yogjakartaYogyakarta! Nearly every corner of the city and its environs contains heritage sites with deep historic value. One of the best known is Taman Sari, in the western part of the Keraton of Yogyakarta. A trip to Yogyakarta is incomplete until you have visited this lovely castle.

Taman Sari was built by Sultan Hamengku Buwono I, also known as Pangeran Mangkubumi, starting in 1683 in the Javanese Saka calendar, or 1757 CE – the same year in which the Keraton Ngayogyakarta Hadiningrat was established. The architecture and reliefs in the Taman Sari complex blend Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, European and Chinese elements.

During the reign of Panembahan Senapati, Taman Sari was known as Umbul Pacethokan, or Pacethokan Spring, and was famous for its strong flow of clear water. Taman Sari covered an area of over 10 hectares with around 58 clusters of structures, including buildings, bathing pools, hanging bridges, water canals, and even artificial lakes with artificial islands and underwater tunnels. Only around 22 of these structures are still recognizable. The garden, which was planted with fruit and vegetables, was in effective use between 1765 and 1812 and originally stretched from the Kedhaton complex on the northwest to the Magangan complex in the southeast; the only remnants of Taman Sari still visible are those in the Kedhaton complex.

To enter Taman Sari, one must now go through the rear entrance, because the road in front is closed off by local residents’ homes. At the entry gate are Gedhong Temanten and Gedhong Sekawan, where the royal family used to enjoy food and drink after “chatting” in the baths.

As well as these two buildings, we will also encounter Gedhong Gapura Panggung, a structure with four segments, two on the west and two more on the east. The building used to have four dragon statues; only two are left. Gedhong Gapura Panggung symbolizes the year in which Taman Sari was built, 1684 Saka (around 1758 CE). It also features decorative reliefs, as does Gedhong Gapura Hageng.

“Gedhong Gapura Hageng” was the main gate for the sultans. In those days, Taman Sari faced west and extended to the east. This gate is at the westernmost part of the remaining water palace site. The eastern part of this main gate can still be seen, while its western side is surrounded by dense housing. The gate, which comprises several rooms and two sectors is decorated with reliefs of birds and flowers indicating the year when the construction of Taman Sari was completed, 1691 Saka (around 1765 CE).

To the east of Taman Sari’s ancient main gate is an eight-sided courtyard. In the middle of this courtyard there used to stand a two-story tower named “Gedhong Lopak-lopak”; all that is left is a row of giant flower pots and the doors that connected this place with others. The door at the eastern end of this eight-sided courtyard is one of the gateways to Umbul Binangun.

yogjakarta-the-umbul-binangunThe Umbul Binangun bathing pool was the swimming pool for the Sultan, his wives and concubines, and his daughters. This complex is surrounded by a high wall. Two gates provide access to this place, one on the east and one on the west. In the Umbul Pasiraman complex are three pools, decorated with mushroom-shaped springs. Surrounding the pools are giant flower pots, which can still be seen.

The building on the northmost side was the rest area and changing room for the sultan’s daughters, wives and concubines. To the south is another pool named “Umbul Muncar”. A path resembling a dock separates this pool from another to its south called “Blumbang Kuras”.

To the south of Blumbang Kuras is a building with a tower in the middle. The west wing of this building is the changing room, while the east wing was where the sultan relaxed. It is said that the sultan used the tower in the middle to watch his wives and daughters while they were bathing. In that era, apart from the Sultan, only females were allowed to enter the complex.

From the southeast of the Magangan complex to the northeast of Siti Hinggil Kidul is an artificial lake, in the middle of which is an artificial island called “Pulo Kinupeng”. On the island is a tall structure called “Gedhong Gading” which is also referred to as the city tower.

To the northwest of the artificial lake and stretching off to its southeast runs a large canal. This canal has two narrow points, where it is believed there used to be hanging bridges. One of these bridges was over the path connecting the Magangan complex with Kamandhungan Kidul. Remnants of this bridge can still be seen, though the bridge itself is long gone. To the west of the hanging bridge was a pier, which it is said the sultans used as the starting point for their entrance to Taman Sari. It is also said that the Sultans entered Taman Sari by boat.

yogjakarta-to-the-southTo the south of the canal was a garden, lying to the west of the Kamandhungan Kidul complex and Siti Hinggil Kidul. This has now become a residential area, the garden is now the kampung (urban village) of Ngadisuryan, and the artificial lake has now become the kampung of Segaran.

In the middle of Segaran is an artificial island, “Pulo Kenongo”, planted with kenanga (ylang-ylang) trees. On this island stands a two-story structure called “Gedhong Kenongo”. The largest, first part of this structure is quite high. From the highest level, one can observe the Keraton Yogyakarta and its surroundings, even beyond the Baluwarti fortress. It is said that Gedhong Kenongo comprised several rooms with different functions. From afar, the building seems to be floating above the water. It is therefore not surprising that the entire Taman Sari complex is also often called the Water Castle (Istana Air), since in the past, two-thirds of the complex was surrounded by water which could be used by the royal for boating. This structure is now in ruins. To the south of Pulo Kenongo is a row of smaller structures called “Tajug”, which are ventilation towers for the underwater tunnel that led to Pulo Kenongo.

To the south of Pulo Kenongo is yet another artificial island, called “Pulo Cemethi”. This two-story structure is also called “Pulo Panembung”. Here the sultan came to meditate. Some also call it “Sumur Gumantung”, because at the south end is a well that protrudes above the ground surface. To reach it, one had to go through an underwater tunnel. This structure is also now in ruins.

To the west of Pulo Kenongo is a ring-shaped structure called “Sumur Gumuling”. This two-story building can only be reached through an underwater tunnel. Sumur Gumuling was traditionally used as a mosque. On the second floor is a nook that was used as the mihrab, from which the imam led the prayers. In the middle of this open structure are five stairs leading to the second floor, symbolizing the five pillars of Islam.

Nowadays, many parts of Taman Sari are densely inhabited kampung, where the families of the keraton’s abdi dalem, or loyal supporters live. Taman Sari became a residential area because during the colonial era, it was difficult for the abdi dalem to find any place to live. Their families sought the sultan’s protection and permission to live within the keraton fortress, which the Dutch were not allowed to enter.

Even now, in nearly every house in Taman Sari you will find batik tulis producers, who have been making batik for the royal family for generations. Souvenir shops selling batik paintings and cloth at affordable prices are easy to find in these residential parts of Taman Sari. The Taman Sari area is now a zone comprising an archeological site, a community of craftspersons producing batik, paintings, sungging (wayang paintings) and bamboo handicrafts, traditional markets, and people’s homes.

Taman Sari Yogyakarta is a relic of the largest and most beautiful royal pleasure park ever built in Indonesia. As well as the massive earthquake that struck Yogyakarta in 1867, the earthquake two years ago caused considerable damage in the area, particularly to Pulo Panembung (the meditation spot), Sumur Gumantung, and Pulo Cemethi. The site is also under threat of encroachment for expansion of housing, which will accelerate the damage to the site if nothing is done to prevent it.

As one of Yogyakarta’s cultural icons, Taman Sari was designated in 2004 by the New York-based World Monument Fund (WMF) as one of the 100 most threatened historic sites; it urgently needs to be preserved.