Yogyakarta – the Water Palace and Kraton

Marked out on most tourist maps of Yogyakarta is the Kraton and the temptingly titled Water Palace. The descriptions boast the area to be a walled city within a city, housing many historical areas of interest and administrative buildings. Excited by the sound of this we made our way over to the Kraton, which, as with all of Jogja, turned out to be a much longer walk than it appeared on a map. We found an entrance and paid the 14,000rp entrance fee as well as the additional 20,000rp camera fee and made our way in.

The part of the Kraton we had entered was a royal palace that had historically been used to accommodate visiting royalty. To illustrate this point, there were a few models of people in smart traditional dress and some photographs of a long forgotten royal visit to the area – and that was it. We wandered around looking for another part of the attraction. Perhaps a museum?Cynical gift shop? An entrance to another area we may have missed? No such luck.

It seems that contrary to the advice of guide books the area had been divided up and each section of the Kraton charged separately to enter and explore.

We felt a little ripped off by this, but were not quite ready to abandon our quest to find the Water Palace so pushed on within the area to find what we were looking for. Locating the landmark proved problematic, mainly due to a lack of any street signs and poor directions from a rickshaw driver. Eventually we saw a few groups of tourists emerging from a street and we went to investigate – there it was! Another 60,000rp later and we had our tickets, we excitedly went to have a look around.

Much like the royal area there was a lot less than we had expected at the water palace, however, we really didn’t mind in this case as the place was quite beautiful to see! The palace had been built by a sultan as a space to keep his concubines in secret. He had the Portuguese architect that designed it killed upon its completion, so he could not reveal the location of the sultan’s ‘pleasure rooms’.

It’s beauty was quite obvious to see, with pools and fountains dotted around the very European looking central building. There is a lack of information displayed at the palace and so it is better to hire a guide. The sultan’s bedroom is to the left of the main entrance to the swimming pool and disguises a further bathing pool beyond. The whole complex is surrounded by 20ft walls and it is easy to imagine what it once looked like. It’s symmetrical fountains, blue painted pool bottoms and spattering of birdcages speaks of a secluded paradise. Like being in a painting.

The pools today are slightly neglected and could do with a good clean. The birdcages stand empty, instead hosting and impressive array of spider webs and the walls sport graffiti in places.

The complex originally housed many people, as mentioned before, many of the sultan’s love interests were accommodated there with advanced sanitation and comfortable rooms. The remains of this accommodation can be seen beyond the main palace nestled in between the houses and businesses of today’s residents. They are still accessible and very interesting to explore. Weirdly many of the buildings feature large stone beds. I’m more in favour of foam and springs but each to their own! The bedrooms all had access to bathrooms which can still be seen in the form of holes in stone allowing waste to fall through into a sewage canal which today is exposed – though thankfully not in use.

We spent a few hours exploring the sultans former utopia. It was an interesting relic and represents a long lost culture. Arguably a good thing but interesting non-the-less.

I would say the most interesting aspect of this sight is absolutely the way in which the palace has, over the years, been absorbed back into the city and taken over by everyday life. Gone are the secret rendezvous’ between royalty and concubines, instead the area plays host to the ‘common people’ of Jogja who’s lives play out within the sultan’s once forbidden chambers.

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