Semarang (three hours from Yogyakarta by bus oR 360 kilometers east of Jakarta) is situated on the north coast of Java and is famous for its Dutch architecture. Home to 1.6 million people, it is the capital and largest city in Central Java and the seventh largest city Indonesia. It is located on on a small flat plain with views of the mountains. The old part of town has many colonial buildings some of which date back to the days of the Dutch East Indies Company. Floods, caused by high tides or rain-swollen rivers, are common.

Semarang is a seaport city and one of the major commercial centers in Indonesia. Textiles, machinery, shipbuilding and fishing are important industries; exports include sugar, coffee, and rubber. It came under Dutch control as early as 1748, and was occupied by the Japanese during World War II from February 1942 until September 1945. Many steamship companies maintain offices in this city, Deponegoro University, founded in 1957, is located here.

Semarang has a fairly large Chinese community. Of note is a large temple honoring Cheng Ho (Zheng He), the great Ming-era Chinese eunuch explorer. There is a lame zoo. Puppet shows and traditional dance and drama are performed at the Ngesti Pandowo Theater Mostly this city isn't exceptional in its own right but it is a good jumping off point for other places of interest.

Cheng Ho is said to have set foot here in the 15th century, acting as the Chinese emperor’s emissary, an occasion commemorated in the temple of Gedung Batu. From the 17th century onwards, Semarang became a busy entrepot for spices and from the 20th century on a busy harbor for trade and passengers when travel was made predominantly by sea. This strategic position of Semarang has made the city a melting pot of Chinese, Indian Arab, and European cultures.

The name “Semarang”, is believed derived from its founder, Raden Made Pandan Arang, who built the city at a delta called Pergota or Pragota, that was dotted with tamarind trees, locally known as “Asam Arang”. The city of Semarang was declared a region on May 2nd, 1547 with Kyai Ageng Pandan Arang II, the son of Raden Made Pandan, as its regent. Politically as well as culturally, the anniversary of Semarang eventually falls on this date.

Sights in the Semarang Area

Wander around the Chinese quarters and the Dutch commercial district, and you will see the influences of different cultures everywhere. In the older part of the city near the harbor named Kota Lama, or the Oudstadt, stroll around and explore the historic old buildings in what was once the European commercial district. The most renowned landmark to see here is the Koepelkerk, a Phanteon style church, locally known as Geraja Bleduk, a copper domed Dutch church dating from 1753. Don’t forget to visit Gedung Batu where stands the old Chinese temple and the recently erected statue of Admiral Cheng Ho.

Kota Lama, literally meaning ‘Old City’, has several other names, such as Oudstadtï and ‘Little Netherlands’. This part of the city resembles the architecture of Holland. It has collections of old buildings that once were the residences and offices of officials in the Dutch East India Company, also known as the VOC. Most renowned landmark in Kota Lama is the koepelkerk, or also known as the Emmanuel Church. Locally known as Gereja Bleduk, it is a Protestant church with a beautiful Pantheon style façade. Stroll around some more and you will be amazed by the whole complex. The postal office with its orange color wall stands in front of a busy street where becaks, or trishaws, pass by. The old deserted buildings are still there to survive the changing times. The mayor of Semarang is now planning to preservethe district.

The old city is also located very close to the Chinese settlements, the Pecinanï. Go there to see several Chinese temples with its busy daily life around them. Take a stroll in the city’s colorful Chinese district called Semawis and see the hustle and bustle of daily life in this community. As you make your way through the maze of streets and alleyways, sample some of the delicious Chinese cuisine on offer. Semarang with its Semawis and other centers of cuisine is a place for food hunters.

Visit an old cake shop and restaurant called Toko Oen not far from the Kota Lama on Pemuda Street. It lies in the busy area where Semarang’s mall, Sriratu, is located. Toko Oen is still maintained as it was in 1936 when it first opened. Not only is the building preserved, but its interior as well as the food are maintained in the old Dutch colonial style that make this small shop well worth a visit. Cruise ship passengers returning from a Borobudur tour usually stop by the shop for a quick dinner.

