Generally receives far lee attention from foreign visitors than her distinguished neighbour. This is a curious state of affaiers from the point of view of most Javanese, for whom Surakarta is the elder and more refined court centre – the arbiter of cultivated speech and aristocratic elegance in traditional Java.
This is partly because Surakarta and her rulers have themselves generally preferred to ramian out of the limelight. Indeed, throughout the tumultuous 18th century they had little choise, for in those years, Solo’s reigning Pakubuwana line were dependent upom the Dutch for military and economic support. Thereafter, the royal family became well to do landowners and sugar magnates – styling themselves, as did all 19th century javanese aristocrats, after the manner of European royalty. During the Indonesia revolution, the anti-colonial movement was notable in Surakarta by its absence.
Despite some carping (by Yogyakartans in particular), the Susuhunan of Surakarta (a titular Muslim prince) can nevertheless calim, with good reson, to be the true and rightful heir to the Central Javanese Mataram throne. The court was moved to the Solo River in in 1680 from the Yogya ares, fisrt to Kartasura and later (in 1745) to Surakarta. Here the Mataram line has ruled uninterruptedlly, despite losing half of the Kingdom to the :upstart” ruler of Yogyakarta in 1755, as the price of a Dutch – negotiated peace.
The Kraton or palace of Surakarta was constructed between 1743 and 1746 on the banks of the mightly Bengawan Solo. Java’s longest river. As with the Yogyakarta palace, Surakarta’s kraton simultaneously defines the centre of the town and the kingdom, as well as, metaphysically, the hub of the cosmos. Imndeed the similarities between the two courts, built within 10 years of each other, are striking. Both have a thick outer wall enclosing a network of narrow lanes and smaller compounds, two large squares, a mosque and a central or inner royal residential complex. Perhaps the major difference is that Surakarta has no north south processional boulevard of pleasure palace.
Entering the kraton precincts from the north gate, one crosses the main square (alun – alun) between the two royal banyan trees and stops in front of the pale blue Pagelaran performance pavilion, with its shininge expanse of cool marble tiles. Behind the Pagelaran is the royal audience pavilion (Sitinggil), and behind that is an immense gate leading to the front or north door of the palace.
Casual visitors are never permitted to enter this north door, which is kept closed expect on special occasions, but must walk around to the east and pay a small fee for a guided tour of the museum and the inner sanctum. Here, shaded by groves of leafy leaves, between which flit the bare shouldered abdi dalem or female attendants, is the large throne hall of the Susuhunan. The inner columns supporting the roof are richly carved and gilded, srystal chandeliers hang from the rafters and marble statues, castrion columns and Chinese blue and white vases line the walkways. As if to underscore the sanctity of this place, you are instructed to remove your shoes (to walk on the finely swept dirt) and refrain from photographing. Notice the phallic looking royal meditation tower to one side – if looks familiar, that’s because it ‘s essentially a Dutch windmill without the arms.
The museum associated with the kraton was established in 1963 and contains ancinet Hindu – Javanese bronze, traditional Javanese weapons and three marvellous coaches. The oldest a lumbering , deepbodied carriage built around 1740 – was a gift from the Dutch East India Company to Pakubuwana II. The museum also displays some remarkable figure heads from the old royal barges, including Kyai Rajamala, a giant of surpassing ugliness, who oncw adorned the bow of the Susuhunan’s private boat and is said even now to emit a nasty fishy odour when daily offerings are not forthcoming. (Open daily 8.30 a.m. to 12.30. p.m. Friday until 11 a.m.).
After visiting the kraton, stroll through the narrow lanes outside snd be sure to pay a visit to nearby Sasana Mulya – the music and dance pavilion of the Indonesia Performing Arts Academy (ASKI), located just to the west of the main or north palace gate. This is an art school with ilustrious history, for it was here that the first musical notation for gamelan was devided at the turn of the century. Serious students of gamelan music, traditional dance and wayang kulit attend classes and rehearsals here daily. You are welcome to listen and observe, provided you do so unobtrusively.
–> Read Also : Surakarta – Surakarta’s Other Palace