While there are no written records that detail the construction of Borobudur, it is believed to have been founded and constructed in the 8th and 9th centuries during the height of the Sailendra dynasty in central Java and the building is thought to have taken around 70 years to complete.
Within a century of its completion the site was abandoned. While the reasons for the abandonment remain unclear it is thought that a series of volcanic eruptions and a shift of power towards East Java (with the former perhaps influencing the latter) contributed towards the abandonment.
Regardless of the reasons, the site was left to nature and became near buried in volcanic ash and overgrown with jungle. In this way is stayed until it was "rediscovered" in the early 19th century during the period when Java was under the British rule of Sir Thomas Raffles.
By the time the Brits stumbled upon it (or, to be exact, were led in its general direction), it was in an especially poor state. Where many large monuments are built on a flat surface, Borobudur was actually built over a small hill. While the monument did have an elaborate drainage system, it proved insufficient and the temple had chronic problems with its foundations.
The British drew up plans for a restoration effort, but nothing happened for over 150 years, when UNESCO and the Indonesian government undertook a mammoth reconstruction effort that involved totally dismantling Borobudur and replacing the underlying hill with a more solid concrete base. The effort took some seven years after which the monument was eventually granted World Heritage status.
The structure of Borobudur is that of a mandala. The base is square, with the base of each side being a bit over 100 metres long and it then rises steadily through nine levels — the first six of which are square and the last three being circular. These last three levels are adorned with 72 smaller chedis, each one of which holds a small seated buddha statue. Some of these chedis are pierced by a number of small "windows" (really more like missing blocks) through which you can see the statues. Others do not have a top, so the statues are clearly visible. This is a particularly photogenic part of the site — especially in the early morning and late afternoon.
Beside the smaller chedis, the walls of the rest of the monument are decorated with bas-relief carvings (there are over 2,500 in total). These ware carved into the surface after the monument was built and stretch for a complete length of some three kilometres! There is also a hidden level of bas-reliefs, buried below the visible temple's base. It is unclear why these were buried.
It truly is a tremendous site and we'd say well worth the effort to visit. Drag yourself out of bed early to dodge the hordes, or take your time and get there in the late afternoon. Either way allow at least two to three hours to get the most out of the site.
Visiting the monument
Many visitors opt for either a sunrise or sunset visit to see the temple in its best light. The mornings are also far quieter and tranquil. If you are planning on visiting from Yogyakarta, it really pays to get out of bed very very early.
During the day, the complex becomes crowded with domestic tourists, especially school groups there to learn about the temple and also to hunt down foreigners to practice their English. Prepare to be asked to pose for many photos and to help giggling teenagers improve their English conversation skills. There are also many hawkers around the complex, but a polite 'no' is usually enough to make them back off.
In early 2010, the temple authorities announced a crackdown on skimpy clothes at the temple to respect the local culture, so it is best to cover up. Those in shorts may be asked to wear a temple sarong, and there are now rules in place that visitors must wear rubber soled shoes or local handwoven sandals to protect the historic structure. However, these changes seem to be loosely enforced.
US$20 for foreigners, $10 for foreign students and Rp 30,000 for locals and those with an Indonesian work permit (KITAS). Price does not include a guide. Guides can be hired from the International Visitors Centre for Rp 75,000, and are worth the price to learn about the history of the structure. You can often save money by finding a few other people to share a guide with.
How to get there
Many tour agencies on Sosrowijayan and Prawirotaman have daily tours to Borobudur, priced between Rp 150,000 - 250,000, sometimes bundled with other sights in a day or half-day package. For those who wish to go it alone, there is a local bus to Jombor which leaves from the intersection of Jl Sosrowijayan and Jl Joyonegaran for Rp 20,000. From Jombor, you can then catch a bus to Borobudur for Rp 13,000. All up, the trip takes around 90 minutes. ViaVia Cafe (Jl Prawirotaman No. 31, T: (0274) 386 557) also offers Borobudur by motorbike tours with student guides, which are a great way to get out to the temple and take in the surrounding countryside through the scenic back roads.