While you are here, take the opportunity to visit historical attractions such as the tomb of Ki Ageng Pandanaran, the other name for Kyai Pandan Arang II. This tomb marks the grave of the first official ruler of Semarang and many pilgrims flock here each year. Bundaran Tugu Mudaï, or formerly known as the Wilhelminaplein, is a monument and pond built in tribute to the heroic actions of Semarang freedom fighters against the Japanese during the 5 day battle of 1945. Built in 1953, this monument reflects the history of the town and of Indonesia, with reliefs depicting the difficult period under the Japanese occupation as displayed at the foot of the monument.

Across the monument, a building built in 1904 and completed in 1907, stands gallantly. Recently renovated and conserved as one of the heritage buildings in Semarang, the Lawang Sewu, or ‘thousand doors’, is the name given by the locals. Formerly named the Nederlands-Indische Spoorweg Maatschappij (NIS), the building is an office for Indonesian railways. A 30-minute tour is a historical experience when accompanied by a knowledgeable tour guide.

The Gedung Batu temple is a sacred site for both Java’s Muslim and Chinese descendents. This collection of ancient shrines is said to have been built by Cheng Ho.Thousands of pilgrims visit here each year, particularly for ceremonies and religious celebrations.

Semarang Old Town

Semarang Old Town was nominated to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site in January 2015. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Semarang is a colonial city par exellence. Established in 17th century, Kota Lama Semarang is a best preserved colonial city with remarkable testimony of important historical phases of human civilization - in economic, political and social - in the South East Asia and the World. Although it is today a sprawling metropolis of 1.2 million inhabitants, it’s old centre retains a group of buildings with various architectural styles coming from medieval, baroque and modern style. It’s unique urban landscape shows a development of a fortified city which is growing in to an international and cosmopolitan port city in it’s age. There fore it is worth to preserve Kota Lama Semarang, especially from today’s threat of extensive flooding and land subsidence. [Source: Permanent Delegation of the Republic of Indonesia to UNESCO]

“It starts from the establishment of V.O.C. fort that adjacent to the Samarang riverbank. The fort has five bastions, so it is also known as De Vijfhoek. After the fortified wall was demolished in 1824, these site growing up as a modern trade city. The Industrial Revolution also became a trigger to accelerate the development of the region. Simultaneously with the opening of investment program for foreign private firms, causing this ex-fort area became crowded with commercial transactions also loading- unloading activities. The site was dominated by office buildings, warehouses, stores, banks, and foreign consulates. The infrastructure development have also get the attention, such as the widening of Semarang riverbank, setting up a new harbor, and provide the reliable transportation system for public and comodities . The site also connected to harbor directly through railway from Tawang train station on the North side and Jurnatan train station on the South side. During the Gemeente Samarang governor. Slowly, the city had grown up, so that the new development focused on the southern part, so that the former region fortress was known as the Old City/Kota Lama (oudestadt). From the history of the old city area, it can be concluded that Semarang Old Town site has an important and significant role in the early phase of the establishment of the Semarang city.

“Semarang Old Town is the location of important point for Semarang city growth. On the site, trading activities involving international cruise lines have been developed since early 20th century. Utilization of steam and gas engines are the common thing at that time. Together with the train stations, ports, Kali Semarang, as well as Chinatown, Kampung Melayu, the site shaped the Semarang region as a whole. There are three key words to understand the Semarang Old City in the early 20th century, there are cosmopolitan, trade, and services. The site also integrated with industrial plants and the natural resources that come from Central Java. So that it gives the impact of modern culture for all cities in Central Java. Colonial architecture appeared and crossed with local conditions, presents the unique character to the site. All of it is because there has been an obvious aim for directing the site as the center of trade and services in Semarang.

“Semarang represent exceptional examples of multi-cultural trading towns in Southeast Asia, forged from the mercantile and exchanges of Javanese, Malay, Chinese, and Arabian cultures and Dutch colonial powers for almost 350 years, each with its imprints on the architecture, urban form, and technology and exhibit to exhibit an important interchange of human values in Asia during the early of 19th century.” Founded in the early 17th century “Semarang Kota Lama was developed from a fortified city. During the end of the 17th century, the fortress had to be torn down due to economic growth, especially to accomodate the use of steam locomotif as a mean of transportation to support Semarang which in those days becomes a notable international trading port city. The use of steam locomotif which brought by the torn down of the fotress had change Semarang Kota Lama which in the 17th century was an introvert city with it’s fortification becomes more open, multicultural and cosmopolit.

