All paths covered
Published/Last edited or updated: 2nd June, 2017
Multicultural and multi-faith Semarang is a microcosm of Indonesia itself, evident in the diversity of places of worship, from the ancient temples at nearby Candi Gedung Songo, to the modern Middle Eastern-Javanese-mashup State Mosque, Mesjid Agung Jawa Tengah and you could easily fill a day visiting Semarang’s mosques, historic churches and temples.
The largest of them all (as the name implies) is Mesjid Agung Jawa Tengah (The Great Mosque of Central Java). This mosque is also one of the more recent, the first worshipers held Friday prayers when it was still under construction in 2004 and it was officially opened in 2006. The complex covers ten hectares and houses a number of buildings comprising a library and auditorium, with the mosque in the centre.
The vast interior can accommodate thousands of worshipers, but architecturally is a bit of a mish-mash: The square base and pitched roof of the main prayer hall follows traditional Javanese style seen in both mosques (see Mesjid Agung Demak) and joglo houses, with a somewhat incongruous Middle Eastern-style dome and minarets plonked on top. Six giant umbrellas line the forecourt, apparently inspired by a mosque in Medina, however they were closed when we visited even though it was a rainy day, yet they still looked impressive. An arc of colonnade arches in yellow, gold and purple topped with Arabic calligraphy forms an entrance gate to the sacred domain—remove footwear at this point, and dress modestly (long pants and sleeves, and headscarfs for women). The mosques’s main appeal is its sheer size—go if are Muslim or keen on Islamic architecture. Mesjid Agung Jawa Tengah is about five kilometres from Kota Lama.
Also called grand, but not nearly as big, is Mesjid Agung Kauman. Tucked away amongst the hustle and bustle of the city’s market area the mosque once overlooked the town square (alun-alun), but the square no longer exists and is now taken up by the busy markets of Pasar Johar and Pasar Ya’k. An older mosque stood on this site since the mid 18th century, but was destroyed by fire, and replaced in the late 19th century. Stone inscriptions in Dutch, Arabic, old Indonesian and Javanese tell of the fire (in the Indonesian version) can be seen inside the gateway to the mosque.
Painted in shades of green, the mosque follows the Javanese tiered-roof style of traditional mosques, but here built entirely of modern materials. At the beginning of Ramadan the streets around the mosque celebrates a unique colourful festival called Dugderan (an onomatopoeic name denoting the sounds of drums “dug” and “der” cannons or firecrackers). The events include a carnival and parade of “warak ngendog”, a mythical dragon-horse-bird-like creature.
Nearby in Kota Lama you can visit Gereja Blenduk, Java’s oldest Protestant church, dating from 1753, and not far away in Jalan Ronggowarsito, Saint Joseph’s Church (Gereja Santo Yusup), better known as Gereja Gedangan, named for the area, Semarang’s first Catholic church. The red brick church was built in the early 1870s and later grew to include a presbytery and a convent. Pop inside to admire the vaulted ceiling, and the neat presbytery next door.
Across town, near the Tugu Muda, is the unusual looking (and long named) Gereja Santa Perawan Maria Ratu Rosario Suci Radusa (Cathedral of the Virgin Mary, Queen of the Holy Rosary), the city’s Catholic Cathedral. The stone church dates from the late 1920s and the curious golden spire echoes the tiered meru of Hindu architecture, repeated in traditional Javanese mosques. The interior is just as unexpected, with a tiled ceiling and circular combined chandelier-fans.
Continuing up into the hills to the south, about two and a half kilometres from Tugu Muda is Pura Agung Giri Natha. If your Indonesian travels don’t include Bali, but you’re keen to see some Balinese architecture or experience a little Balinese culture, head to this Hindu temple. The temple is fairly recent, built in 1970, but is traditional in style and serves 300 Hindu families in the Semarang area.
You’re required to wear a sarong and sash to enter (both men and women), and they can be borrowed at the temple—friendly attendants are on hand to help. Elaborate carved gateways lead into the temple courtyard dominated by a towering padmasari (shrine). The temple offers a terrific view over the city, and on Sundays dance performances are held at 16:00 in the pavilion within the complex. Just outside the gate, Pak Made sells Balinese food—lawar and pork satay Monday to Saturday 11:00 to 17:00. A smart looking Indian restaurant, Salt, is next door too.
Vihara Avalokitesvara is about 14 kilometres south of the city, along the way to Candi Gedung Songo. This modern Buddhist temple is worth a passing stop. The seven level Chinese style pagoda was completed in 2005 and towers 45 metres. An elaborate carved stone dragon and phenix feature on the central staircase leading to a large red robed, golden Buddha statue within. Statues of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy, in various poses surround the sides. A 36-metre tall Buddha statue is planned for the garden, but at the time of our visit in May 2017, was not completed. In front of the pagoda a bodhi tree shades a seated golden Buddha statue and standing granite Guanyin. Branched are strewn with red ribbons adorned with prayers and blessings.
Back towards the city, Sam Poo Kong Temple is dedicated to Ming Dynasty Admiral Cheng Ho, who is believed to have meditated in a cave here. Devotees at this Chinese temple include Javanese Muslims. Lastly, be sure to visit the small but beautiful Tay Kak Sie Temple and its neighbour, Kong Tik Soe Temple in Chinatown.
Sally spent twelve years leading tourists around Indonesia and Malaysia where she collected a lot of stuff. She once carried a 40kg rug overland across Java. Her house has been described as a cross between a museum and a library. Fuelled by coffee, she can often be found riding her bike or petting stray cats. Sally believes travel is the key to world peace.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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