In the heart of south-centra lJava is a province and capital city with a tremendous multicultural and multireligious history. This is Yogyakarta, pronounced JOEG-ja-kart-a and known simply among the locals as "Jogja." Jogja is a prominent university city, a center of Javanese art, and a bastion of modernity among a people with a deeply-held sense of tradition. Behind Bali Island and Indonesian capital region of Jakarta, it rates as the third-most common destination among foreign tourists or businessmen.
Jogja is also unique in one important political way, it is the one remaining sultanate in Indonesia. While the other provinces in the country have since turned to western-style democratic processes. Our visit to Jogja was family-oriented, as Vero's family roots originated there.
We arrived at night after a very long drive but had a beautiful starlit sky to enjoy. The family took us to a popular hang-out spot near the Kraton where we sat on weaved-bamboo mats on the street and enjoyed a few bowls of a traditional soup known as "Wedang Romde". This soup was contained a ginger broth, with bread croutons, pine fruits, grilled peanuts, and rice dumplings. It was the perfect welcome to the city. Then, after spending the next day touring some of the regional sights, we came back to Jogja in mid-afternoon and toured it in depth.
The city's greatest downtown landmark is the Kraton, shown in the second photograph. The Kraton is a large fortress that serves as the home of the Sultan of Yogyakarta. The front part of the Kraton facing the city is open to the public for a nominal fee, and is a tremendous museum for the history of the region.
The photograph shows the main gate facing the city. What was special about this gate was its multireligious symbology, signifying the peaceful co-existence of the Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians over the provinces long history. The gold and red symbol in the center, for example, symbolized Islam, while it was surrounded by a floral wreath for Christianity, with Hindu gods facing them on both sides. A Buddhist mask was off the photo above. This was not mere symbology, this reflected the region's open tolerance of various faiths, as each had a significant religious landmark nearby (including the Buddhist temple of Borobudur and the Roman Catholic grotto at Sendang Sono).
Behind the gate were two very large and impressive stone reliefs showing the history of the province from ancient times. At each end of the reliefs were two long buildings containing mannequins dressed in various period costumes, along with displays dedicated to the various provincial sultans. Detailed on the reliefs were events involving the original Buddhist occupiers from China, followed by the Hindus from India, the emergence of a great Kingdom of Yogyakarta, and later the arrival of the colonial Dutch. A very important segment of the relief shows how the Dutch came to divide Yogyakarta to two kingdoms in order to divide the power base -- forming what is now the Yogyakarta province and the kingdom of Surakarta (more commonly referred to now as 'Solo') which is now part of Central Java. The two kingdoms have since followed very different paths in terms of multiculturalism and tolerance, and is a history with arguably some important lessons for the modern day.
There was a large marketsquare outside the front of the Kraton, seen through the gate in the photo. When we visited, it hosted a large traditional market selling food and local wares. In the middle of the market, at each side of a sidewalk leading to the gate, were two very large trees. These trees had great symbolic value, as they channeled visitors to the gate -- essentially visiting caravans had to navigate between these two trees in order to be permitted entrance.
Jogja also hosted a very significant Hindu temple complex, located on the northeast side of town. Like Borobudur, this complex is still very active while also serving as a major tourist draw. Over a dozen temples of various sizes are scattered about an area of a couple square kilometers, visible along a two-mile-long drive that winds among open grass fields and scattered trees. One of the largest among the temples was the Candi Prambanan, shown in the third photograph. It was typical of the architectural style -- a central cone-shaped structures surrounded by four or more similar structures in concentric circles. Ordinarily, we might have had the opportunity to visit the temples themselves, much the way the Hindi temples on Bali are available to the public. However, we didn't have enough time to do so, and will reserve that for future visits.
The bulk of the city's architecture lends itself more to Hindi influence than any other religion. Most of the city gates reflect this, even though the gates were clearly modern and set among the major highways. Portions of the ancient city walls still remain around the Hindu temple complex as well, and they tended to have Hindu markings. Offsetting this was a large number of small mosques scattered around the city, many colored the traditional white reflecting the purity of the Islamic faith.
But apart from the temples, visitors are going to be drawn to the marvelous Malioboro shopping district in the heart of the city.
Following a mile-long stretch from the Kraton to the Yogyakarta rail station, this district is a great place to look for Javanese goods, particularly clothing. The most popular items use a traditional fabric known as 'batik', where the cloth is intricately dyed in a wealth of colors and patterns. Long-sleeve batik shirts are formal-wear for Javanese men, equivalent to western suits (and much lighter for the hot and humid weather). Batik items -- jewelry boxes, purses, and other knickknacks -- are also available.
It is also a great place to find something to eat. Lined along one side of the street are dozens of street vendors selling all sorts of local foods. If that doesn't sound appealing, there are a variety of western-style fastfood places along the way as well. We stuck with the street vendors, where a fried 'local' chicken dinner could fill us for only about 60 cents a person. (The Javanese distinguish local chicken from the farmed western-style chickens that tend to have more meat but less taste. We tend to agree, the local chicken is much better.)
We walked the whole distance from start to end, but there were other options available to us. The fourth photograph shows a horsebuggy, traditionally decorated from the days of Dutch colonialism. That was not to say that everything about the Dutch were revered. Quite the opposite.
The fifth photograph shows a monument erected at the Kraton side of the Malioboro, commemorating the defeat of the Dutch colonists after World War II. The background was that the Dutch were restored their colonial rights after forfeiting the archipelago during the War, but by then the Indonesians had developed a strong sense of independence, and Jogja was one of the early centers of that movement. Hence, the pluralism that makes Jogja so strong also fuels its sense of nationalist pride. When this photo was taken, the monument was being readied as a site for a political rally which seemed to focus on reducing foreign influence in the political realm (we did not stick around to find out more). Such rallies are commonplace.
As a university city, Yogyakarta also harnesses the energy of its many youth. Its university draws among the best and brightest from around the country, and large numbers of students could be seen moving about the city at all hours of the day. The university itself was a remarkable combination of original architecture and modern facilities, well worth a short drive about.
For those looking for somewhere other to go than Bali, Yogyakarta ought to be high on the list. Its central location among so many tremendous landmarks and its openness and friendliness made it a wonderful place to visit.
Trip taken 31 May 2004 through 2 June 2004 -- Page last updated 28 October 2006 -- (C) 2004 Tom Galvin