“Kota Lama Semarang as a multicultural and cosmopolitan international trade city can be seen through the fact that the city becomes the residence of important business offices during the time. Namely the central office of Oei Tiong Ham corporation, a Chinese typhoon wellknown as the monopoly holder for opium and sugar trading and important businessman internationally, laid in Westerwallstraat or Kepodang street today. The corporation was the 1st corporation hires foreigner employee. Semarang reflect a mixture of influences which have created a unique architecture, culture and townscape without parallel anywhere in South East Asia. In particular, they demonstrate an exceptional range of office, warehouse, townhouses, and shop houses. These buildings show many different types and stages of development of the building type, like: Medieval, Baroque and Modern Colonialism.

“Semarang Kota Lama has maintained a remarkable unity of character through it’s adherence to it’s original layout. The lay out of the city is the evidence that in it’s early stage Semarang Kota Lama belongs to the ctiteria of a medieval city with the church as it’s center, a square, a town hall and surrounded by fortification. As the economic growing the city decorated with baroque style monuments — such as the Imanuel chuch which is nowadays one of most popular land mark of Semarang city, and later on with modern style, namely the central office of Oei Tiong Ham in Westerwallstraat (today Kepodang Street) — a Chinese typhon who played important role in international sugar trading in the early of 19th century. Interspersed with this mix of baroque and neoclassical style monuments is a homogeneous ensemble of offices and warehouse with arcades, balconies, wrought-iron gates and internal courtyards — many of them evocatively time-worn.”

Shopping and Restaurants in Semarang

Semarang’s main shopping district is Jalan Pemuda, a wide tree lined boulevard once considered to be the most preferred shopping strip in Java. The famous bakery Toko Oen is right in front of Sriratu Shopping Mall. The cookies, cakes, coffee, ice cream, and breads are freshly made from the kitchen using recipes from the colonial period. A mall named Ciputra in located in Simpang Lima shopping district. it, food sellers and souvenir sellers fight for space to sell their products. Close to Metro Hotel at the edge of Kota Lama, people sell interesting products and souvenirs in a larger size like the miniature trucks, clay pots, and also toys.

There are limitless places to eat in Semarang. Mentioning the many restaurants by name would be very extensive. However, these are several delicacies that Semarang has to uniquely offer: Lunpia or also spelled lumpia is a delicacy you must try. The vegetable or mixed fillings are tasty with the mouthwatering soup or paste. Wingko Babat is a sweet sticky rice cookie bar that is actually originated in east java, but popular in Semarang. Bakpia is another delicacy that worth trying although you might find it everywhere in Yogyakarta. If you do not plan to visit Yogyakarta, grab a pack or two for your private time with tasty food.

Freshly prepared food is absolutely something you want to sample as you spend some time in Semarang. The city, especially around Simpang Lima, offers: Tahu gimbal, tahu campur, mie djowo, lotek, petis, rujak, mendoan, tahu pong, and sega kucing are the names you want to explore and find out what they are and how they taste.

Getting to and Around in Semarang

In Semarang, taxis are everywhere. They are metered; be sure the meter is turned on.Becaks (bicycle rickshaws) provide short distance transport. Some don’t recommend them due to safety concerns. Others say they are a pleasant to cruise around Semarang and look around at city life. When visiting Kota Lama, take a becak and enjoy the relaxing ride.

According to ASIRT: “ Inter-city buses provide transport to major destinations. Buses and minibuses (bemos) provide transport within the city. Bus fares are inexpensive. Bemos run on fixed routes and have fixed fares. Oplets (slightly larger than bemos) are becoming more common.” Bemos go to different parts of the city. You might want to ask the locals before taking one to make sure you are going to the right place.

Semarang is accessible by air and land. Its central location means that it is not ungodly far to anywhere in Java. Several domestic airlines fly to Semarang from Jakarta and Surabaya and elsewhere in Indonesia. Achmad Yani Airport in Semarang is internationally accessible from Singapore via Batavia Air, and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia via Air Asia. Garuda Indonesia flies daily from Jakarta to Semarang. Other Domestic flights are also available from Jakarta, Surabaya, Denpasar, Bandung, Banjarmasin, and other smaller cities around Indonesia.

