Yogyakarta: Cultural capital of Java

An essential step in any Indonesian trip, Yogyakarta is “special”: it is the qualifier used for the 2,000 km² region, located in the center of the island of Java, of which it is the capital. Here is the heiress of Javanese kingdoms dating back to the 8th century, then of a sultanate, the proud guardian of sites, arts and traditions classified by Unesco: Borobudur and Prambanan, batikfabrics, wayang puppets.

Yogyakarta, heart of Java

Unofficial but prestigious, the status of historical-cultural capital gives Yogyakarta (approx. 1,000,000 inhabitants) a unique role in the Indonesian space, dominated by Java .

From the 5 to the 16C, Hinduism and Buddhism irrigated the region, before the progressive installation of Islam, then its domination. But the everyday and the spiritual remain marked by the animism and the past power of Javanese Hinduism, as evidenced by the spectacular Prambanan temple.

By importing new artistic and cultural expressions and renewing the old ones, the regional advent of Islam generated a so-called Islamo-Javanese space. The numerous Indian, Chinese and Western traders, particularly the Portuguese and then the Dutch colonizers, enriched this substrate.

At the independence of the country, the Sultanate of Yogyakarta is maintained to thank the patriotism of its sovereign. Respected, this aristocratic character explains the conservation of monuments and traditional habitats.

Besides the archaeological remains, the region is also well endowed with interesting landscapes. The hilly countryside is watched full north by the powerful silhouette of the Merapi volcano (alt: 2,900 m), sacred to the Javanese.

There is no shortage of places to see in a close radius: 60 km to the northeast, the city of Solo (Surakarta) , a princely cousin; 40 km further on Candi Sukuh , a temple with erotic sculptures dominating superb tea plantations; 150 km north-west the strange and smoking Dieng plateau ; 130 km due north, Semarang and its unknown but remarkable Sino-colonial heritage, and 70 km to the east, the port of Jepara from where embarked on researchers of islands magnetized by the Karimunjawa archipelago.

Yogyakarta: the discovery; Jl Malioboro, his thrilling axis

From a plane window at night, the large Yogyakarta resembles a giant inlay of phosphorescent mother-of-pearl.

One more megalopolis? The worry fades after landing. Rarely exceeding 3 floors, the center of “Jogja”, well maintained and tolerable traffic, distills an almost peaceful atmosphere, compared to the chaos of other large cities of Indonesia.

With a density of 10,000 inhabitants / km² (two times less than Paris), Jogja is a city of kampung , neighborhoods of village spirit where we advise to get lost. Maisonettes and villas, from the modest to the most opulent of colonial inspiration, remain the majority. Consistency is reinforced by the tiled roofs, ranging from simple two-sided to elegant four-sided tipped so-called ” joglo “, too often dismantled and sent to Bali.

Aligned with Merapi and Kraton, the central north-south axis is materialized from Tugu station by the famous avenue Jl Malioboro which concentrates the maximum animation, the armada of khaki lima mobile kitchens contributing until late in the night. The name of these local Champs-Élysées, in addition to popular, is the subject of conjecture. One of them refers to a pub for famous cigarettes, which used to be located just outside the station!

Dedicated to trade and to the walker of onlookers-clients, its wide sidewalks shared with horse-drawn carriages and becak scooters run alongside shops of all kinds, including many clothes and batiks. On the west side, the arcades recall a Sino-colonial past, masked by the disparity of styles and the absence of sinograms.

More than an avenue, Malioboro defines a district incorporating many perpendiculars.

To the north, Jl. Sosrowijayan heads west. Cut off from gangs (aisles in Indonesian), it irrigates an “international village” of boarding houses and resto-bars very frequented. Further south on the east side, the large Beringharjo market precedes Fort Vredeburg , the southwest corner of which looks at kilometer 0 of the city, marking the passage to the historic hypercentre.

The Kraton district, Jl. Prawirotaman and Kota Gede

Beyond km 0, the square and grassy square Alun Alun Utara , flanked by the Sonobudoyo museum to the northwest, is planted with two enclosed groves, objects of an amusing belief: move away, cover your eyes and try to pass between … Don’t laugh.

Much larger than the only fraction that can be visited today, the actual perimeter of the Kraton  (1 km2), the palace of the sultans, formerly included this square. Witness this change of scale, the crenellated walls and white doors with floral decorations giving the district its elegance.

At the option of walks, we discover interesting neighborhoods, like the one near Taman Sari , mixing its traditions with street art.

At the southern end of the Kraton, the square Alun Alun Kidul is smaller than its twin, but very busy at night.

