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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A City ofYogyakarta

Located at the foot of the active volcano Merapi, the fertile plain of Yogyakarta was in the 16th and 17th centuries the seat of the mighty Javanese empire of Mataram, from which present•day Yogyakarta has inherited the best of traditions. The city itself has special, gentle charm which seldom fails to captivate the visitor.A sultanate still under the jurisdiction of Sultan Hamengku Buwono X and now one of the most densely populated areas of Indonesia, Yogyakarta came into being in 1755 when the Dutch, by then firmly in control of Java though allowing the continued existence of Javanese sultanates, lost patience over the continues rebellions. Splitting the much weakened sultanate of Mataram into the two smaller "self•ruling" territories of Surakarta and Yogyakarta, the Dutch appointed Prince Mangkubumi the first Sultan of Yogyakarta, who ascended the throne of the new sultanate as Hamengku Buwono I.Within the city limits, the Sultan's Palace or Kraton and the Water Castle ruins are nowadays major drawing cards of the area. Within easy reach from the many first rate hotels which Yogyakarta now counts are the restorated temple of Prambanan and the restored Borobudur Buddhist sanctuary.Gamelan, classical and contemporary Javanese dances, the wayang kulit leather puppet theatre and other expressions of traditional art will keep the visitor spellbound. Yogya's craftsmen excel in the art of batik, silver and leatherwork and delight in showing of their skill to the visitor. In the silver workshops of Kotagede, once the seat of the Mataram empire but now a tranquil little town just a few kilometers east of Yogyakarta, there hardly seem to exist any trade secrets: every body is welcome to watch as the silver is being transformed from raw material into beautiful works of art under the deft hands of the numerous craftsmen.The Sultan's Palace is the hub of Yogyakarta traditional life and despite the advance of modernity; it still emanates the spirit of refinement which has been the hallmark of Yogya's art for centuries. Since its beginning in 1755, the Kraton has received many a royal guest and served as a stage for exclusive court dances. Today, it is treasured as an archetype of classical Javanese architecture, the ornate carvings and gilded beams testifying to its royal origin.Next to the traditional, the contemporary arts are finding fertile soil in Yogyakarta's culture oriented society. ASRI, the College of Fine Arts, is the academic centre of these arts and Yogyakarta itself has given its name to an important school of modern painting in Indonesia, perhaps best personified by the famed Indonesian impressionist Affandi. There are many others, and another place where so much can be found in so small an area is probably hard to find. Roads leading to the main places of interest are good and local transportation easy to obtain. Buses play predetermined routes regularly within the city and from points in the city to destinations outside.
Taxis are available at the airport and at the better hotel counters. But Yogya's atmosphere invites casualness and leisure and it is completely in style to ride a "becak" pedicab or "andong" four wheeled horse cart whenever one wants to go it on his own on a modest budget.