Malioboro is the city’s main street, and was once the ceremonial avenue for the Sultan to pass through on his way to and from the Kraton. No visit to Yogyakarta is complete without experiencing Malioboro’s shops and outlets, which sell many kinds of souvenirs and clothing items. Malioboro Road is partially pedestrianized. Many businesses and tourist destinations are on this street. . Shops and street vendors sell a variety of stuff at affordable prices and the quality especially with batik may be suspect.

Yogyakarta palace or Kraton (also known as keraton or karaton) is a splendid example of traditional Javanese architecture. Sonobudoyo Museum has a fine collection of precious artifacts and relics. The Taman Sari complex is a remarkable collection of ancient ruins, which were once a grand palace built in the center of a huge, man made lake. At the museum of Affandi you can see work by one of Indonesia’s famous modern painters.

From the Kraton to Taman Sari, you can seen where old kings and their families spent time, swimming and enjoying themselves. Near the north gate of the Kraton are grand Dutch colonial buildings that are now the Central Post Office and the Bank Dagang Negara. Walking further north is the well laid out State Guest House, which was once the home of the Dutch Resident, but which after Independence became the presidential palace when Yogya was the capital of the young Republic. President Sukarno stayed here between 1946-1949. Across the road is the Vredenburg Fort (Benteng Vredburg), which used to be the barracks of Dutch soldiers and is now a center for arts and painting exhibitions. At Benteng Vredburg you can see dioramas showing the Indonesian struggle for independence, At Kotagede (5 kilometers southeast of the Kraton), the center of silvemaking in Yogyakarta, you can see silversmith at work. Visit Kasongan if you're into pottery. Borobudur and Prambanan Temples are outside the city and can be visited as part of a day-long tour..

Other sights in Yogyakarta include the Pasar Beringharjo, the largest market, with a lot of batik and cheap cloths, spices, fruits and food stalls; Pakualaman Kraton and Ambarrukmo Place. The Struggle for Independence Museum which has a roof in the shape of a crown, The Yoga Kembali Monument 100 feet high. You can also check out the Batik Research Center, Parang Tritis Beach and Kaliurang Resort.

Malioboro Area

Malioboro is the city’s main street, and was once the ceremonial avenue for the Sultan to pass through on his way to and from the Keraton. During such occasions Malioboro would be festively decorated with flowers. Some say that the name Malioboro” derives from the name of the British governor Marlborough from the era when Britain ruled the archipelago, between 1811-1816. Located in the heart of Yogya, Malioboro Road is partially pedestrianized. Many businesses and tourist destinations are on this street. . Shops and street vendors sell a variety of stuff at affordable prices and the quality especially with batik may be suspect. This street tends to be packed with locals and tourists, and occasionally thieves so take care with your belongings.

Susan Spano wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “I took a bicycle cab (or becek), the most common, cheap and practical form of transportation in teeming Yogyakarta, down the distracting hurly-burly of Malioboro Road. Lined by tightly packed rows of buildings with Dutch stepped gables, New Orleans-style balconies, galleries full of food and souvenir vendors — all cheerfully suffering the effects of recent earthquakes and tropical torpor — this main street quickly became one of my favorite places to shop in the world. I bought light cotton shirts and trousers for about $5 each at the Matahari Department Store, a bouquet of camellias from a flower stall, cheap batik scarves on the pavement and a basket in the local market where salesmen stacked comestibles I couldn't identify in tall pyramids. [Source: Susan Spano, Los Angeles Times, January 6, 2012]

“One of them spoke enough English to ask where I was from. When I told him the U.S., he beamed, saying that President Obama had lived in Indonesia as a boy. Later, I saw another instance of effective American diplomacy in newspaper photos of the first lady wearing a stylish head scarf, a relaxed form of head covering increasingly adopted by Islamic Indonesian women who until recently had gone unveiled.

“I stayed two nights at a hotel on Sosrowijayan Street just off Malioboro, an enclave for scruffy-looking backpackers. Pedestrian alleyways off Sosrowijayan were full of countertop tour agencies, cheap guest houses and cafes selling secondhand copies of the late Erich Segal's "Love Story," Rick Steves' 1986 guide to Europe, Western-style breakfasts and uniformly terrible coffee. Unwilling to accept that I couldn't get a good cup of joe on the island of Java, I roamed the soulful, animated city, never finding it but filling my new basket with additional treasures.”

