Relics of a great kingdom
Published/Last edited or updated: 31st January, 2017
Kota Gede was once the seat of the powerful Islamic Mataram Sultanate. Today it’s more well known as a stop on shopping tours visiting its thriving silver industry. We have nothing against getting a bit of bling on and supporting local crafts, but think the often ignored (by tourists) historical sights and architecture in this small, interesting area are the real drawcard and worth an explore.
The Sultanate of Mataram (not to be confused with the earlier Hindu Mataram Kingdom associated with Borobudur and Prambanan temples) was the last major independent Javanese kingdom before Dutch colonisation, ruling from the late 16th century until the early 18th century. The walled city of Kota Gede (literally ‘big city’) was the hub of this mighty empire. Within its walls are surviving ancient mosque and royal tombs, bathhouses and traditional homes.
At the northwest corner of bustling Kota Gede market, a local landmark Babon Anim, a former Dutch electrical substation from the 1900s, marks the turn towards the historic Ndondongan area 300 metres away. We are far from architectural experts but to our untrained eye, the elements here seem much more in the style of Hindu architecture than Islamic.
The brick gates have a stepped roof element similar to Balinese architecture and a barrier wall as you enter, designed to deflect potential malign spirits, another similarity. You are free to wander around this interesting area (by donation) and into the Sendhang Seliran, bathing pools, where it’s believed the water source comes from the sacred kings’ grave. The tombs are considered hallowed ground, and are a local pilgrimage and meditation site, a precursor to the other sacred royal cemetery in Yogyakarta, Imogiri. They are only open to visitors Sunday, Monday and Wednesday 10:00-13:00 and Friday 13:00-16:00 (closed during Ramadan). You must wear traditional Javanese costume which can be hired locally (50,000 rupiah) Women must wear a jarik (sarong), kemben (torso wrap) and headscarfs or hats are not permitted. Men are required to wear a jarik (sarong), peranakan (Javanese jacket) and blangkon (Javanese head cover). Photos are prohibited within the tomb. The area certainly has a mystical eeriness, and seems that is played upon by some unscrupulous individuals, as there is a warning sign “Hati Hati penipuan berkedok paranormal” — beware of fraudulent soothsayers.
Less visited than the tombs, the local residential area is fascinating to wander too. Many of the village houses are connected by gated private alleyways, and unless they are closed, they are considered public thoroughfares. Seething with history, we loved meandering though this living museum dotted with joglos and langgae dhuwur (family mosques).
Unfortunately several houses were damaged in the 2006 earthquake and residents haven’t had the means to repair. Also as the demand in “collectible traditional houses” rises in other parts of Indonesia (Bali we’re looking at you), several historical dwellings have been removed from Kota Gede, which is such a pity as the reasons are probably economic and there is huge potential in this little village for tourism. It would be have been fascinating to wander with a knowledgeable guide. We were accompanied by a local friend who knew a little as no guides were available when we visited. With a bit more planning than us, you could hire the services of Jagalan Tlisih, a local organisation that runs heritage walks in the area. Although their website is in Indonesian, they have some English speaking guides. T: (0856) 4802 1717; (0857) 2720 2004; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.
If the history and architecture, or indeed silver workshops, don’t pique your interest, there is yet another good reason for visiting Kota Gede: chocolate! Cokelat Monggo is locally produced Belgian-style chocolate (did we mention it’s delicious?). Factory tours are available Monday to Friday 08:00 to 16:00 and Saturday 09:00 to 14:00 or you can just visit the showroom daily 08:00-17:00. It's at Jalan Dalem KG III / 978; T: (0274) 373 192; email@example.com.
Kota Gede is seven kilometres southwest of central Yogyakarta and swallowed into the expanding urban sprawl it seems more like a suburb than a separate city. It’s easy to reach for a day trip, but we think the area is interesting enough for an overnight stay. If your budget allows, the historic NDalem Natan Royal Heritage Guesthouse, will have you fully immersed in the local culture.
Kota Gede is on the TrandJogja busway route 3B (red) you may need to connect via another route (3,600 rupiah).
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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