On the southern side of the alun-alun lies a masterpiece of understated Javanese architecture, the elegant collection of ornate kiosks and graceful pendopos (open-sided pavilions) that comprise the Ngayogyokarto Hadiningrat – the Sultan’s Palace. It was designed as a scale model of the Hindu cosmos, and every plant, building and courtyard is symbolic; the sultans, though Muslim, held on to many Hindu and animist beliefs and thought that this design would ensure the prosperity of the royal house.
The palace is split into two parts. The first section, the Pagelaran, immediately south of the alun-alun, is bypassed by most tourists, as there is little to see.
Further south stands the entrance to the main palace. Little has changed here in 250 years: the hushed courtyards, the faint stirrings of the gamelan and the elderly palace retainers, dressed in the traditional style with a kris (dagger) tucked by the small of their back, all contribute to a remarkable sense of timelessness. You enter the complex through the palace’s outer courtyard or keben.
Two silver-painted raksasa (temple guardian statues) guard the entrance to the largest and most important palace courtyard, the Pelataran Kedaton. On the right, the ornate Gedung Kuning contains the offices and living quarters of the sultan, out of bounds to tourists. A covered corridor joins the Gedung Kuning with the Golden Throne Pavilion, or Bangsal Kencono, the centrepiece of the Pelataran Kedaton. Its intricately carved roof is held aloft by hefty teak pillars, with carvings of the lotus leaf of Buddhism supporting a red-and-gold diamond pattern of Hindu origin, while around the pillar’s circumference runs the opening line of the Koran. The eastern wall leads to the Kesatrian courtyard, home to another gamelan orchestra and a collection of royal portraits, while to the south is a display dedicated to Hamengkubuwono IX.