Historical City Center of Yogyakarta

Historical City Centre of Yogyakarta was nominated to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site in March 14, 2017. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The historical city of Yogyakarta is a traditional Javanese city founded in 1756 by Pangeran Mangkubumi or the first Sultan Hamengkubuwana as the centre of the Sultanate of Ngayogyakarta Hadiningrat (henceforth: Kasultanan Yogyakarta). Distinct from other Javanese city, the city centre was designed based on specific Javanese cosmology and philosophy as manifested in its location and plan. The location of Yogyakarta city was deliberately chosen to precisely reflect microcosmos, whereas the plan of the city centre was drawn up based on the Javanese philosophy regarding the nature of human destiny. Accordingly, every component of the historical city centre of Yogyakarta has its own philosophical meaning. [Source: Permanent Delegation of the Republic of Indonesia]

“The city centre of Yogyakarta is located in a flat land at the slope of Merapi Volcano. In the broader landscape, it is situated in between the Merapi Volcano and the South Sea or Indian Ocean which are considered as two significant elements in Javanese cosmology. To the east and the west, it is also flanked by three rivers each. There are Kali Code, Kali Gadjahwong, and Opak River in the east side, and in the west side there are Kali Winongo, Kali Bedog, and Progo River. In Hindu-Javanese cosmology, such a landscape has been perceived as a reflection of the Universe which consists of the Mahameru Mountain in the centre surrounded by rings of intersperse sea and land. It was the reason for Sultan Hamengkubuwono I to choose this flat land as the suitable place to build his palace and the city of Yogyakarta.

“In such a landscape setting, the historical city centre of Yogyakarta was regarded as the microcosmos where human should live to abide their destiny. The city was accordingly planned to reflect human destiny as conceptualized in Javanese philosophy. In this context, human destiny is explained in three basic concepts. Firstly, every human being should know the origin and ultimate destination of human life (sangkan paraning dumadi) and follow that human life cycle. Secondly, during their life, human have to maintain the harmonious relations to the God — other Human — Nature (manunggaling kawula Gusti). And, lastly the duty of all human beings is to make the world beautiful and peaceful (hamemayu hayuning bawono). All these ideas are embodied in the plan of the historical city centre of Yogyakarta.

“Originally the historical city centre of Yogyakarta encompassed the area of around 1500 hectares situated between Kali Code and Kali Winongo with the palace or Kraton of the Sultanate of Yogyakarta as the centre. The north and south borders were marked respectively by Tugu Pal Putih about 2 km north from the Kraton and Panggung Krapyak about 1,5 km to the south. A south — north direction street connects those three main components of the historical city. This linear street respresents a philosophical axis along which all the meaningful components of Yogyakarta city are placed to symbolize the entire human life cycle (sangkan paraning dumadi). The truncated pyramid structure of Panggung Krapyak embodied female element (yoni or womb) where the earliest form of life is conceived. Here the human life cycle begins and then follows the course from Panggung Krapyak to Kraton which depicts the human life sequence from conception to adulthood (sangkan = origins). Meanwhile the life sequence from adulthood to the death and return to God (the Creator) is signified by the course from Tugu Pal Putih to Kraton. Tugu Pal Putih or white sign column was originally design as a white silindric column with a spheric shape top. This column symbolizes male element as well as the unity of the God with the King and the King with its people as a manifestation of harmonious relation of God and human (manunggaling kawulo gusti). When the Sultan meditation in Kraton, he will direct his concentration to this column.

“The area of the historical city centre proposed to be inscribed in the World Heritage List is 1260 hectares. The boundaries of this area are Prof. Dr. Sardjito Street — Wolter Monginsidi Street to the north, east side bank of Kali Code to the east, South outer ringroad of Yogyakarta City to the south, and west side bank of Kali Winongo to the west. This main part consists of two zones: core zone (606,904 Ha) and buffer zone (657, 064 Ha). As described above, the main components of the historical city center of Yogyakarta proposed to be world heritage are the meaningful elements along the Philosophical axis. These are Tugu Pal Putih, the pathway from Tugu Pal Putih to Kraton, Kepatihan, Pasar Beringharjo, the Complex of Kraton Kesultanan Yogyakarta, the pathway from Kraton to Panggung Krapyak and Panggung Krapyak. Details of these components are described below (from south to north).”

