Yogyakarta is pretty much the polar opposite to Jakarta. Whereas Jakarta is the economic powerhouse, Yogyakarta is the intellectual and creative hub. Jakarta is frenzied. Yogyakarta is cool. This is a place that will capture your heart, with its mixture of ancient culture and youthful innovation, traditional and contemporary art, old values and modern society. Here is a vibrant, hip city alive with music, art and café culture that is still headed by a Sultan. As the Americans would say, go figure!
But first, let’s decide what we’re going to call it. Its full name is pronounced Jogjakarta. Its shortened version is spelt Yogya, and pronounced as Jogja. We’ll go with Jogja.
The Sultanate was established in 1755 after a period of civil war. The first Sultan, Hamengkubuwono I, built the city’s fabulous palace, known as the Kraton, which was conceived as a symbolic model of the Javanese cosmos. His descendant Hamengkubuwono X remains on the throne today (in Republican Indonesia) and is also the democratically elected governor of the city.
The Kraton itself is full of mystical stories, and within the walled city’s narrow lanes and alleys you’ll find puppet workshops and batik galleries tucked away. Further south in the historic royal seat of Kota Gede, you can see silversmiths at work by the streetside or in craft workshops behind ancient houses. And if you’re interested in learning how it’s all done, there are classes on offer in batik art, silversmithing and puppet-making. The whole creative vibe of Jogja is underpinned by the fact that this is a student city, home to some of Indonesia’s most prestigious universities. So it also has a very vibrant music scene, with a higher-than-average population of truly talented street musicians.
It’s not surprising that Jogja is the most popular destination in Java for foreign visitors. It also provides the ideal base for visiting Indonesia’s most important archaeological sites, the stunning UNESCO-lited temples of Borobudur and Prambanan.
Borobudur is undoubtedly one of the world’s most photographed Buddhist shrines and the largest Buddhist monument in the southern hemisphere. Shrouded by verdant forests and trimmed with lush gardens, this colossal stupa sprawls through some of Java’s most spectacular scenery in a vista of soaring towers, thick walls and collapsed steps. It was built around 1,200 years ago, taking a century to complete. Almost 1,000 years later it was discovered in 1814 by Thomas Stamford Raffles, who stumbles on the site while on expedition as Java’s Lieutenant Governor. It is truly a must-see for any visitor to Indonesia.
Likewise the Hindu Temples of Prambanan, built in the 9th century while Java was ruled by the Hindu Sanjayas, The complex consists of three major temples and shrines dedicated to a trinity of Hindu Gods and decorated with the most exquisite and intricate carvings. Both the temples and the carvings are breathtaking.
Although we have made the case for Jogja being a creative, artistic and outwardly modern city, the region in general is still far more conservative than Bali or Jakarta, and the vast majority of Jogja residents nowadays are Muslim. Visitors are advised to dress modestly, both to show your respect for the local culture and to make your own travels easier.