From Jakarta, Bandung, Surabaya, and Malang, trains are available as well as buses and rental cars or cars hired with a driver. Buses to to Yogyakarta and Solo are fairly frequent. The train station in Semarang is called Stasiun Tawang. It is located right at the northern side of the Kota Lama. Bus station is in Terboyo, which serve inter-city buses. Boats dock and depart at the port of Tanjung Emas. Sometimes international cruise liners stop in Semarang, using it as a base to visit attractions in the region such as Borobudur and Prambanan.

Semarang Area

Java’s northern seaboard, known as pesisir, has always been a busy area. The Grand Postal highway — — or de Grote Postweg — built by Dutch Governor General Daendels in the 19th century continues to be a very important road today connecting the west with the eastern part of Java. Trains between Jakarta and Surabaya also make Semarang their major central stop.

West of Semarang are the batik centers of Pekalongan and Cirebon (now in West Java) while to its east are the towns of Demak, Kudus, Jepara and Rembang, cradle in the growth and spread of Islam on Java. While to its south, in its hinterland, lie the temple regions of Borobudur, Prambanan and the Dieng Plateau, as well as the royal cities of Yogyakarta and Solo. The scenery south of Semarang includes green and fertile valleys, volcanoes and lush paddy fields.

The magnificent Prambanan and Borobudurs temples are a couple hours away to the south. The Losari Coffee Plantation is situated in the highlands of Central Java and has cool and pleasant weather all year round. This is the perfect place to relax and absorb the clean crisp mountain air with a tea or freshly brewed cup of hot coffee while taking in the breathtaking panoramic view.

To the north of Semarang are the still pristine islands of Karimun Jawa, a haven for divers. Located only three and a half hours by fast boat from Semarang, the islands boast white sand beaches and clear water where you can explore beautiful coral reefs and ancient shipwrecks.

Near Semarang

Bandugan (50 kilometer south of Semarang) is a hill station located on the slope Mt. Ungaran at an elevation of 900 meters. Located nearby is a group of 8th century Hindu temples called Gedong Songo Temple. Surrounded by lush vegetation and mountains this is one of the most beautifully situated groups of temples on Java. It can be reached by car or on horseback. Candi is a hill station near Semarang where there are exceptional views in all directions of the mountains, volcanos, the ocean, and the rice paddies and terraces that are near Semarang. Horseback riding is enjoyed here too.

Jepara (100 kilometers northeast of Semarang) is a town with white sandy beaches nearby that is known for its woodcarving and for being the birthplace of Indonesia's women's liberation movement. Jepara is a port and departure point for the Karimunjawa Islands. Jepara produces fine teak funiture, some elaborately decorated with fine carvings of flowers and tendrils, impressively carved house doors, cabinet doors, chests and boxes. Unlike in Bali where woodcarvers create human forms and animal statues, in Jepara, following the teaching of Islam, carvings portray only flowers, leaves and trees in intricate designs. Jepara today is also able to produce fine replicas of antique furniture, not only Indonesian but also antique European designs. Most of the woodcarving centers are located in the sub districts in the Jepara regency. But dozens of showrooms, many that are apply finishing touches to wood carvings, are available in the city center, especially along Jalan Tahunan.

Ambarawa: Steam Locomotives and 8th Century Hindu Temples

Ambarawa (1½ hours south of Semaran, two hours from Yogyakarta) is famous for its old locomotives and 8th century Hindu ruins. The Ambarawa Railway Museum is located in the old train station. It has a large and interesting collection of locomotives dating back to 1891. Visitors have the opportunity to go back in time with a ride on an old steam engine from Ambarawa to Bedono. Rides are set up tourists and charters during the dry season from June to August. Children at villages would come and cheer the train as it passes by. It’s quite a spectacle for both passengers and villagers. For more information on rates to ride the train, here is the address of the Museum Kereta Api Ambarawa (Ambarawa Railway Museum): Jalan Setasiun no. 1, Ambarawa. Tel: +62 298 91 035.

