Yogyakarta (pronounced “Jogjakarta” and often just shortened toYogya, or “Jogja”) ranks as one of the best-preserved and most attractive cities in Java, and is a major centre for the classical Javanese arts of batik, ballet, drama, music, poetry and puppet shows. It is also the perfect base from which to explore the temples of Borobudur and Prambanan, or take an early morning hike up Gunung Merapi. Tourists flock here, attracted not only by the city’s courtly splendour but also by the cuisine and shopping, and the various language and cultural courses on offer. As a result there are more tourist-oriented hotels in Yogya than anywhere else in Java and, unfortunately, a correspondingly high number of touts, pickpockets and con-artists.
Sultan Hamengkubuwono I (also known as Mangkubumi) established his court here in 1755, spending the next 37 years building the new capital, with the Kraton as the centrepiece and the court at Solo as the blueprint. In 1946, the capital of the newly declared Republic of Indonesia was moved to Yogya from Jakarta, and the Kraton became the unofficial headquarters for the republican movement. The royal household of Yogya continues to enjoy almost slavish devotion from its subjects and the current sultan, Hamengkubuwono X, remains an influential politician.
The layout of Yogya reflects its character: frenetic, modern and brash on the outside, but with a tranquil, ancient and traditional heart in the Kraton, the walled city. Set in a two-kilometre-wide strip of land between the rivers Kali Winongo and Kali Code, this is the focus of interest for most visitors. Kraton means “royal residence” and originally referred just to the Sultan’s Palace, but today it denotes the whole of the walled city (plus Jalan Malioboro), a town of some ten thousand people. The Kraton has changed little in two hundred years; both the palace, and the 5km of crenellated icing-sugar walls that surround it, date from the first sultan’s reign.