Surakarta or more popularly known as Solo is a city in Central Java that lies on the western side of the renowned Bengawan Solo river. Sura in the Javanese language means “bravery” while karta means “prosperity”. Hence, we could literally translate the city’s name into “a prosperous city of brave people”. In the past, Surakarta was part of the Mataram Sultanate, an Islamic kingdom in Central Java area. During the rule of Sunan Pakubuwana II, Mataram plunged into a civil war that ends up in the Giyanti Treaty in 1755, effectively splitting the sultanate into two.
Pakubuwana II’s eldest son, Sunan Pakubuwana III, inherits the northeastern part, while his second son, Prince Mangkubumi, inherits the southwestern part of the kingdom. This northeastern part is named Surakarta Sunanate and is the predecessor of the present-day city of Surakarta. After the Indonesian independence in 1945, the first president of the Republic of Indonesia gave Surakarta, along with Yogyakarta, a status as Special Administrative Region. This status enables the monarch to rule over the region instead of a governor as in a normal republic. However, due to an uprising that rejects monarchy rule, Surakarta lost its status and reverts back to a normal province. The name Solo derives from the Sala village, the original location chosen by Sunan Pakubuwana II as the capital of Surakarta Sunanate.
Nowadays, Solo is popular as a tourist destination with a rich cultural heritage of classic Javanese arts, such as batik, wayang, etc. The current president of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, was born in Solo, where he served as the mayor from 2005 to 2012. Most tourist that visits Yogyakarta also stop by in this city since it is quite close, only about 60 kilometers from Yogyakarta.
Cultural Places of Interest in Solo
Most visitors see Solo or Surakarta as a less-crowded version of Yogyakarta. Thus, it is more suitable for those who want to embark on a cultural trip of contemporary Javanese arts. Visit these places during your journey to ensure the best experience, that’s one of the best things to do in Solo West Java Indonesia.
1. Kasunanan Surakarta Palace
Kraton is the Javanese word for “palace”. Thus, it is the principal residence of the sunan – the title of the ruler of Surakarta. The royal palace of Surakarta official name is Kraton Surakarta Hadiningrat but sometimes people also call it Kraton Solo or Surakarta Kraton. The palace had a majestic look as a result of the combination of Javanese and European architectural styles. In the past, it had accommodated several generations of Pakubuwono dynasty until the anti-monarchy uprising. Due to the historical relationship between Solo and Yogyakarta, the layout and architectural style of Kraton Solo is nearly identical with the Kraton Yogyakarta.
The Kraton possesses several spiritual meanings from old Javanese beliefs hidden in its architectural style. For example, the old people of Javanese believe that seven is a sacred number, therefore there are seven gates and courtyards within the palatial compound. The legendary Candi Borobudur also shares the same belief with the Kraton Solo, as there are seven stairs and gates in the Borobudur. Nowadays, like other kratons in Java, this kraton has also deteriorated due to neglection and the lack of maintenance funds. There are a museum and art center inside the Kraton Kasunanan complex.
2. Balekambang Park
This beautiful urban forest and park cover a wide area of 9.2 hectares in Solo city. There are various animals such as deer, doves, and turkeys that live and roams freely inside this park. There is also a reptile park that houses a wide array of reptiles such as crocodile, iguana, turtle, even other animals such as cassowary, eagle, monkey, and more. While the rest of the park is free to enter, you have to pay a commission fee of Rp.5.000 per person to enter the reptile park. Remember not to feed the animals unless it is confirmed by the park caretakers, as the wrong diet could harm their lives, so act responsibly while you’re here.
The park bears a striking resemblance to the Bogor Botanical Gardens in terms of natural environment and animal inhabitants, albeit smaller in size and lacking a presidential palace. With all the lush greeneries, Balekambang Park serves as the lungs of Solo city. This public park is also an excellent spot to take pictures, that’s why a lot of Solo citizens use it to shoot their pre-wedding photo session. There is an open amphitheater which can be used to stage a play in here. Many notable artists, including the famed comedy group Srimulat, have held a performance here in the past.
3. Mangkunegaran Palace
After their split from the Mataram Sultanate, Surakarta Sunanate faces yet another ordeal of civil war which would split the kingdom further in two. This is because the ruler of Surakarta at that time, Pakubuwono II and III, was siding with the Dutch colonialist during the Yogyakarta – Surakarta conflict. Most of the Indonesian populace at that time hated the Dutch because of their oppressive and ruthless attitude toward the locals.