The Ambarawa Railway Museum preserves 21 steam locomotives, with four still operational., the oldest of which is the 1891 Hartmann Chemnitz, in use until the 1970s when the railways here were closed. Among the steam locomotives are two B25 0-4-2T B2502/3, from the original fleet of five used by the line around 100 years ago. A B2501 is now preserved in a nearby town’s park. The rest are the E10 0-10-0T E1060 that was once used in West Sumatra’s Sawahlunto, and the 2-6-0T C1218, a conventional locomotive. Old furniture, telephones, and train signals and bells are also part of the collection that could reveal exciting stories about old Java adventures. Tlogo Plantation has cool air and beautiful views of plantation such as coffee, rubber, nutmeg and cloves. It is located 6 kilometers or only 10 minutes drive from The Ambarawa Railway Museum

About 10 kilometers to the west on the Dieng plateau in Bandungan disrtrict are the ancient Hindu temples known as Gedong Songo, or "the nine buildings", constructed between A.D. 730 and 780 during the Sanjaya Dynasty. Located on the slope of Mount Ungaran, the temples and the surrounding mountains appear to be in perfect harmony. Historical records shows that Ratu Shima or Queen Shimha was in power during their construction. She was known for her just and fair judgment and governance. She was a believer in the One God, Sang Hyang Widhi.

According to this belief the human body has nine orifices that need to be controlled. The Javanese call this the Babahan Hawa Sanga, the nine openings in our body that, when wisely controlled, will lead to a peaceful life as its prize. Rediscovered in 1804 under piles of earth and tropical vegetation by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the temples are scattered in 5 main clusters, with the third being the largest. Each main cluster is dedicated to the god Shiva, although Brahma and Vishnu are present at several locations.

Getting There: Ambarawa is around one and a half hour drive from Semarang or around two hours from Yogyakarta. Buses are available at the bus stations. The bus terminal in Ambarawa is called Bawen Bus Terminal. If you are in Yogyakarta, go to Giwangan Bus Station, the largest type-A bus terminal in Indonesia. The bus to Ambarawa usually goes to Semarang. If you are in Semarang, proceed to theTerboyo Bus Terminal. Going to Ambarawa, the bus usually continues to Yogyakarta. The recommended buses are: PO Raya, Kramat Djati, and Nusantara.

Kudus: the Birthplace of Clove Cigarettes

Kudus (50 Kilometers east of Semarang, halfway between Hepara and Semarang) is where two old beautiful mosques can be found. One of them, Demak, is the oldest mosque in central Java. Kudus is known best to Indonesians as the birthplace of kretek (clove cigarette) and the center of kretek production. Tours of some of the kretek factories are available. See Smoking.

Kudus played a pivotal part in the spread of Islam in Java. Kudus takes its name from the Arabic word “Al-Quds” meaning holy and it is recognized as the only town on Java to have an Arabic name. The town was founded by Ja’far Shodiq who later became one of the Wali Sanga or the nine apostles who spread Islam across the island of Java, taking the name Sunan Kudus. Sunan Kudus was said to have been the fifth Imam (head) of the mosque of Demak and a major leader of the 1527 campaign against the mighty 'Majapahit', before he moved to present day Kudus. The town is inseparable from the personality of Sunan Kudus. Apart from being a great religious teacher, Sunan Kudus was also known to be a man of high religious tolerance. His legacy of tolerance remains to this day where people of Kudus do not slaughter cows or consume beef in order to honor their Hindu brothers.

The Mosque of Kudus or also known as Al Aqsa or Al Manar which dates from this period, remains a local landmark to this day. Constructed in 1549 by Sunan Kudus, the mosque is notable for its perservation of pre-Islamic architectural art such as its Old Javanese split doorways and Hindu-Buddhist influenced Majapahit-style brickwork. The main distinction of this mosque is the tall red brick minaret (popular as the Menara Kudus or the tower of Kudus) which may have originally been the watchtower of the Hindu temple on which the mosque is said to have been built. In the courtyard behind the mosque, the impressive Tomb of Sunan Kudus is shrouded with a lace curtain. The narrow doorway, draped with heavy gold-embroidered curtains, leads through an inner chamber to the tomb.

Kudus also built its reputation on the exotic fragrance of the clove-blended cigarettes unique to the country. The word "kretek" itself is an onomatopoetic term for the crackling sound of burning cloves. Bringing together tobacco from the New World and spices from the Old, kretek is a product of extraordinary historical circumstances, but its birthplace is Kudus, where the lingering traces of its distinctive aroma are an ever-present part of everyday life.

