Still it is Yogya’s traditional attractions that tourists come to see – the ancinet temples, the palaces, the batik workshops, the gamelan orchestras, the court dances and the wayang puppets performances.
The first stop for all visitors to Yogyakarta is the royal Kraton – a two centuries old palace complex that stands at the very heart of the city. According to traditional cosmological beliefs, the javanese ruler is literally the “Navel” or central “spike” of the universe – anchoring the temporal world and communicating twith the mystical realm of powerful deities. In this scheme of things, the kraton is both the capital of the kingdom and the hub of the cosmos, and indeed brings the two into coincidence through the application of certain elabirate design principles. It traditionally housed not only the sultan and his family, but also the powerful dynastic regalia (pusaka), private meditational and ceremonial chambers, a magnificent throne hall, several audience and performance pavillions,a mosque, an immense royal pleasure garden, stables, barracks, an armaments foundry and two expansive parade ground planted with sacred banyan trees – all in a carefully conceived complex of walled compounds, narrow lanes and massive gateways, bounded by a fortified outer wall measuring two kms (1,25 miles) on every side.
Construction of Yogyakarta’s kraton began in 1755 and continued for almost 40 years, throughout the long reign of Hamengkubuwono I. Structurally, in fact, very little has been added since his death in 1792. Today only the innermost compound is considered part of the kraton proper, while the maze of lanes and lesser compounds, the mosque and the two vast square, have been integrated into the city. Long sections of the outermost wall (beteng) still stand, however, and many if not most of the residences inside it are still owned and occupied by members of the royal family.
To step within the massive inner kraton walls (open daily 8.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. : closed at 11. A.m. on Friday and Saturday) is to enter patrician world of grace and elegance. In the first half of this century, the interior was rather anachronisticallt remodelled along European lines, incorporating Italian marble, cast iron columns, crystal chandeliers and rococo furnishings into an otherwise classically Javanese setting. Architecturally, the kraton’s central throne hall (Bangsal Kencana) is its most striking feature – a pendopo or open pavilion consisting of an ornately decorated and dramatically sloping roof supported at the centre by four massive wooden columns. This is a development from the ancient tribal meating pavilion (balai), echoes of which may be seen throughout the Austronesian world including Japan. The Javanese have imbued the structure with certain symbolic design precepts of Indian origin, so that the pendopo has become at once a symbol of temporal authority and microcosm of the universe – at Mt. Semeru standing at the very centre of the cosmos.
There is much else to see within the kraton – including the museum, the ancient gamelan sets, two great kala head gateways and several spacious courtyards. If possible, try to visit on a Sunday at 10 a.m. when dancers rehearse to the otherworldly melodies of the gamelan.
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