Solo’s second royal residence
Dominating a wide grassy alun-alun (public square) in the heart of Solo, Puro Mangkunegaran is the residence of the Royal House of Mangkunegaran.
The impressive palace comprises several pavilions amid pretty gardens that can be visited by the public, an excellent small collection of royal paraphernalia in their museum, as well as the private quarters of the royal family.
After the partitioning of the Mataram Sultanate in 1755 which saw the establishment of the Sultanates of Surakarta (Solo) and Yogyakarta, all was still not calm in the kingdoms of Central Java. Raden Mas Said who laid claim to a chunk of former Mataram lost out in the split. More drama ensued and later a further rift established the Duchy of Mangkunegaran with the signing of the Salitiga treaty on 17 March 1757, effectually putting to rest the discord between Java’s rival courts.
Raden Mas Said was henceforth known as Kanjeng Gusti Pangeran Adipati Arya Mangkunegara Senopati Ing Ayudha Sudibyaningprang or simply Mangkunegaran I. Although his status as Duchy was not considered as lofty as the Sultan, he soon established his palace around two kilometres northeast of the Karaton Kasunanan Surakarta, the royal palace of the Sultan of Surakarta.
For the next century during the sovereignty of Mangkunegaran I (reign 1757-1795) until Mangkunegaran IV (reign 1853-1881), construction and additions to the building continued. After Indonesia’s independence, the royal courts of Java lost political power and today the Duchy of Mangkunegara is seen more as a cultural guardian. Fortunes of the royals subsequently took a downturn, and in the late 1960s the palace was opened for business as a cultural showpiece. The current sovereign, Mangkunegara IX (reign 1987– ) and his family still live in the palace. Siti Hartinah Suharto (Ibu Tien), the late wife of Indonesia’s former President Suharto is a descendent of this royal line.
Puro Mangkunegaran palace complex utilises a blend of traditional Javanese and European architectural elements sitting within an expansive walled compound that takes up a city block. Greeting visitors is the grand central pendopo fronted by a louts-filled European-style fountain. This stately open pavilion (Pendopo Ageng) serves as a receiving room for guests and a public function area. You’ll be asked to remove your footwear to walk on the cool Italian marble floors.
Pale green painted and gilt columns and beams support the pyramidical roof of this vast structure that covers 3,500 square metres and holds thousands of guests. Look up to see the ornate chandeliers suspended from the elaborately decorated ceiling containing symbolic patterns and colours.
Cloth-covered gamelan instruments sat idle the day we visited, but if you get your timing right, you can enjoy performances here included with your ticket price. Saturday mornings 10:00–12:00 is the scheduled gamelan orchestra performance, and on Wednesdays 10:00–12:00 traditional dance is added to the music. Twice a year the Pendopo Ageng celebrates traditional ceremonies once for the anniversary of Mangkunegara and for Islamic New Year.
Behind the pendopo is a “pringgitan”, an area of a traditional house that is use for wayang kulit (shadow puppet) performances. The public audience would be seated in the pendopo, and the royal family would not mix with the masses, but watch the show from behind the screen on the same side as the dalang (puppet master).
An enclosed smaller version of the pendopo, the Ndalem Ageng is to the rear of this and houses the museum displaying a collection of treasures and gifs. Photography in this area of the palace is not permitted. The collection is small but fascinating, and includes a display of ancient gold jewellery from the 10th and 11th century—look for the curious and rather formidable male “chastity belt”, a kind of gold spiky penis shield that was apparently “locked” by a magical spell. Alongside an unfortunate stuffed tiger, the assorted miscellany incorporates crowns worn in traditional dance, krises and bronze mirrors for Hindu and Buddhist meditation. These shallow rimmed hand-held mirrors contain no glass, but were filled with water so one could gaze at their reflection for meditative purposes.
Note the unusual bamboo staffs “Pring Pethuk” which means “found bamboo”—one looks like a series of faces, but as the name suggests, they are naturally formed. Our guide suggested that they have several magical functions including helping to retrieve lost objects.
Continuing through the museum you arrive in a courtyard garden enclosed by the living quarters of the royal family. Most is closed to the public, but you are free to wander the open halls and garden and what looks like an open dining area. Note the Deco-style stained glass screen here depicting a garuda. In the northwest corner of the court, an unusual octagonal glass enclosed meeting room was designed by Dutch architect Thomas Karsten in 1897. The building’s wooden interior is very Javanese in style with pillars and a square central roof element, but the etched glass doors and windows are very occidental. A small anti-room displays some lovely stained glass with scenes of Javanese court life, apparently also designed by Karsten. As you depart the palace, on the eastern side of the alun-alun note the commanding white colonial-style building, the “Kavallerie Artillerie” dated 1874.
Puro Mangkunegaran is open daily except Thursday and Sunday: 08:00–15:00 and Thursday and Sunday: 08:00–14:30. As the Royal family is in residence, visitors are required to register and be accompanied by a guide. Our guide spoke excellent English, and the experience was certainly enhanced by his knowledgeable commentary. The entrance fee of 20,000 rupiah does not include the cost of a guide, whom you pay what you see fit (our guide seemed happy with 50,000 rupiah which we thought was a fair price for his excellent service). “Polite” dress is requested to visit, which in Solo means to cover from shoulders to knees at a minimum. We spent two hours looking around, but if you are pushed for time, you could let your guide know and have a good poke about in half that time. If you gather together a group of 30 of your closest friends, it’s possible to organise a royal dinner at the palace too, see their website for details
Note that if you are coming to the palace by vehicle, the surrounding roads are one way in a clockwise direction and if you miss the road entrance halfway along Jalan Kartini, you will have to circle the block. Pedestrians can enter from Jalan Ronggowarsito opposite Omah Sinten. Also visit Solo’s other royal palace, Karaton Kasunanan Surakarta to compare the royal styles.
Address: Jl. Ronggowarsito, Solo
Coordinates (for GPS): 110º49'22.69" E, 7º33'59.87" S
See position in Apple or Google Maps: Apple Maps | Google Maps
Admission: 20,000 rupiah
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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