The origin of kretek cigarettes can be traced to the late 19th century. It is believed that the first person to add cloves to his cigarette was a man called H. Jamhari, a resident of Kudus. Suffering from chest pains, Jamhari attempted to reduce the pain by rubbing clove oil on his chest. Jamhari sought a means to achieve deeper relief and smoked his hand-rolled cigarettes after adding dried clove buds and rubber tree sap. According to the story, his asthma and chest pains vanished immediately. Word of Jamhari’s product spread rapidly among his neighbors, and clove cigarettes soon became available in pharmacies under the name of rokok cengkeh — clove cigarettes. Although first marketed as a medicinal product, kreteks became widely popular outside this capacity.

Around 1906, another Kudus resident named Nitisemito transformed the cottage industry into a mass-production industry in two ways: firstly, he created his own brand (Bal Tiga) and image. Nitisemito introduced marketing campaigns the likes of which Indonesia had not seen before. Beautiful labels were printed in Japan and free gifts were offered to loyal smokers in return for used packs. Secondly, he began to subcontract work. A middleman handled the labor, while Nitisemito provided the tobacco, cloves and sauce. This practice was quickly adopted by other kretek companies and continued up until mid-20th century, when companies began to hire their own employees as a way of ensuring quality and loyalty. However, The Bal Tiga Company did not recover after the Second World War and was declared bankrupt in 1955.

Trails and traces of the Kretek history can be observed at the Kretek Museum located in Jati Kulon. Established in 1985, the Museum presents the fascinating history of the authentic clove blended cigarettes through a number of interesting photographs and tools used in the production of kretek clove cigarettes.

Getting There: Kudus lies on the main highway along the north coast of Java between Semarang and Surabaya. The town can be reached in approximately 1 to 1.5 hour’s drive from Semarang. The bus terminal is about 4 kilometers south of the town. City minibuses run from behind the bus terminal to the town center for IDR 5000. Buses go from Kudus to Demak which takes approximately 30 minutes.

Demak: From Where Islam Spread on Java

Demak (between Semarang, Jepara and Kudus to the east) was the seat of the once powerful Demak Sultanate, the foothold from where Islam spread throughout the entire island of Java. According to “The Soil of East Central Java” written by T.W.G Dames in 1955, approximately 6 centuries ago, the area where now stands the town of Demak was then a coastline facing the Silugangga Channel that separated the main island of Java from the then Muria Island (present day Jepara and Kudus). Thus, the town was a busy harbor with trade connections to Malacca and the Spice islands of east Indonesia.

Around the 15th Century, the channel was sufficiently wide and became an important waterway for ships sailing along the northern Javanese coast to the Spice islands. The channel was also connected to the Serang River, which enabled access to the rice producing interior of Java. This strategic location enabled Demak to rise as a leading trading center in Java. However since the 17th century, the channel silted up, shallowed, and eventually vanished completely, thus merging the island of Muria with mainland Java.

The founding of the Demak Sultanate was traditionally attributed to Raden Patah (1475 — 1518), a Javanese nobleman related to the once powerful Majapahit king of East Java. At least one account stated that Raden Patah was, in fact, the son of Kertabhumi, who reigned as king Brawijaya V of Majapahit (1468 — 1478). Demak managed to consolidate its power and defeated Daha in 1527 because it was more widely accepted as the legitimate successor to Majapahit. The reason for this acceptance was because Raden Patah was bellieved to be a direct descendant of Kertabhumi who survived the invasion by Girindrawardana on Trowulan, capital of Majapahit, in 1478. With the full support of the Wali Songo or the Nine Apostles of Islam, the Demak Sultanate rose to become the most prominent Islamic kingdom on Java and the center in the spread of Islam on Java.

Getting There: Demak lies on the main north coast highway - known as Pantura — between Central Java and East Java, connecting Semarang with Surabaya. The town of Demak is only 25 Kilometers or about 30-40 minutes drive from Semarang, capital of Central Java. There is also a lot of public transportation available in Semarang or intercity buses that pass through Demak

Great Mosque of Demak

The symbol of the golden era of the Demak Sultanate and the early spread of Islam on Java still stands today, which is the Masjid Agung Demak or the Great Mosque of Demak. Built in 1478, the Great Mosque of Demak is believed to be the first mosque in Java and one of the oldest in Indonesia. Constructed collectively by the Wali Songo and Raden Patah as the first ruler of the Demak Sultanate, the mosque holds great significance as it was not merely a place for prayers but at the time was also the center of the sultan’s governance and the venue where the walis (apostles) used to meet to discuss matters.

