Yogyakarta is the only royal city in Indonesia today, where its sultan still holds political power, following a 2012 law that declared the city’s sultan as the ex-officio governor, permanently. This system, along with many other customs and traditions, testify to the people of Yogyakarta’s pride in their identity and reverence towards aristocracy.
Its current ruler, Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono X, is a modern man no less, but like his people, he strongly embraces his roots. The ancient customs and rituals infused with Hindu mysticism, Buddhism and animistic origins, still harmoniously practiced alongside Islam, the main religion of Indonesia. It is even said that every year, offerings are made to the nearby Mount Merapi and the Indian Ocean, the two sacred sites according to Javanese cosmology that meant to guarantee the safety of Yogyakarta’s residence.
And what lies at the centre that connects the north-south axis between Mount Merapi and the Indian Ocean? It is The Kraton, also known as the Palace of Yogyakarta, which is open to the public from 8:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. every day, except on Fridays and Saturdays, which closes at 11:00 a.m. Travellers should come here to understand the locals’ genuine affection towards the ruling family and the heritage that they bear. This traditional Javanese complex was built around 1755 and 1756 under the reign of Sultan Hamengku Buwono I. Expect to see intricately decorated pavilions, cultural centres, well-kept courtyards and ancient banyan trees, all integrated beautiful landscaping based on Javanese ancient beliefs.
The Kraton has seven zones altogether here, which include the Hamengku Buwono IX museum, the painting museum, and the regalia museum. Wander further, and you may also encounter the Abdi Dalem, faithful caretakers of the royal household attending to their duties, dressed in uniforms. At one corner, one may also find the female Abdi Dalem lost in concentration while painting batik fabrics by hand. Interestingly, this noble position in the palace is also passed down from a generation to the next, similar to the monarchy system.
On weekends, visitors may enjoy cultural performances of gamelan, dances and even the special wayang kulit or leather puppet show.
Important to know: Visitors to the palace are advised to dress modestly with the knees covered.
Travellers can dive deeper into the history of Yogyakarta by making a trip to the colourful Kotagede, once a capital of the Kingdom of Mataram, founded by Panembahan Senopati in 1582, who used to rule the whole island of Java. But like many other conquests in the world, he not only attracted friends and allies but also foes. Thus, during its peak, Kotagede was fully fortified with thick walls to protect against invasions.
More than four hundred years later, Kotagede, nowadays more aptly referred to as an old town, still draws people in with its maze-like neighbourhoods, thriving silver crafting industry and well-preserved Mataram ruins, including the Royal Cemetery Complex, where Mataram’s founder and his successors were laid to rest.
Strict development policy in the town also leads to the preservation of colourful, traditional houses dating back from the 17th century, making the entire atmosphere an absolute feast for the eyes. These houses are still owned by the locals and mostly serve as residences. Some are transformed into an open-air museum and cafes, such as the gorgeous Kopi Kamu Café that is replete with antiques. There are also a number of workshops around the area where visitors can purchase artisanal silver crafts, from jewelleries to tea sets.
Important to know:
1. To enter the Royal Cemetery Complex, one is required to dress in traditional attire: Javanese beskap for men, and shoulder-exposing batik kemben or torso wrap for women.
2. There are also homestays available at Kota Gede should visitors wish to experience local stay. Contact Ms. Endini to make arrangement. (+6285801194130 / firstname.lastname@example.org)
Speaking of shopping, visitors should not miss the opportunity to explore Malioboro, a one-kilometre vibrant street lined with stalls selling everything from food, arts and crafts, batik, and collectibles in which all are sold at affordable prices. Along this street, visitors will also find Beringharjo Market, mainly carries textiles at competitive rates, so be sure to bargain before purchasing any. Spend a few hours here to shop, interact with locals, or merely watch people – you will then understand how this area becomes one of the best places in the city to absorb the Yogyakarta vibe in its entirety. Across the street, travellers can visit an art gallery housed in a Dutch fort called Vredenburg.
Good to know: The usual operating hours at Malioboro are between 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., but some stalls remain open until midnight.
On top of the customs, history, monarchy, and architecture, Yogyakarta’s intricate cultural identity also lies in its art. If travellers happen to visit the city on October 7th every year, which also happens to be Yogyakarta’s anniversary, do not miss the annual street parade called ‘Wayang Jogja Night Carnival’. This year, the carnival returned for the fourth time with the theme ‘Ringgit Wanara Kagungan Dalem Kraton Ngayogyakarta Hadinigrat’, also known as ‘Wayang Kapi-Kapi’ belonging exclusively to Kraton Yogyakarta and rarely exhibited to the public. The show touched on the concept of unity and incorporated 14 characters of hybrid animals, including ‘Wayang Kapi Harima’ that has a monkey body and a tiger head.
Attractions Near Yogyakarta
Situated an hour and a half’s drive from Yogyakarta, Borobudur is the world’s biggest Buddhist temple. This architectural marvel features stacked platforms – the lower five in the shape of square and the top three in circular form – with a huge stupa on top. 72 smaller stupas, each containing a sitting Buddha statue, are strategically placed on the circular platforms. Impressively, this beautiful monument has survived multiple volcanic eruptions and the 2006 earthquake. Every year, the temple attracts pilgrims all over the world, who walk along its passageways in a clockwise direction to the summit while admiring the detailing on the walls representing Buddha’s journey to enlightenment and taking in the grandeur of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Gaya Travel Magazine team says thank you to Yogyakarta City Government Tourism Office for making the writer’s trip to the city smooth-sailing.
This article is featured in Gaya Travel Magazine Issue 14.4.