Raden Mas Said, a noble in Surakarta who is also a distant relative to Pakubuwono II, rise and lead the local populace to stand against the Dutch oppressors and the Surakarta Sunanate. The Dutch representative Nicolaas Hartingh gave the nickname Pangeran Sambernyawa, which translates literally to the life-taking prince, to Raden Mas Said for his prowess in combat during the bloody conflict. This civil war ends up with the Salatiga treaty, which recognizes R.M. Said as the ruler of the newly-formed Mangkunegaran autonomous region. He took a title of Mangkunegara I and ruled over his people with great wisdom and sensible ordinance.
During his reign, he built a new palace in Solo city to signify the difference between him and the previous ruler Pakubuwono. This is why there is two palace or Kraton in Solo city, one belonged to the Pakubuwono family, and the other belonged to the Mangkunegara family. The Mangkunegaran Palace is as beautiful and magnificent as the Kasunanan Palace. It was built in 1757 and boasts a majestic main audience hall or pendopo which is considered as the largest pendopo in Indonesia.
4. House of Danar Hadi
House of Danar Hadi, also known as the Batik Museum Danar Hadi, is an integrated complex of the Javanese cultural heritage. The main attraction here is obviously the history of batik in all of its cultural aspect including the process of making batik. The museum boasts an incredible collection of these distinctive textiles from various periods and locations. Some of the collections are antiques and originate from foreign countries. Some are made locally with the typical pattern that differs from region to region. But all of them are downright amazing, for every batik pattern depicts or influenced by something or someone. As such, each of these hand-crafted beauties often had a meaning or story behind their making.
The history of Danar Hadi himself begins back in 1967 when H. Santosa Doellah and his wife, Hj. Danarsih Santosa started to make a batik business. The name Danar Hadi derives from his wife’s name, Danarsih, and his father’s name, H. Hadipriyono. Over the course of time, their business became so successful that they decided to open a museum in 2008 to display their collections. It is reputed as the best in Indonesia, with over 10.000 pieces of impressive batik cloth from various eras. It is the perfect place to learn the difference between the distinctive pattern of batik and its original source.
5. Sriwedari Park
Sriwedari Park is a center of cultural heritage and recreational facilities. In the past, royal families used the park as their source of entertainment in the form of traditional puppet show called Wayang, sometimes with traditional theatrical dance. The puppet show or Wayang is an ancient Javanese art that closely related to the Hindu-Buddha era in Indonesia’s history. As such, most of these shows displays a theme adapted from sources as Mahabharata, Ramayana, and other Hindu myths and legends.
Wayang itself is divided into several categories, the wayang kulit or shadow puppets, wayang wong, wayang gedog or masks, wayang golek, and more. The most prominent wayang show in Sriwedari Park is the wayang wong or wayang orang, which employs a real person performing theatrical acts and dances. The park still performs a regular wayang show to this day. In the modern times, the park also provides other attractions such as children’s playground and food courts.
6. Sangiran Museum
Sangiran is the most prominent archaeological excavation site in the world for studying the fossils of men. In terms of fossils, a lot of expeditions bore a more fruitful find than other sites in various countries. The archaeologists have found many fossils such as the pithecanthropus erectus and meganthropus paleojavanicus on this site. These fossils signify the existence of early men from more than one million years ago. Other find includes the fossils of various animals, such as stegodonts and crocodiles, as well as the primitive tools. This stands as a proof that these primitive men have hunted these animals using those tools sometime during the prehistoric era.
In 2011, they opened the museum to display the discoveries and collections from the archaeological site for the public. The museum itself consists of three main halls, each with their own themes and purposes. The first hall displays a compelling diorama and information of the prehistoric men and animals which exist at the Sangiran site around one million years ago. The second hall provides the history of the site and displays the fossils and discoveries that have been made up to this day. The last hall presents a huge, impressive model of Sangiran and view of the outlying area around Sangiran including the mountains, the people, and animals, as it was imagined to have been looked like in prehistoric era.
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Other Interesting Activities
As a center for the cultural heritage in Central Java, Solo offers a lot of interesting activities to do for tourists before they returned. Here are some of those activities:
7. Buy some Batik
There are several places where you buy a piece of traditional Indonesian heritage, the batik. The most popular place to buy batik is obviously the House of Danar Hadi. But there are several other places that sell good quality batik as well. At Kauman Batik Village, visitors can choose a more modern batik designs with darker colors and motifs. The batik clothing that sold here usually made from finest silk and premium cotton, resulting in a more elegant look. The Laweyan Batik Village offers a more traditional design that possesses a more ethnic look. The other batik maker such as Batik Keris and Batik Semar is available as well for you to choose from. If you ever need to buy some souvenirs, either for yourself or friends and families, just buy a batik.
