Java’s North Coast – Pekalongan Batik City

What the north coast lacks inn scenic beauty it make up for in batik.

About 220 kms (138 miles) and four hous east of Cirebon, you arrive at Pekalongan, a medium sized town that amnounces itself on roadside pillars as “Kota Batik” – batik city. Quite apart from the many factories and retail stores lining its streets, Pekalongan justifies this sobriquet by producing some of the finest and most higly prized batik on Java. The Pekalongan style, like Cirebon’s is unique a blending of Muslim, Javanese, Chinese and European motifs, executed in pastel tones of mustrad, ochre, olive, mauve, rose, orange and blue. Pekalongan’s hallmark is the floral boutiquet with hovering humming birds and butterflies, a design deriving  ultimately from 18th century Dutch poercelains. To see the finese handdrwan tulis work, visit the homes of individual batik artists.

Another 90 kms (55 miles) and two hours to the east, the large city of Semarang overflow out across a narrow coastal plain and up onto steeply rising for its skilled shipwrights and abundant supplies of hardwood, this otherwise insignificant town was subsequently chosen as an administrative and trading base by the Dutch, and was one of the few pesisir ports to successfully make the transition to steam shipping at the turnn of this century. Today it is the commercial hub and provincial capital of Central java, and the island’s fourth largest city – a smaller version, in short, of Jakarta and Surabaya.

Modern Semarang possesse but few relics from the past. Most of the bear witness to the presence, in bygone days, of a large population of Dutch traders and officials and a generous sprinkling of affluent Chinese merchants. The old Dutch Chruch on Jl. Suprapto downtown, with its copper clas dome and Greek cross floorplan, was consecrated in 1753 and stands at the centre of the town’s 18th century European commercial district. During the 19th century, the Dutch built elegant mansions to the west of here, along what is now Jl. Pemuda (“Bojong”), but most of these were later torn down and replaced by shopfronts.

One of the shops, Toko Oen, is now a charming cafe with wicker chairs, ceiling fans and a menu that has remained unchanged since colonial times. Semarang’s most interisting district, however, is its Vhinatown (Pacinan) – a grid of narrow lanes tucked away in the centre of the city, reached by walking due south from the old chruch along Jl. Suari to Jl. Pekojan.

Here some old townhouses retain the distinctive Nanyang style: elaborately carved doors and shutters, and delicately wrought iron balustrades. Half a dozen colouful Chinese temples and caln houses cluster in space of a few blocks, the largest and oldest of which is on tiny Gang Lombok (turn to the roght just by the bidge from Jl. Pekojan). This is the Thay Kak Sie temple, built in 1722, which houses more than a dozen major dieties. Those with time and an interest in things Chinese will also want to visit the famous grotto Gedung Batu, of the deified Ming admiral Cheng Ho (Sam Po Kong), on the western outskirts of Semarang.

From Semarang, there are several towns to the east that may be visited either as daytrips from the city, or as stops along the coastal route to Surabaya and Bali. During the early 16th century, a Muslim kingdom centred at Demak was the undisputed nonpareil amongst the coastal states of Java now only the town’s old mosque remains, Neighbouring Kudus was then Demak’s holy city, and its Muslim quarter has beautifully carved teakwood houses and an early 16th century mosque whose redbrick candi bentar gate and minaret are distinctly Hindu – Javanese in deisgn. Today Kudus is better known as “Kota Kretek” the Kretek cigarette capital of Java.

The village of Jepara, 33 kms (21 miles) north of Kudus, has long been famous for its teak woodcarvings. Faithful copies of antique chairs and table are still dowelled, slotted, tongued and joined without a nail, and there is apparently also a heavy demand for extremely detailed panels depicting scenes from the Ramayana and other Hindu – Javanese tales. Today some 4,000 carpenters work in 500 shops here.

Farther to the east, the twin towns of Rembang and Lasem are perhaps the oldest Chinese settlements on Java. Gracious Chinese countru homes with upturned eaves, central courtyards and whitewashed outer walls, border on a honeycomb of narrow lanes. Both towns have exquisite Chinese temples.

The road south from Semarang climbs quickly up through the sylish Dutch residential suburb of Candi Baru into the foothills of Mt. Ungaran. If you have time make a detour from the town of Ambarawa to the cool mountain resort of Bandungan, to visit the Gedung Songo temple – some of the oldest and certainly the most spectacularly situated antiquities in Java. These nine Sivaitic shrines were built sometimes in the 8th century, and perch on a series of collines overlooking the majestic peaks and verdant valleys of Central Java.

–> For More Detail : Read Also : Java’s North Coast

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