Components of Historical City Center of Yogyakarta

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: 1) “Panggung Krapyak is located about 2 km southern of Kraton Yogyakarta. It is a truncated pyramid in shape. It measures 17,6 m x 15 m at the base and 10 m in height. Its form and meaning are similar to a yoni in Hinduism which signifies female element. This truncated pyramid had been built within a royal forest and the structure was used also for hunter’s platform. [Source: Permanent Delegation of the Republic of Indonesia]

2) “Kepatihan is a building complex which is located in the present day Jalan Malioboro (maliabara). This complex was built as the house of Patih (prime minister) who was in charge to manage government administration and carry out Sultan’s mandate. Up to now Kepatihan is still used as the center of Yogyakarta Special Region provincial administration. There are a number of authentic Javanese architectures in this complex, though some new buildings have been constructed due to development needs. The existence of this complex along the philosophical axis symbolizes a temptation. It means that one should not be bound to one’s social or bureaucratic status in order to re-unite with the God in the Afterlife.

3) “Pasar Beringharjo is located to the north-east of the Kraton Yogyakarta. Market place is an essential part of traditional Javanese town-scape and Kasultanan. It is a symbol of the Sultan’s duty to bring prosperity to his people. Pasar Bering-harjo was originally an open space market. In the course of history, it has changed several times and now it becomes a massive building with two floors and few modern facilities due to the need of the people. However, its function and location is still the same until today. Even so one can still feel the nuance of a Javanese traditional market. This market also represents the material world that should be left behind when one wishes to attain the unity with God.

4) Tugu Pal Putih is a masonry column or pillar of 15 meters tall with square base. It has a square crosssection and tapering body. On the top of it, there is a pointed spiral, just like a horn of a unicorn. This monument is located about 2,5 km northern of Kraton, as the orientation point when Sri Sultan does meditation in his palace. The existing column was built by the Dutch in 1889 to replace the original one which had been collapsed due to a dreadful earthquake in 1867. The original was a cylindrical column with a spheric form on the top. The total height was about 25 m. It was called Tugu Golong Gilig for its form (Golong = spheric, Gilig = cylindric). This original column signifies a male element (lingam) as well as the unity of Sultan with his people and the unity of human with the God (manunggaling kawula gusti).

Pathways in Historical City Center of Yogyakarta

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: 1) The Pathway from Panggung Krapyak to Kraton connects Panggung Krapyak to the southern gate of Kraton in a straight line which symbolizes the very beginning of life (before the birth). Adjacent to the Panggung Krapyak, to the north, there is still a toponym called “mijen” meaning “be the seed of the life”. Along this pathway, there are tamarind (asem) and sapodilla (sawo kecik) trees. These trees denote a condition of “being fascinated” or “bewitching” and “everything is fine” or “goodness” respectively. Tamarind tree is the symbol of “bewitching” and sapodilla tree as the symbol of “goodness”. [Source: Permanent Delegation of the Republic of Indonesia]

2) The pathway from Tugu to Kraton is a straight street which connects Tugu to Kraton. It consists of three segments with each has its special meaning. The first segment is about one third length from north (Tugu Pal Putih) and called as margatama (the pathway of excellence), the second is maliabara (strong willing to enlighten) and the third is margamulya (the pathway to dignity). When the Sultan is meditating in Mangunturtangkil room within the Kraton, he will focus his mind to the column as the axis from Kraton to Tugu is perceived as the symbol of the direction to Mecca. Meanwhile, the reversed direction from north to south (Tugu to Kraton) signifies the returning journey to God (death).

This pathway ends in the gate called Pangurakan, just north of the square (alun-alun). This gate represents the end of human life in the world and the soul will enter the palace (which is believed to be the heaven itself) to reunite with the God.

“The course from Tugu Pal Putih to Kraton is divided into three parts symbolising the way to achieve status in human life. From north to south, these parts represent the pathways to attain the excellence (margotomo), enlightened life (malioboro), and dignity (margamulyo). Along the course there are also two important city components, i.e. Kepatihan (administrative office) and Pasar Beringharjo (sultanate market). These two components signify the obstacles or temptations to accomplish an ideal life, i.e. in overly pursue of bureaucratic power or social status and material well being respectively.”

