A visit to the Palace of the Sultan of Yogyakarta and the Taman Sari 'Water Castle'

Some information about the Yogyakarta Sultanate and Taman sari Water Castle. After Sultan Agung, the Sultanate of Mataram was declining due to power struggle within the sultanate.

To make things worse, VOC (Dutch East India Company) exploited the power struggle to increase its control. At the peak of the conflict, the Mataram Sultanate was split in two based on the Treaty of Giyanti of 13 February 1755: Yogyakarta Sultanate and Surakarta Sunanate.

The Giyanti Treaty mentioned Pangeran Mangkubumi as Sultan of Yogyakarta with the title of Sampeyan Dalem Ingkang Sinuwun Kanjeng Sultan Hamengkubuwono Senopati Ingalaga Abdul Rakhman Sayidin Khalifatullah Panatagama (His Majesty the Sultan, Commander in the Battlefield, Servant of the Most Gracious, Cleric and Caliph that Safeguards the Religion).

During the era of Dutch occupation there were two principalities, the Yogyakarta Sultanate (Kasultanan Yogyakarta) and the smaller Pakualaman Duchy / Principality (Kadipaten Pakualaman).

The Dutch Colonial Government arranged for the carrying out autonomous self-government, arranged under a political contract. When the Indonesian independence was proclaimed, the rulers, the Sultan of Yogyakarta and Prince of Pakualaman made a declaration they would become part of the Republic of Indonesia. Those two regions were unified to form the Yogyakarta Special Region and the sultan became the Governor of Yogyakarta and the Prince of Pakualaman as the vice-governor; both were responsible to the President of Indonesia. The Special Region of Yogyakarta was created after the independence war ended and legalised on 3 August 1950.

In carrying out the local government administration it considers three principles: decentralisation, deconcentration and assistance. The provincial government carries out the responsibilities and authorities of the central government, while on other hand carrying out its autonomous responsibilities and authorities. The Regional Government consists of the Head of the Region and the Legislative Assembly of the Region. Such construction guarantees good co-operation between the Head of Region and the Legislative Assembly of Region to achieve a sound regional government administration. The Head of the Special Region of Yogyakarta has got responsibility as the Head of the Territory and titled as a Governor.

The first Governor was the late Hamengkubuwono IX, Sultan of Yogyakarta and continued by HRH. Paku Alam VIII as acting governor until Hamengkubuwono X ascended in 1998. Unlike the other heads of regions in Indonesia, the governor of the Special Region of Yogyakarta has the privilege or special status of not being bound to the period of position nor the requirements and way of appointment. However, in carrying out their duties, they have the same authority and responsibilities.

Taman Sari also known as Taman Sari Water Castle is a site of a former royal garden of the Sultanate of Yogyakarta. It is located about 2 km south within the grounds of the Kraton, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Built in mid 18th century, the Taman Sari had multiple functions, such as a resting area, a workshop, a meditation area, a defense area, and a hiding place.

Taman Sari consisted of four distinct areas: a large artificial lake with islands and pavilions located in the west, a bathing complex in the centre, a complex of pavilions and pools in the south, and a smaller lake in the east. Today only the central bathing complex is well preserved, while the other areas have been largely occupied by the Kampung Taman settlement.

Since 1995 the Yogyakarta Palace Complex including Taman Sari is listed as a tentative World Heritage Site.

The building of Taman Sari commenced during the reign of Sultan Hamengkubuwono I (1755–1792), the first sultan of the Yogyakarta Sultanate, and was completed by the time of Sultan Hamengkubuwono II. The building site, however, had already been known as a bathing place called Pacethokan Spring since Sunan Amangkurat IV’s reign (1719–1726). According to Kitab Mamana in Yogyakarta Kraton, the project leader for the construction of Taman Sari was Tumenggung Mangundipura. He had travelled twice to Batavia to learn about European architecture, which is the reason why the architecture of Taman Sari has marks of European style. The Regent of Madiun, Raden Rangga Prawirasentika, participated in funding the construction of Taman Sari. Prawirasentika also beseeched the Sultan to be relieved of Madiun’s tax obligation. He offered other alternative ways of payment. The Sultan accepted his proposal. In 1758, the Sultan commanded the Regent to supervise the making of bricks and various complements, which would be used to build a beautiful garden. The sultan wanted a place where he could spend some time to relax after many years of wars that he had just experienced. Raden Tumenggung Mangundipura, under supervision of Raden Arya Natakusuma (who later became Sri Pakualam II), was responsible for the construction. The building was started in 1684 Javanese year (1758 AD). After finding out how large the complex was, Raden Rangga Prawirasentika realized that the cost would have been greater than the taxes. He resigned from the project and was replaced by Prince Natakusuma who continued the project to completion.