Although the Mosque has undergone a number of renovations, it is thought to have largely remained in its original form. The mosque is a classic example of the traditional Javanese mosque. Unlike mosques in the Middle East, this one was built of timber without a dome, which only appeared on Indonesian mosques by the 19th century. The tiered roof shows many similarities to the wooden religious structures from the Hindu-Buddhist civilizations on Java and Bali.

The main entrance of the Great Mosque of Demak consists of two doors carved with motifs of plants, vases, crowns and an animal head with a wide-open fanged mouth. It is said that the picture depicts the manifested thunder caught by Ki Ageng Selo, hence their name “Lawang Bledheg” or “the doors of thunder”.

The historical and legendary parts of the mosque are the large four main wooden pillars, called the soko guru, that support the heavy wooden roof of the mosque. With each pillar carved out of single trees with a height reaching 16 meters, the four main pillars are placed according to the four cardinal directions and were set up by members of the Wali Songo. The Northwest Pillar was erected by Sunan Bonang, the Soutwest by Sunan Gunung Jati, the South East by Sunan Ampel, and the very exceptional pillar known as Soko Tatal which is constructed from joined pieces of wood scrap and erected on the north east by Sunan Kalijaga. The original four soko guru were replaced with replicas in 1983 and the originals are now placed in the museum in the mosque compound.

The tomb of Sunan Kalijaga located in the village of Kadilangu approximately 2 Kilometers from the Mosque is another legacy from the early Javanese Islamic era frequently visited by visitors and pilgrims. Every year during the “Grebeg Besar” ritual ceremony (which falls on 10 Dzulhijah of the Islamic Calendar) when various heirlooms are ritually cleansed, thousands of visitors and pilgrims flock to Demak to take part in the event.

Karimunjawa Archipelago

Karimunjawa Archipelago (in the Java Sea, 120 kilometers north of Semarang) offers divers and backpackers many places to enjoy hiking, diving, snorkeling and relaxing on pristine beaches. The Karimunjawa National Park (not to be confused with the Karimun Islands in Bintan, Riau) is one seven marine national parks in Indonesia. It takes about four or five hours to reach the islands from Semarang; less from Jepara. “Karimunjawa” literally means “a stone’s throw from Java.” The best time to visit the park is between April to October.

Karimunjawa National Park is situated between Java and Kalimantan. It was declared a Marine Protection Area in 1986, encompassing some 272,000 acres, with the largest part being sea. In 1999, it was made into a national park. The pristine beaches and seas are home to healthy coral reefs that scatter in an 80 kilometers wide area all the way to the coast off Jepara. Two protected species found here are black coral (Antiphates sp.), organ pipe coral (Tubipora musica), the triton trumpet conch, hornet helmet conch, the pearly-chambered nautilus and hawksbill turtles as well as not endangered common green turtles. On land you can find deer, long-tailed macaques, red-breasted parakeets, white-belly sea eagles, and various species of birds.

There are 27 islands in Karimunjawa National Park, of which only five are inhabited. Towns and villages are located on the islands of Karimunjawa (the largest island), Kemujan, Nyamuk, Parang and Genting. By Kemujan island is the wreck of the Panamanian ship called the “Indono” that sank here in 1955 and is now the habitat of coral and fish and a popular site for wreck diving. The inhabitants of Karimunjawa are harmonious mix of Javanese, Bugis, Bajo, Madurese, Mandarese, and Luwunese ethnic groups.

Karimunjawa embraces five different ecosystems including coral reefs, sea grass and mangroves. The biodiversity found in Karimunjawa is exceptional: 44 different species of mangroves, 11 species of sea grass, nine species of seaweed, 444 species of fish and 176 different coral species. There are fringing reefs, patch reefs and barrier reefs. It also possible to walk to villages, stroll along the beaches and climb to Karimunjawa’s highest point at 506 meters above sea level. In some parts of the islands surfing is possible, as well as sailing, water skiing, swimming, camping, and bird watching.

Tourism on the Karimunjawa Archipelago

Some of the most notable resorts in Karimunjawa are Kura-kura Resort and Karimunjawa Resort. The Menjangan Kecil Resort is found on Menjangan Kecil island. While the Barracuda Resort features lush tropical small forest and cottages among the rows of coconut trees. Local snappers are known to be the best grilled fish on the table. Some say, that parrot fish is the must try. Locals will come to you as they spot you coming to the island. They will offer fresh fish for your lunch or dinner.