Kraton of Yogyakarta

The Kraton (in the center of the city) is the old walled palace compound, where 25,000 people once lived, with schools, shops and mosques inside to support them. The main entrance to the Kraton and the sultan’s palace is on Malioboro Street. Otherwise it is hard to find the openings in the walls and negotiate the confusing backstreets outside the walls.

The Kraton (also spelled keraton or karaton), is a grand complex that was meticulously planned to reflect the Javanese cosmos. Designed and built in stages, it was completed in 1790 and is regarded as perhaps the most example of traditional Javanese architecture. This elegant complex of pavilions was constructed entirely according to ancient beliefs. Each feature of the complex, from the courtyards to the trees, has a special symbolic meaning related to Javanese cosmological thought.

The Kraton is built facing directly north towards the majestic Mt. Merapi with to its back oriented towards the south and the Indian Ocean, believed to be the abode of Kanjeng Ratu Loro Kidul, the Queen of the South Seas and the mystical consort of the Sultan. Malioboro road was originally used as the ceremonial route, not unlike London’s Pall Mall, and forms a straight line drawn from the Sultan’s palace to the Merapi volcano. A green square called alun-alun fronting the palace, has a large banyan tree in its center. Behind the palace is a similar square. When a sultan dies, the cortege leaves by the southern gate on its way to the cemetery of kings at Imogiri.

This Kraton was designed to be more than just a royal residence. It was built to be a focal point of the Sultan’s entire kingdom. Today, the palace is a piece of living history and tradition. It continues to be used, both as a home of the Sultan as well as for other important ceremonial and cultural functions of the Yogya court. The present Sultan Hamengku Buwono X of Yogyakarta retains the title of Sultan although Yogya has become one of the provinces of the Republic of Indonesia. The Sultan of Yogya, is also the governor of the province, and is still considered the cultural head of this region, and is greatly loved by his subjects.

Even with Yogya’s modernization, the Keraton of Yogya continues to be respected by the people of Yogya, steeped as it is in mysticism and philosophy. In the afternoons, after the palace is closed to visitors, women in traditional costume can be seen respectfully sprinkling water and flowers on the pillars, lighting incense to “cleanse” the Kraton from evil spirits.

Tourists are expected to show respect while visiting the kraton. As it is a sacred place respectful dress is required and no hats may be worn inside the palace grounds. Gamelan orchestra and traditional dance rehearsals and performances take place throughout the week. On the last Sunday of each month a wayang kulit (shadow puppet play) demonstration is held at the palace.

Visitors explore the palace on foot. The palace is open to visitors from 08.30 am to 12.30 pm except on Fridays and Saturdays when it closes at 11.00 am. It is closed in the afternoons. The Kraton is located in the center of Yogyakarta and can be reached easily by taxi, becak, andong — the horse-drawn cart, or by public bus.

Complex of the Kraton

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The complex of Kraton (palace) is the central part of a Javanese traditional city. The Sultan resides in this complex which is surrounded by a city wall (baluwarti). As a whole Kraton complex is facing to the north. Within this complex there are important components with its significant meaning, i.e the Square (alun-alun), Great mosque (masjid gedhe), the Sultan residence and other complement elements such as water castle (taman sari). Alun-alun is an open area in front of (north) and behind (south) Kraton or Palace. It is marked by banyan trees as the symbol of protection. North alun-alun measures 300 m x 300 m. In this square, Sultan undertakes public ceremonies and meets his people. The Great mosque (masjid gedhe) is the place where Sultan together with his people meets the God. Hence the square and mosque signify the concept of a harmonious relationship of God — people — nature and also manunggaling kawula gusti (unity of God and Human as well as King and his people). [Source: Permanent Delegation of the Republic of Indonesia]

Some buildings and structures inside the Kraton have special meanings related to human life-cycle. Those are arranged along the philosophical axis from south to north as follows:
Kamandhungan (kandungan = womb) which signifies the condition being in inside the mother’s womb
Pangongan, a slightly narrow passage as the symbol of birth.
Gadhung melati, a gate which means passing the childhood
Kamagangan, a place the youth begin to study and work in internship
As they become a mature person, they will face the real life which is symbolised by entering the Kedhaton (residential parts of the Palace)

Other important components of the Kraton complex are:
Gedung Prabayeksa, where the eternal flame is kept to symbolize everlasting life.
Gedung Jene (yellow building) as the residence of Sultan
Bangsal Manguntur Tangkil as the place of Sultan to meditate
Pagilaran as the place where the functionaries or Sultanate officials always standby. This place is also functioned as the waiting room for people who want to see Sultan.”

