history buffs and ethno-sophisticates.
Many Malaysians identify Surakarta as Solo based on a famous Indonesian folk song called ‘Begawan Solo’ (‘Solo River’), which is the longest river in Java that flows through the central and eastern parts of the island.
MUSEUMS AND HERITAGE
Travellers can learn about the history of the Mataram Sultanate at the Mangkunegaran Palace (puromangkunegaran.com), the second house of Solo after the intriguing Surakarta Hadiningrat Palace. Mangkunegaran Palace, established since 1757, is characterised by Dutch-Javanese architecture and houses a large collection of heirlooms and artefacts belonging to the royal family since the time of Majapahit and Mataram Sultanate. Today, the palace is now an art and cultural centre of Surakarta.
Batik Solo is one of the most popular batik styles in the world. Although it progresses over time, it manages to remain outstandingly distinctive. Batik Museum of Danar Hadi – considered as one of the best batik museums in the world – takes visitors back in time to see how batik evolved over the ages. The museum keeps over 10,000 pieces of batik from all over the world, including those that are antique, royal and rare. Its storefront offers a wide variety of high quality batik for visitors to purchase. This museum, located inside the House of Danar Hadi (www.danarhadibatik.com/danar-hadi-world), also offers expertise in assessing old batiks to determine which era they belong and how much it might worth.
Besides batik, Surakarta is also home to one of the best keris museums in the world. At the Keris Museum in Solo, visitors can learn the interesting process of how a keris is made and what makes it different than the other hand-wield weapons, especially when fashioning out the keris’ curves and lines that resemble river and water. Visitors will learn that not all keris are alike and there are different types and features for different needs, for example the keris made for women is usually shorter than those made for men.
Sangiran Museum (whc.unesco.org/en/list/593) is located within the Sangiran archaeological excavation site recognised by UNESCO that comes with an education centre, displaying objects surrounding the discovery of prehistoric human and animal fossils existed on this site as far as a million years ago. This museum is significant, especially to archaeology, because it is the home to the famous “Java Man”.
SHOPPING & CRAFTS
When travelling to Indonesia, travellers are bound to do shopping due to the abundance of interesting and value-for-money goods and merchandises. Although Surakarta may not be the place for visitors to look for high-end fashion, it is still a popular place for shoppers seeking products and crafts that are rich in heritage, ethnic style and ingenuity. Like Jogjakarta, Surakarta is also a batik powerhouse.
To shop for beautiful batik, Pria Tampan (www.batikpriatampan.com) is one of the batik houses in Laweyan Village offering rich experience for visitors who wish to learn more about batik and the wide variety of high quality batik collections to buy. Laweyan Village is one of the oldest batik villages in Indonesia and recognised as the haven for Batik Solo. Visitors from all over the world come to this village to find batik masterpieces that are authentic and unique. When walking around the village, visitors can enjoy and appreciate the interesting architecture of the surrounding houses and structure that possess Javanese, European, Islamic and Chinese influences.
For wider variety of batik and textiles, Klewer Market should be the place to visit. This shopping centre, which accommodates batik traders from Surabaya, Jogjakarta and other parts of Indonesia, is Solo City’s icons.
Other than collecting antique batik, ardent travelling collectors should visit Triwindu Antique Market, a flea market where anything considered antique is on sale. Triwindu Market is also famous for offering one of the most affordable prices of antique items comprising old shadow puppets, ancient batik, old coins, vintage posters, wooden masks, keris and more. This antique market is located in front of Mangkunegaran Palace and a must visit when travellers come to Surakarta.
During our trip to Solo City of Surakarta, we savoured various local dishes and food unique to Surakarta. My favourite restaurant during the trip is Omah Sinten (www.omahsinten.net), which is a great place to experience local cuisine and take Instagram-worthy selfies! I tried Garang Asem Bumbung and Timlo Solo for the first time here. Garang Asem tasted like gulai lemak, a soupy curry-like dish that made from coconut milk, turmeric root and leaf while Timlo Solo is a spicy but delicious soup containing tofu, eggs and meat. Located next to Triwindu Market and opposite Keraton Mangkunegaran, this is also the place where travellers should come to chill Solo-style: drinking refreshing tea while listening to keroncong music. Love it!
During night time, travellers should head down to Galabo Solo, which is Surakarta’s street food market opened on a street that has been pedestrianised exactly behind Vastenburg Fort. Already a major tourist attraction, this is where travellers can enjoy authentic nasi gudeg (rice with jackfruit dish), nasi liwet (rice cooked in coconut milk, chicken broth and spices), timlo solo, tengkleng (soup made from mutton bones and ribs) and satay.
On top of that, I also recommend that travellers visit Pak Haji Bejo Restaurant to enjoy the best tengkleng and mutton satay in Surakarta. Here, tengkleng is traditionally made by simmering the mutton bones and ribs together with herbs and spices, resulting in strong aroma. Mutton satay, on the other hand, refers to skewered grilled pieces of mutton meat. Apparently, this is the favourite restaurant of the President of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, during his tenure as the Mayor of Solo.
A trip to Surakarta is also incomplete without trying the Serabi Notosuman, one of the best and the oldest establishments selling serabi in Surakarta. Serabi is a sweet and soft delicacy made of flour and sugar but comes with different kinds of toppings.
Sriwedari Human Puppet Troupe
A century-old theatre play called ‘Wayang Orang Sriwedari’ (Sriwedari Theatre Troupe) was revived by the government, private institutions and the young generation back in early 2000s after years of decline. Social media has also helped in bringing back interest towards this type of play, which used to be shown exclusively at the royal palaces.
The play performs various stories, but mostly are taken from the Ramayana and Mahabharata epics. Live gamelan music is used to accompany the performance, including contemporary background music and special effects. During intermission, audiences are entertained by hilarious comic characters from the play.
However, foreign travellers might be limited to admiring the play’s aesthetics and music since they might not comprehend the play’s script and jokes during intermission since the play is performed entirely in Javanese.
Solo International Performing Arts (SIPA)
When we were in Solo, we had the opportunity to witness the official launch of Solo International Performing Arts (SIPA) that took place at the Vastenburg Fort. Since its inception back in 2009 (during the time when the current President of Indonesia Joko Widodo served as the Mayor of Solo, SIPA has achieved its prestige as a major three-day festival devoted to creative arts by featuring performing arts from around the world. In 2017, SIPA staged performances under the theme ‘Bahari Kencana Maestro Karya’, carrying the message of how critical it is for us to love and appreciate the seas and oceans, including rivers, tributaries and water directly from the source.
Gaya Travel Magazine expresses our heartfelt gratitude to the Ministry of Tourism Indonesia for making the writer’s trip to Surakarta a reality.