Central Java is considered the arts centre of Indonesia, the region from which sprung much of the archipelago’s rich cultural wealth. Amanjiwo is surrounded by cultural treasures and sacred temples, and provides an ideal base for discovering the artistic as well as the natural landscape of the region. The resort offers a number of personalised excursions. What follows is a far from complete introduction to the possibilities of Central Java. A full seven days would still leave one far from realising all that makes this region one of the most diverse in Asia.
Borobudur lies between the cities of Yogyakarta and Solo (Surakarta), built by dynasties founded in the 18th century, when the Mataram Empire was fading fast. Today, Yogyakarta is the busiest city east of Jakarta. Jogja, as it is often called, is a major university town and a royal capital complete with a functioning palace or kraton. Like the Vatican, the palace is a city within a city. The heart of the palace remains the home of the sultan and his immediate family. Beyond this innermost sanctum, the kraton is a public place where dance is taught and performed and festivals are commonplace. At night, Yogya can dazzle, too, when the main thoroughfare, Jalan Malioboro, takes on the tenor of an exotic street fair.
In 1745, the sultan of the Mataram Dynasty moved his court to Solo, or Surakarta, as it was formally known. The first sultan equated art with civilisation, bringing with him his silversmiths, musicians, artists, dancers and painters. Today, their descendants carry on Solo’s creative legacy which is why classical Javanese dance and art schools flourish still. Solo is a two-hour drive from Amanjiwo. In the village of Berjo, some 50km east of Solo and almost 1,000 metres up a volcanic slope, is Candi Sukuh, one of Indonesia’s most unusual and striking temples. Its main feature is a large, stepped, truncated pyramid. Remarkable bas reliefs, carvings and cult objects are found within. Candi Cetho is another temple not far from Candi Sukuh. It sits above the steeply sloping Hindu village of the same name. Dating from the same period as Sukuh, it shares many similarities to the temples of Bali.
The rural villages of Central Java host frequent celebrations with gamelan music and spirited dancing. The festivities can include more than a hundred guests from nearby villages, dozens of performers, games of chance, country fare and, occasionally, late-night trance dancing. Whether a local wedding or a harvest celebration, they are colourful spectacles not to be missed.
From Borobudur and Gedong Songo to Prambanan and the Dieng Plateau, many of the most ancient and important of Asia’s religious monuments and temples are found in Central Java. Among the best-preserved ancient monuments in the world
- Borobudur is a pleasant walk or bicycle ride from Amanjiwo. The 9th-century sanctuary occupies a modest plateau and is made up of more than a million cut-stone blocks, 1,460 stone relief panels and 504 life-size Buddha statues, each sculpted from a single stone. From the top gallery of Borobudur, one can enjoy panoramic views of Central Java. Except for the faint shimmer of Amanjiwo, the view has changed little over the centuries, embracing the Kedu Plain and its surrounding villages, looming Mount Sumbing, the twin volcanic mountains of Merbabu and Merapi and the Menoreh Hills.
- Northwest of Borobudur, beyond the volcanic peaks of Sumbing and Sindoro, lies the Dieng Plateau, an area of great natural beauty. On this windswept plateau are located several time-weathered Hindu temples. Dating from the early 7th and 8th centuries, the spare and haunting shrines are the oldest Hindu temples and the earliest standing stone structures in Java.
- Only a few kilometres east of Yogyakarta, Prambanan is an ancient Hindu complex incorporating hundreds of temples strewn across the plains. Its central attraction is the elegant and dramatic Loro Jonggrang temple, with its many courtyards, enclosures, shrines and sculptures. In season, the Ramayana Ballet, Java’s classical dance theatre, is regularly performed at an outdoor theatre in Prambanan.
View and download the Amanjiwo interactive map of Central Java here