Surakarta – Surakarta’s other Palace

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About one km (half a mile) to the west and north of the main kraton,

A branch of the Surakarta royal family has constructed their own smaller, more intimate palace. Begun by Mangkunegara II at the end of the 18th century and completed in 1866, the Pura Mangkunegara is also open to the public. Upon entering the grounds (via the east) or west gates), report to the reception of fire just inside the east gate and pay a small fee for a guided tour.

The outer pendopo or audience pavilion of the Mangkunegaran is said to be the largest in Java – buitl of solid teak wood and jointed and fitted in the traditional manner, without the use of nails. Note the brightly painted ceiling, with the eight mystical Javanese colours in the centre, highlighted by a flame motif and bordered by symbols of the Javanese zodiac. The gamelan set in the southwest corner of the pendopo is known as Kyai Kanyut Mesem (Enchanting Smiles).) Try to visit the palace on Wednesday mornings, when it is struck to accompany an informal dance rehearsal between 10. A.m. and noon.

The museum is in the ceremonial hall of the palace, directly behind the pendopo and it houses mainly the private collections of Mangkunegara IV: dance ornmanets, topeng masks, jewellery (including two silver chastity belts), ancient Javanese and Chinese coins, bronze figures, and a superb set of ceremonial keris blades.

Solo is an excellent place from the  unhuried shopper who likes to explore out of the way places in the hope of finding hidden treasure. To begin with, there is a sizeable “antique industry” here many dealers collect and restore old European, Javanese and Chinese furniture and brica brac. The starting point for any treasure hunt is Pasar Triwindu, just to the south of the mangkunegaran palace (behind the electronics shop on Jl. Diponegoro). Five minutes here will whet your appetile: old bottles, candelabras, Japanese teacupts, Chinese coins, Dutch oil lamps, photographs, picture frame, marble top tables and other odds and ends clutter more than a dozen stall. Bargain hard, and don’t be carried away by the sales pressure. There are many more shops in town where the dealers are more reputable, the selection just as good and the prices not necessarilty any higher. (See Travel Tips).

Solo is also the home of Indonesia’s have showrooms in town with reasonable fixed prices for superb yard goods, shirts and dresses. Many smaller batik shop also line the main streets, but to discover why Surakarta calls itself the “City of Batik,” pay a visit to the huge textile market, Pasar Klewer, beside the Grand Mosque (near the kraton). This is where village vendors and housewives converge to buiy their cloth, most of medium to lower quality, from scores of narrow stalls that are stacked to the rafters with a bewildering array of batik. Just be sure you know what you are doing if you buy here –  batik can self for as little as US$1 a yard or US$100 a piece, and it takes some experinece to know what is what.

As the acknowledged centre for the traditional Javanese performing atrs. Solo is also the palace to see an evening wayang orang dance perfomance or wayang kulit shadow play, or to listen to live gamelan music. It is also the palace, not surprisingly, to buy the costumes, puppets and instruments associated with these arts. Ornately carved and painted hide pupptes, contorted wooden masks, gilded head dresses and even monstrous bronze gongs ara available and make higly distinctive gifts or house deocrations.

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