Some souvenir shops still sell a mythical wood from a tree called dewadaru. Its power is believed to be able to cure a snake bite, prolong someone’s life, and protect your home from thieves. It is a tree that is protected due to its high demand. People buy it in the form of tasbih (rosary), kris, or staff as it was used by the — so called — founder of the islands, Sunan Nyamplungan. The Dewadaru tree is also called the Nyampulangan tree.

Getting to the Karimunjawa Archipelago

Flights to Semarang are available from Jakarta, Denpasar Bali, and also from other cities in Indonesia.. Karimunjawa itself has an airport in Kemujan Island, called the Dewadaru Airport. Small aircrafts land here although the flight schedule is still dominated by chartered flights from Semarang, Yogyakarta, or Bali.

Ferries serve the islands three times a week, either from Jepara or also Semarang, and speed boats are plenty and available on special request. A ticketing company shows the schedule as follows (the schedule may be different now, the information is to give a sense of how it works): A) Speed Boat Kartini 1: Saturday: Depart Semarang 09:00 arrive Karimunjawa 12:30; Sunday: Depart Karimunjawa 14:00 arrive Semarang 17:30; Monday May 2 and May 16; Depart Semarang 07:00 arrive Jepara 09:30; Depart Jepara 10:00 arrive Karimunjawa 12:30; Tuesday May 3 and May 17: Depart Karimunjawa 11:00 arrive Jepara 13:30; Depart Jepara 14:00 arrive Semarang 17:00, Ticket Price: Business : IDR 150,000 (around US$16.50); V.I.P. : IDR 165,000 (around US$18.00)

KMP Muria Ferry: Dubbed as a comfortable ferry to cross the straight to Karimunjawa, this modern ferry is capable of taking in both passengers and vehicles, as well as freight. Leaving only from the Port of Jepara (Kartini) it is a relaxing trip over the Java Sea with plenty of room to choose from and a cafeteria on board. The ferry departs from Jepara at 09:00 on even dates, and leaves Karimunjawa on odd dates at 08:00. Ticket Price: Business : IDR 45,000 (around US$ 5.00); V.I.P. : IDR 90,000 (aroundUS$ 10.00). Add on Vehicle : IDR 280,000 (around US$31) Add on Motor Bike: IDR 45,000 (US$ 5.00)

Pulau Tengah

Pulau Tengah (Karimunjawa archipelago) means Middle Island. Measuring only about four hectares, it a small island but is best equipped for scuba diving, Tengah Island is a fairly flat island, with the entire expanse of its tiny landmass covered in sandy white beaches, strewn with chunks of coral and dotted with coconut trees and sea pines. Bright blue waters enclose the island, filled with table corals and brain corals and visible beneath the surface even at a depth of 10 meters.

Compared to the other small islands in the Karimunjawa island chain, Tengah island is more complete with facilities, accommodations, and snorkeling and diving gear. A long, wooden pier extends out to sea, allowing fishing boats to dock on the island. Tengah Island is owned by PT. Raja Besi, a steel company, and run by a married couple who are the guardians and caretakers of the island.

Accommodations on Tengah Island include two resorts, built in the shade of palm trees, both of which are simple, yet nice, although many prefer to stay on the larger and more complete Karimunjawa Island. As Tengah Island is one of the more remote islands, it is possible to just walk in and find a room on the spot. To get to Pulau Tengah you first need to catch a speed boat or ferry to the main Karimunjawa Island: Karimunjawa. Once in Karimunjawa, you must catch another smaller boat for a 1 ½ hour trip to Tengah Island.

Coral reefs of excellent condition are located just about everywhere around the island. The seabed is soft and sloping with a maximum depth of 20 meters, and currents are not very strong, making it a perfect spot for beginner divers and snorkelers. Brain corals and table corals decorate the soft white sand, populated with a variety of sea creatures; butterfly fish, cardinal fish angel fish, groupers, damsel fish, puffer fish and parrot fish are just a few of the reef-dwelling creatures that can be seen hidden in the many crevices of the coral formations. The are large schools of fish. Sea snakes, sea turtles, stingrays, sharks and dolphins are seen.

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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