Walking Around in the Kraton

Walking around the Kraton is a great pleasure. The price of admission includes a guided tour (available in English and other languages). When you enter the palace, you immediately escape from the heat and crowds of the city and step into a cool and serene place of shade, water and beautiful, open and airy buildings.

At the main entryway you will see an enormous barrier or baturana designed to keep out evil spirits. It is set up according to belief that demons find it difficult to turn corners and prefer to travel in straight lines. As you approach the palace itself visitors walk through a pavilion or Pagelaran where the sultan’s ministers and troops used to formally assemble. Today this space is used for musical and theatrical performances on special occasions such as the Sultan’s birthday.

Behind the first pavilion is the Siti Hinggil or ‘Elevated Ground’, where royal coronations take place. Most of the pavilions, or “pendopo” are open air structures, supported by ornately carved pillars. One of the most impressive structures is the splendid Bangsal Kencono or ‘Golden Throne Pavilion’. This majestic structure is an excellent example of Javanese artistry and reflects the religious and cultural diversity of the region. The roof of the pavilion is decorated in a red Hindu pattern, with gold Buddhist lotus petals at the base, while the pillars are decorated in green and gold Arabic calligraphy quoting the Quran.

On the southern and eastern sides of the courtyard is a series of multi-purpose rooms. One of these rooms is used to prepare the Sultan’s daily tea. If you’re lucky you may see a mid morning processions of elderly female retainers leaving from here bearing tea under royal umbrellas. Another pavilion was used as the court of justice, where trials were held. Access to the actual home of the present Sultan and his family, as well as to his offices, is through a separate entrance, away from the visitors’ gate.

And everywhere you will see men and women in traditional costumes walking and sitting around, These are the court retinue and guards. You will not find any military guards here, since the Kraton is believed to be protected by invisible powers. Before you leave, take a look at the royal carriages on display at the Rotowijayan stables. Many of these ornate and elaborate carriages were gifts, made in Europe and presented to sultans by Dutch patrons. Some of these carriages have special functions such as the Kyai Rotopraloyo which is a special carriage used to bear the sultan’s coffin to the royal cemetery.

Ngayogyakarta Hadiningrat Palace

Ngayogyakarta Hadiningrat Palace (within the Kraton), with its grand and elegant courtyards and pavilions, is regarded as one of the finest examples of Javanese architecture in Indonesia. Situated between two rivers and built in 1755 and 1756, with additions added later, the palace contains two large courtyards: one to the north and one to the south of the palace. These two courtyards line up with the commemorative column in the palace and together they point directly at Mt. Merapi.

The main pavilions in the central courtyards are wonderful open buildings, which often host gamelan performances. The buildings occupied by the sultan and his family are tucked away behind “do not enter” signs and visitor rarely see them. In the side courtyards there are buildings with various displays such as portraits of the sultans and their families, gifts given to him by foreign dignitaries and individual batik patters of all the royal family members. From a separate entrance fee you can see the sultans carriages, palanquins as well as 60s-era Ford and Cadillac.

The elaborately decorated meeting hall was used for official meetings. The "Mangunture Tingkil" hall is where the Sultan met privately with small audiences. Some of the pavilions are supported by teak columns. For a little bit of Javanese kitsch check out the life size diorama of a wedding ceremony performed by puppets. Musical instruments, antiques and heirlooms are also displayed.

Susan Spano wrote in the Los Angeles Times: The center of Yogyakarta remains Sultan Hamengkubuwono's palace (or kraton), a walled, whitewashed compound with open-air pavilions. A 175-piece gamelan orchestra, an ensemble of wind, string and percussion, performs here. It has its own bank, a 2,500-man military garrison, a museum of mostly hideous gifts given to sultans, 20 vehicles in the royal garage and 75 bird cages On a tour arranged by Noor, an official palace guide pointed out the décor's myriad male and female symbols; even the cages have male and female birds, a feature that prompted the guide to divulge an interesting theory about the present sultan, who has just one wife and five daughters, unlike his father, another Hamengkubuwono, who had 21 children with four concubines. The sultan's sad lack of a male heir, the guide suggested, stems from the sexual aggressiveness of the queen consort, a condition that produces girl children only. [Source: Susan Spano, Los Angeles Times, January 6, 2012]

Museum Sonobudoyo and the Bird Market of Yogyakarta

The Museum Sonobudoyo (on Yogyakarta's main square next to the Sultan's palace) was founded in 1935. Built in typical Javanese architectural style, it museum contains exhibits of weapons, leather and wood puppets, masks, woodcarvings, and old Javanese gamelans. Wayang performances are sometimes held here.