Taman Sari was built three years after the Giyanti Agreement as a resting place for Sultan Hamengkubuwono I. The complex consists of about 59 buildings including a mosque, meditation chambers, swimming pools, and a series of 18 water gardens and pavilions surrounded by artificial lakes. The complex was effectively used between 1765–1812.

The British invasion of the Yogyakarta Kraton saw considerable parts of the complex destroyed in 1812.

The building of Taman Sari ended upon the completion of the gates and the walls. A sengkalan memet (a Javanese chronogram) on the western gate (Gedhong Gapura Hageng) marks the year with the Javanese words Lajering Kembang Sinesep Peksi, denoting the Javanese year of 1691 or about 1765: lajering, “core” for 1; kembang, “flower” for 9; sinerep, “suck” or “drink” for 6; peksi, “bird” for 1; the sentence can be read as “birds gathering pollen of the flower”. The relief around this sengkalan memet shows birds siphoning honey from flowery trees.

The maintenance of Taman Sari was abandoned shortly after Hamengkubuwono I died, partly because the elaborate hydraulic works were so difficult to maintain. The gardens were neglected and the buildings suffered some damage during the Java War of 1825–1830.

The palace complex fell out of use following an earthquake in 1867, which destroyed several buildings and drained the water features. Over time, squatters began to inhabit the site, surrounding the ruins of the deserted pavilions and filling the empty lakebeds.

In early 1970s, effort at restoration was made. Only the bathing complex has been completely restored.

The manuscript of Serat Rerenggan mentions the story of Demang Tegis, a Portuguese man said to be one of the architect of Taman Sari. According to the manuscript, a strange man suddenly appeared in Mancingan Village (a locality name on the south coast of Java near Parangtritis). With long nose, white complexion, and a foreign language, the villagers suspected that the person was some kind of spirit or forest fairy. They presented him to the current sultan, Hamengkubuwono II. Apparently the sultan found interest in the person and took the strange man as his servant. Some years had passed and the man had finally learned to talk in Javanese. According to him, he was a Portuguese (or in Javanese, Portegis) who was stranded from a shipwreck. He also claimed to have been a housebuilder, so the sultan ordered him to erect a fortress. Satisfied by the man’s work, the sultan gave him the title “demang.” From then on that person was known as Demang Portegis or Demang Tegis.

There is a controversy whether Demang Tegis was actually the architect of Taman Sari, as the design resembles a hybrid of Javanese and Dutch styles, rather than Portuguese. P.J. Veth, in Java – Book III, page 631 wrote, “Local research says that [Taman Sari’s architecture] was designed by either a Spanish or Portuguese engineer, who was stranded off his sunken ship at the southern beach. However, [the architecture] that strongly shows Javanese character contradicts this.” The evidence about Demang Tegis remains an inconclusive, yet the architecture of Taman Sari moved a number of Portuguese experts on architecture and cultural heritage to examine the Taman Sari in 2001.

The widespread assumption of European influence in the design of Taman Sari has been also challenged by the research of Hélène Njoto-Feillard from the University of Pantheon-Sorbonne, presented in a 2003 conference paper. Analysing the historic context and architectural style of the complex, the conclusion is that the creators are most likely local Javanese. The absence of any mention of European involvement in the construction of Taman Sari in Dutch historic descriptions is presented as further evidence in support of this hypothesis.

Taman Sari can be divided into four areas. The first area is the artificial lake Segaran located in the west. The second area is a bathing complex in the south of the Segaran lake, called the Umbul Binangun bathing complex. The third area, now completely gone, is the Pasarean Ledok Sari and Garjitawati Pool, located in the south of the bathing complex. The fourth area is the east side of the first and second area, which extend far to the east and to the southeast complex of Magangan.

The Segaran lake area was the main complex of the Taman Sari during its era. This complex consisted of a man-made lake called Segaran (“artificial sea”) with some buildings located on artificial islands in the middle of a lake. The buildings are connected by an underwater tunnel. It was used as the starting point for the royal family to reach the Taman Sari pools via a vessel. Today, the Segaran lake cannot be seen any longer as the water had been drained and the lake bed is now filled with human settlements. The underwater tunnel, which is now underground after the water had gone, still exist and can be accessed.

