Sat, 12 Mar 2005


Kotagede returns to its past glories

Tarko Sudiarno, The Jakarta Post/Yogyakarta

Eight kilometers southeast of Yogyakarta, Kotagede is an area blessed with priceless treasures, as it used to be the center of the Mataram kingdom.

Now the city has become a prominent destination for tourists in Yogyakarta, mostly because of its outstanding silver and gold jewelry industry.

Entering the city, rows of shops selling silver and gold souvenirs will welcome visitors, with eye-catching, shiny jewelry on display.

Snuggling among the shops are typical Kotagede houses. The well-preserved mansions are a legacy of the city's past prosperity.

One particular area was, in the past, predominantly inhabited by the Kalang tribe, a group of merchants who settled in Kotagede. The Yogyakarta ruler, Sultan Agung, allocated a plot of land where they could build residences, one of the rewards they received for reviving business in his sultanate.

A stone fort separates the neighborhood from other residential areas. Kalang means "fence" in Javanese, so the term may describe the way the people lived, fenced in.

Because most of the merchants traveled extensively to many places, their dwellings showed how rich were their tastes. Most of the buildings are a blend of European and Javanese architectural styles.

The typical houses are popular as Saudagaran style (saudagar means merchant in Javanese).

The haughtiness of the merchants is reflected in the story of Prawiro Soewarno, who was called Pak Tembong. In the 1800s, during the Dutch colonial era, the wealthy merchant built a two- story house on the west side of the Gajah Uwong River. He inlaid the floor with Dutch gold coins.

As soon as the Dutch administrators heard about the floor, Pak Tembong was ordered by Dutch administrators to remove it as it was an insult to have the Dutch queen's face, featured on the coins, on the floor.

The administrators obviously did not want their queen's face stepped on by commoners. It was unclear whether or not Pak Tembong complied with the order.

Tembong's house still stands sturdily today on Jl. Tegalgendu and in 1990 the house was bought by Suyatin Ansor, who turned it into a business center housing a souvenir shop, restaurant, lounge and boutique residence.

Sekar Kedhaton Restaurant, Lounge and Boutique Residence marketing communications manager Ike Wahyu said it took almost four years to restore the beauty of the Saudagaran-style house.

Statues of fierce-looking twin dragons guard the front gate -- an original feature at the property.

The main building is a typical, European-style building with high ceiling and spacious rooms. Huge pillars and wood carvings paint green and yellow resemble those in the Yogyakarta sultan's palace.

The lavish ornaments and historical background of the building, particularly the dining room, also provide an ideal setting for royal cuisine served as rijsttafel (a meal comprising rice and various side dishes).

This kind of place is becoming trendy in Kotagede, with a lot of businesspeople converting old buildings into business establishments that retain their original architecture.

So, no wonder that holidaymakers can now enjoy wedang jahe (a hot drink made of ginger and palm sugar) and kipo (sticky rice cake with shredded coconut and palm sugar filling, typical of Kotagede) under a full moon at a Saudagar house, imagining how it might have been like to be a wealthy merchant.