The Bird Market (a couple hundred meters from the entrance to the palace) is an interesting market with lots of colorful birds and sonorous song birds. The main focus of the market is pigeons. Interesting sights include collection of crickets, maggots and ants and other critters used to feed the birds. The cricket are thought to pass their songs onto the birds. In one section there are cute pets, rabbits, bats, flying foxes, hamsters and snakes. When I visited one guy had a huge python that looked like it was at least four meters long.

The Bird Market (Pasar Ngasem) also sells traditional products and household earthenwares. In this area batik painters not only sell their products, they give instruction in their art. Art shops and galleries of medium quality can be found along the alleys.

Water Castle

The Water Castle (in the older part of the city right next to the bird market) is the former pleasure palace of Sultan Hamengkubuwono. Much of the castle is in ruins and is not much more than an intriguing collection of pools, arches and underground passageways intermixed with houses in the neighborhood around the bird market. The nymph baths in the central courtyard however have been completely restored.

The original water palace was built on between 1758 and 1765 for the sultan and was designed by a Portuguese architect. It is said that when the baths were complete the architect was executed to keep the design of the baths secret. In any case the palace was damaged in the Javanese War of Succession and destroyed by an earthquake in 1865. The facilities included a Rest house, in the form of water castle with beautiful park, artificial lakes and canals, bathing pools, and large gardens with several kind of varieties of trees. Among the places for sport and entertainment were pools for boating and swimming, a deer hunting park, rooms for the classical dances Bedoyo and Srimpi and gamelan music, and a place for meditation. The castle was an important palace and shelter for the Sultan. It had two bastions: one with 12 cannons and other with six cannons.

The Water Castle known as Tamansari, is less than one kilometers west of Kraton. Tamansari means beautiful garden. The Castle divided into two complexes: 1) Umbul Binangun (swimming pool complex) and 2) Pulo Kenongo (Palace of Kenongo Island). Umbul Binangun is the swimming pool where only the Sultan’s harmen women bathed, relaxed and enjoyed themselves. Only these women and the woman employees that served them and the Sultan were allowed to enter. The Sultan private bedroom was located in a three-story tower next to the swimming pool. The Sultans private bath-pool was behind the tower. Somewhere in the south part of the palace, there was a special place where the Sultans met from time to time with the Goddess of the South Sea, Kanjeng Ratu Kidul.

Pulo Kenongo was located in the middle of Segaran Taman Sari, an artificial lake connected by canal to the other artificial lake near the Kraton. Kenongo is a name the flower trees that were planted in the front yard, producing a fragrance that spread around the palace. Like the Kraton, Pulo Kenongo had living rooms, bedrooms, rooms to make Batik, a hall for performing classical sacred dance of Bedoyo and Srimpi, gates and sentry-boxes guarded by palace soldiers.

No traveler is allowed to take picture of Sultan private bedroom at Umbul Binangun - Swimming Pool Complex. When visiting Kraton or Taman Sari, avoid wearing shorts or mini-skirts. Your pants or skirts should be long enough to cover your knees. This conveys the message that you understand the local customs. And the locals will also respect you more.

There are two ways to enter the Water Castle. One way is through Pasar Ngasem Bird Market, just go inside and find an alley called KP III, turn left, walk about 200 meters, there is the Pulo Kenongo rest house complex. The other is through Jalan Taman Sari, from Pasar Ngasem. Go by becak to South Square, after about a half a kilometer turn right, There you will find the East-Main Entrance, which to to the Royal Swimming pools.