In the middle of Segaran was an artificial island known as Kenongo Island (Javanese Pulo Kenongo). It was named after the cananga trees which once covered the island. On this island is a one-storeyed structure called the Kenongo building (Javanese Gedhong Kenongo), now in ruins.

On the south side of Kenongo Island is a row of small buildings called the Tajug. These buildings were originally used as air vents for the tunnel located below the lake. This underground tunnel, constructed in 1761, was an alternative way to reach the Kenongo Island other than by a vessel. Also on the south side of the Kenongo Island is another artificial island called Cemethi Island (Javanese Pulo Cemethi) or Panembung Island (Javanese Pulo Panembung). It is a one-storeyed structure for the Sultan to meditate, or some said, a hiding place for the royal family during an attack. Another name for this island is Sumur Gumantung, because on the south side of this island is a well that hangs above the ground. This place could only be reached via the underwater tunnel. The building of Cemethi Island is now also in ruin. A legend says that there is a secret tunnel that connects the palace with the south sea (Indian Ocean) where Nyai Roro Kidul or the Queen of the South has her palace. The supernatural Queen becomes the spiritual wife of Yogyakarta Sultan for many generations.

The elevated platform inside Sumur Gumuling where the four staircases meet in the center.

On the west side of Kenongo Island is another one-storeyed circular structure that forms another artificial island in the past called Gumuling Well (Sumur Gumuling). These one-storeyed building can only be entered via the underwater tunnel. The building was used as a mosque. A niche in the wall of this building was used as a mihrab. The central area of this building is an elevated platform where four staircases meet, and then from the platform, one staircase reach the first floor. On the ground level of this platform is a small pool that was used for Muslim ritual ablution.

The second area is located on the south of the former artificial lake of Segaran. Even though this area was not the focal point of Taman Sari, it is the best preserved area in the complex and is currently the most popular tourist attraction. The area is accessed via two gates on the east and the west side, each of these gates leads to the center of the complex, first to an inner octagonal-shaped courtyard on the east and the west, and then each of these courtyards leads to a central bathing complex in the center.

There are two gates that lead to the bathing complex, the western one called Gedhong Gapura Hageng and the eastern one called Gedhong Gapura Panggung. Both gates are decorated with ornaments of stylized birds and flowering foliages.

The west entrance, the Gedhong Gapura Hageng was formerly used as the main entrance to the bathing complex. The east facade of the gate is still visible today, but the west facade is blocked by settlements. The construction of this gate was finished in 1691 Javanese Year (about 1765 AD). The east entrance, the Gedhong Gapura Panggung is still functioning as a gate and is now the main entrance for tourists. The east entrance is a building with four staircases, two on the west side and two on the eastside. Four nagas once decorated this gate, now there are only two nagas left. The building was finished in 1684 Javanese calendar (about 1758 AD).

Each of the gates leads to an octagonal-shaped courtyard. The western gate leads to a western octagonal-shaped enclosed courtyard. In the past, a building stood in the center of this courtyard, which was called the Lopak-lopak building (Javanese Gedhong Lopak-lopak).

The eastern gate leads to an octagonal-shaped enclosed courtyard as well. It has a similar layout with the Gedhong Lopak-lopak courtyard, but within it, there are four pavilions known as Gedhong Sekawan. These pavilions were used as the resting place for the royal family.

The eastern and the western octagonal courtyards lead to the central bathing complex.

Umbul Pasiraman, also known as Umbul Binangun or Umbul Winangun, is a bathing complex for the royal family. The bathing complex is an enclosed space surrounded by tall structures. It consists of three pools decorated with mushroom-shaped springs and large flower pots.

There are two buildings in the bathing complex. The northernmost building was used as the resting place and changing room for the daughters and concubines of the sultan. On the south side of this building is a pool known as Umbul Muncar. The pool is divided into two by a central pathway (known as Blumbang Kuras) that runs east-west. The next building on the south is a building with a tower in its center. The right wing of the building was used as the sultan’s changing room, the east wing was used as his resting place. The central tower was used by the sultan to observe his daughters and concubines bathing in the pool.

On the south of this building is the third pool that was used only by the sultan and his concubines. During its era, only females and the sultan were allowed to enter this bathing complex.

On the southeast and northeast of the Gedhong Gapuro Panggung are two buildings known as Gedhong Temanten. The buildings were formerly used by the castle guard. According to archeological study, on the south side of this building was another building and a garden whose remain cannot be seen anymore and is filled with settlements. (Source: Wikipedia)