8. Shop at the Traditional Market
For another alternative, you can also head to the Klewer Market, where they sell not only batik but other clothing and textiles as well. The Klewer Market was burned down in 2014, but has been rebuilt and slowly regaining its customers back. The Triwindu Market, located at the Diponegoro Road, offers a chance to find some antique stuff from a bygone era, such as ancient kris, statues, ceramic plates, jewelry, and other things. Most of these artifacts are left from the Indonesian kingdoms era.
The Triwindu Market is uniquely different from other markets, for it still employs the barter system. You can bring an antique item of your own collection to be bartered with other antique artifacts in here. As in other traditional markets in Indonesia, haggling and negotiating tactics are of extreme importance when you are shopping. Don’t forget to visit the Night Market at Ngarsopuro, it is the perfect destination during the night time to browse the various goods sold from the stalls and kiosks in this place. Since it’s only opened for four hours, we advise you to come early so you don’t feel too rushed.
9. Do a Kemuning Tea Field Tour
This is one of the best things to do in Solo Indonesia to do a Kemuning Tea Plantation tour. Situated in about 800 to 1500-meters above the sea level, the vast and lush tea plantations in Kemuning surely offers you a serene, relaxing atmosphere as you walk through its fields. There are other tea plantations as well, but Kemuning arguably has the most beautiful view compared to the rest. Strolling between the tea shrubs under such a refreshing breeze while enjoying the view of the outlying areas surely will give you an unforgettable experience.
10. Visit the Various Waterfalls Around Solo
There are many notable waterfalls around the region of Solo, such as the famous Grojogan Sewu in Tawangmangu, Segoro Gunung in the Lawu Mountains, Jumog Waterfall in Karanganyar near the Kemuning Tea Plantations, and more. Each and every one of these waterfalls emitted a truly majestic splendor of natural greatness in its purest form. However, the trip to these waterfalls usually includes hiking and climbing through rough terrain, so we advise you to bring your hiking gears and bring some supplies with you just in case. Don’t forget to bring some bathing suits or spare clothes, as some of these waterfalls provides the chance to dive and swim into the refreshing cold water below the waterfalls.
11. Enjoy the Local Delicacies
While the city is most known for the culture and arts, the culinary of this city is not to be trifled with. Various appetizing cuisines such as nasi liwet, gudeg, pecel, and other local delicacies will surely satisfy your palate. If you haven’t tried it before, you should try nasi liwet, a rice dish prepared inside a steamed banana leaf with a combination of chicken broth, squash, boiled egg, and coconut milk. Other famous dishes is the Timlo, a clear soup with slices of chicken and egg served with rice and fried onions. These meals are perfect to fill your stomach after a long, exhausting day of traveling around Solo.
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As a city with a long history, Surakarta or Solo certainly possess a lot of historical and cultural landmarks. The technological advancement and modern expansion also gave birth to newer landmarks as well. Don’t miss these famous landmarks during your trip to Solo!
[toggle title=”12. National Press Monument” state=”opened”]
This monument was established in 1978 to commemorate the Indonesian Press Association. Inside this monument, you can find various magazines, newspapers, and other artifacts related to the history of Indonesian Press.
[toggle title=”13. Radya Pustaka Museum“]
[toggle title=”14. Vastenburg Fort“]
Meanwhile, this is one of the greatest Solo attraction. One of the famous landmark of Surakarta which is a heritage from the Dutch colonial era. It is a square shaped fort with four bastions in each corner. Unfortunately, due to the polemics regarding the owner of this land, this fort is deteriorating from neglect and abandonment.
[toggle title=”15. Loji Gandrung“]
[toggle title=”16. Solo Paragon“]
[toggle title=”17. Pandawa Water World Solo Baru“]
This newly opened waterpark surely gives a thrilling and exciting adventure for you and your family. They created sculptures from Solo traditional Heros, well, Java local heroes. By then, you can swim while learn the traditional culture. Things to do in Solo, Indonesia.
With all of the amazing attractions that Solo has to offer, your trip to this city will be a memorable and certainly an enjoyable one. Indeed, Solo is well-know as a city with all great natural, cultural, beautiful places. In Solo, the traditional things of their own is so deep and replaceable. You will see traditional palace there with their ceremony, art, philosophy, and uniqueness you can’t never found in another part of the world.
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