Yogyakarta Black Magic Market

Yogyakarta’s oldest market still trades in spiritual goods — swords, stones and other talismans meant to bring wealth, health and most of all, protection. Sara Schonhardt of CNN wrote: “Down a narrow alleyway where strings of sun pierce the gaps between the overhang sit small, dusty trinkets, stones and oils. The haphazard collection, spread throughout various stalls, ranges from antique-looking Hindu symbols to pieces of green and red cloth emblazoned with Javanese Arabic. These charms are believed to protect their owners from deep-seated superstitions that many in Indonesia harbor. At Yogyakarta’s Beringharjo market, these talismans fill old wooden toolboxes or pushcarts that once plied the streets of the city at the heart of Javanese culture. [Source: Sara Schonhardt, CNN, April 22, 2010]

“Many of the charms, or penangal balak, are protective, meant to block spells or absorb bad spirits. They include Arabic prayers penned on cloth worn beneath one’s clothing, special stones or colorful glass rocks, and ginger roots hailed as antidotes to toxins. Yanto Sugiyanto, who has sold charms in Beringharjo market for 30 years, says he has seen little change in the popularity of his goods. People of all ages buy the talismans as collector’s items, he says, while turning a piece of small, yellow bamboo in his hand. Yanto’s small station hugs the wall of a building across the alley from two women who sell an Islamic-influenced collection of talismans. Scrolls with scriptures from the Qur’an float in liquid-filled vials on a shelf above distinctive Indonesian swords, or kris, thought to possess magical powers.

“A box containing bamboo oil warns buyers that it’s a reproduction, as are most of the antique-looking items. The oil, which sells for around US$0.50, is popular because it is cheap and is meant to serve a plethora of purposes — from collecting debts to improving trade and farming. Other oils — such as sandalwood, citronella and jasmine — cure ailments and imbue users with intelligence or beauty. Nur, the owner of this shop, says these beliefs do not challenge Islam if the charms are used to improve one’s health or livelihood. Also available: susuk, brass or gold charm needles, that are inserted under the skin to treat pain or protect against injury or incident. Legend has it that susuk was the reason former dictator Suharto amassed such considerable political power and longevity, but a shaman must insert the needles in the body.

“Nur says she gets the brass slivers from a factory, and that none of the charms have been activated. That requires a visit to a wise man who has studied the art of black magic, but it doesn’t seem to dissuade buyers, who still flock to this market to assuage their fears of evil forces. A nail sits among kris, traditional Javanese daggers thought to possess magical powers. Homeowners often hammer nails with Qua’ranic verses in to walls to prevent wicked spirits from entering.

“Beringharjo market is on Jl. Malioboro across from Mirota Batik and around 2 kilometers from the main train station, Stasiun Tugu. To the north of the market, runs a small street where these black magic goods are sold. Ask anyone around where you can find "ilmu hitam."”


Kotagede (also spelled Kota Gede, five kilometers from the center of Yogyakarta) is situated at the original site where Panembahan Senopati, founder of the new Mataram kingdom established his palace in 1575. The new Mataram kingdom claimed direct descent from the ancient Mataram rulers who built the mighty Borobudur and Prambanan temples. In the year 1680 Kotagede was ransacked by troops from Madura, and the palace of Mataram shifted east, first to Kartasura, then to its present location on the banks of the Solo river, at Surakarta (Solo).

Today, Kotagede is a suburb of the city of Yogyakarta. The town is a maze of narrow streets, lined with tiny, traditional silversmith shops and mosaic-tiled houses, once the homes of the aristocracy and royal merchants. Kotagede is a great place to come and take a slow wander round. For those who like to shop, browse (or maybe buy) some handcrafted silver. Check out the quaint buildings that years ago were the homes of wealthy Arab and Dutch merchants. Some of them house shops so you can take a look inside. Kotagede can be easily reached by bus, taxi or car. If you prefer traditional modes of transport, try an ‘andong’ — four wheeled horse drawn cart that are common on the streets of Yogya.

Kotageda is now the center of Yogya’s silver industry. There are a number of workshops where visitors can stop by and watch silversmiths at work and see the remarkable way they can transform a piece of silver into a beautiful work of art. Yogya silver distinguishes itself by its embossment and contrasting black on white silver. The best pieces are made of sterling silver. Kotagede produces beautiful silver tea sets, bracelets and necklaces and fine filigree brooches.

The Royal Cemetery of Kotagede, is a site of ancient grandeur and reflects the cultural heritage of this region. Javanese dress is required to enter the cemetery and can be hired at the registration post. As there are Mataram kings buried here this is a holy site and pilgrims from all over Java still come here to pay their respects, burn incense and ask for blessings.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Indonesia Tourism website ( ), Indonesia government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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