To the south-west of the palace, Jl. Prawirotaman orientates east-west a mixed district, both touristy (hotels, resto-bars) and arty: galleries, trendy shops, street art (see below).

Opposite side of Jl. Parangritis, Tirtodipuran Street extends west this sector where travelers always end up meeting.

5 km east of Jogja, Kota Gede was the first capital of the sultanate. The ancient tombs of N’Dalem Natan are only accessible when guided. Remained quite traditional – lively market, many typical houses – this village is famous for the work of money. Boutique-factories like HS Silver are full of beautiful objects and jewellery, repairs are possible, all at an ultra-competitive price.

The heritage of the sultanate: the Kraton and Taman Sari

Without being extraordinary, the Kraton , palace of the sultans of Jogja, is a majestic and living space. If you visit the right one! (See the warning in the practical sheet).

In the first courtyard, representations of gamelan or dance orchestras are organized every morning under the pavilion. Ask about schedules at the entrance.

The largest and most important bale (open pavilion) of the palace occupies the following courtyard. Evidenced by its luxury and details: Carrara marbles, pillars with subtle decorations, Buddhist symbols of the Lotus, etc. Neighboring kiosks and galleries covered with beautiful tiled roofs lined with lambrequins, and a courtyard where beautiful colonial-style mansions nestle.

The visit continues through smaller courtyards and exhibition halls where curiosities, utensils, dishes, photos and sometimes surprising diplomatic gifts bear witness to a bygone era. Do not miss the batik museum.

Formerly inside the Kraton, the Taman Sari , “Garden of Flowers” in Javanese, was dedicated to relaxation. More aquatic, it surrounded a lake in particular, as its English nickname of Water Castle recalls. Only the baths are mostly kept. Several beautiful doors with ornate pediments and elegant bricks covered with lime make up an atypical decor, a mixture of Javanese, Western styles and Hindu symbolism.

From the small tower overlooking the large enclosed pool, the sultans watched those they intended to swim in the harem, installed here …

The museums of Yogyakarta

Modest and shy museography, the Sonobudoyo museum is however essential.

In the prehistoric halls, classic then Islamic , we notice the bronze drums known as Dongson, a superb Buddhist bell plated with silver, fine carved wooden trays and manuscripts on lontar palm. Covered in ancient Javanese writing, they are still used in Bali, while Islam and its colorful illustrations imposed paper on Java.

The batik section describes the production phases and the Javanese motifs, linked to the nature, daily and religious, of this mode of textile printing classified by Unesco.

The Art Performance rooms recall the distracting, but also royal and religious character of these expressions. In stars, the wayang puppets (superb performances daily except Sun from 8 to 10 p.m.), kulit (flat, shadow theater type) or golek (in 3 D) are also protected by Unesco, for the multiple talents that they require. There follows a magnificent collection of topeng theater masks.

The following rooms are used for decorations and utensils from Javanese houses, kriss magic daggers, as well as traditional toys and games.

The pavilion at the entrance houses an impressive meeting of wooden and metal gamelans. Remarkable Wayang Kulit puppet shows are regularly organized in the evening.

At the Sultan’s carriage museum , the ceremonial models are as kitsch as they are luxurious.

Yogyakarta: from traditions to contemporary arts

Strengthened by its traditions and its special status, Jogja is constantly reinventing itself .Music, dance, theater, graphic arts and street art are of great vitality there. Accepted on the identity card, the mention “artist” is a source of respect. A biennal has been organized since 1988.

Indonesia is in the top three worldwide for the use of social networks. While drawing the country towards consumerism and immediacy, they nevertheless boost the creativity and impact of artists. But, unlike the Balinese Hindu and cosmopolitan context, digesting social developments, the conservative push suffered by Javanese Islam affects socio-cultural life. Is this why Jogja’s artistic scene is sometimes discreet, even underground?

Discretion is not unique to street art , an area in which Jogja has an international aura and has several recognized local artists and collectives.

Favorite of expats, flashpackers and digital nomads, the Prawirotaman Tirtodipuran district naturally plays an incubator and exchange role “East Meets West”.

A beautiful modern space with a mezzanine, the Kedai Kebun  gallery combines boutique artist workshops and café-restaurants. Nearby: Cemeti, one of the oldest galleries; further south, Ace House Collective mixing art and grocery.

The periphery is not to be outdone. 6 km south-east, the village of Jeblog in Bantul serves as a living scene for community street art. In the same vein, about 7 km further, street art tours are organized in Gendeng .

Organic and fair trade have met with a strong response from the younger generations. The Vla-vla agency-café-restaurant-boutique is a good example.

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