Why it’s Good to Get Lost in Yogyakarta
Getting lost is part of traveling and Kotagede, a historic neighbourhood of Yogyakarta, is the perfect place to do so. Mostly known for its silversmiths, not many travelers look beyond the neighborhood’s workshops to wander around its maze of alleyways, narrow walkways and distinctive Javanese architecture.
Now only one of many neighborhoods in Yogyakarta, Kotagede dates back to 1570 when it became the first capital of the powerful Mataram Kingdom of central Java. The city layout was typical Javanese with its kraton (sultan’s palace), central mosque, alun-alun (palace square) and pasar (market), all of which were enclosed by a city wall.
Space was limited within the walls so everyone living in the area was related in some way to the sultan’s family by blood or as a servant. Business flourished because of all the renowned craftsmen working for the sultan. Kotagede was famous for copper, leather, and of course, silver.
In 1755, the Mataram Kingdom was split into two branches: Solo and Yogyakarta. Kotagede lost part of its power to the neighboring sultanate of Yogyakarta. However, since all the sultans were buried at the cemetery in Kotagede, the old neighborhood still holds special status for all Javanese, even to this day.
The juru kunci – custodians of ancestral graves and sacred sites in Java – were appointed by the sultan to take care of the royal graves. Originally, the juru kunci were the most powerful group in Kotagede, but times changed and gradually wealthy merchants replaced them as the most influential group.
Indonesia is a land in transition and Yogyakarta is no exception with its changing urban landscape. However, when travelers walk around in Kotagede it seems as if time stands still. The alleyways are still there and the local people take care of each other like they have been doing for centuries.
Visitors to this historic neighborhood can still stumble upon craftsmen working in one of the many small family-owned workshops, or neighbors sitting together exchanging the latest gossip. Even the juru kunci are still there – only as volunteers – but still taking pride in maintaining the graves and serving as guides to visitors.
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