Cirebon : Fusion Of Sundanese, Javanese, Chinese, European And Arabian

Located right on the border between the provinces of West and Central Java on the northern coastal plains of Java, the town of Cirebon is as yet not on the tourist route, yet in its heydays it was a kingdom to be reckoned with.

Today, Cirebon returns to the tourist map together with the other once powerful kingdoms on Java’s north coast from Banten (once known as Bantam) and Cirebon in the west to Semarang, Demak, Kudus in Central Java and on to Tuban all the way in East Java. This swathe of coastline is known as Daerah Pesisir, the northern Java coast, where for centuries merchants from China, India, Arabia and from other islands in the Indonesian archipelago used to converge to trade in precious Chinese porcelains and silks, Indian textiles, and exotic ware from Arabia and Europe, in exchange for agricultural produce, pepper, cloves, fresh water and more.

Because of this cosmopolitan nature, Cirebon is most interesting to visit because of its fusion and peaceful multi-nations acculturation of Sundanese and Javanese cultures with Chinese, Indian, Arab and European influences, brought about by centuries of international maritime trade.  The palace buildings and Islamic graves are decorated with old Ming porcelain plates, its Batik art has strong Chinese influences, and mosques have strong Arabian influences.

Montage of Cirebon, West Java
Montage of Cirebon, West Java (Source : wikipedia.org)

Nowadays, this long coast is known as Pantura, where the highway that was once built by Dutch Governor General Daendels stretches from west to east and has now become a main commercial arterial road still very much in use even until today. It takes some 5 hours by car to reach Cirebon from Jakarta, or you can now take the popular tourist train to visit Cirebon.

In the 14th century, Cirebon was an outpost and port of the Sunda Pajajaran kingdom centered in the southern mountains of West Java. But on 2 April 1482, Sunan Gunung Jati of Cirebon cut the city’s vassalship from the Sunda Pajajaran kingdom and created the new royal house of Cirebon. Cirebon then became an important kingdom spreading the teachings of Islam across Java and the Indonesian islands.

Its leader, Syarif Hidayatullah, or Sunan Gunung Jati, was also one of the loved 9 Islamic missionaries known as Wali Songo – the Nine Saints. Until today, he is still very much venerated and pilgrims visit his grave regularly.

The name Cirebon, is said to derive from the word “caruban”, meaning a hub or cross road. Another interpretation is that it originates from the Javanese word “carub” which means a mixture, or in Sunda language meaning “river”. In its development it became Cirebon, meaning the river full of shrimps.

Today, due to its location, the town of Cirebon has become the fourth largest city on Java’s north coast after Jakarta, Surabaya and Semarang. Its industry and trade is  thriving. Here is also located the cigarette factory of British American Tobacco (BAT).

A visit to Cirebon will take you back to 16th century commercial life, with its palaces, batik shops, and mosques and crowded markets. Besides, Cirebon also attracts through its many culinary favorites.

ACTIVITIES

There are many things to buy in Cirebon, below is a short list :

Trusmi Batik

For original Cirebon batiks and designs go the village of Trusmi at Plered, in Cirebon.

Typical Cirebon batik is the cloud design. This batik comes in different bright colors. Unlike batiks of the interior palaces of Java such as from Yogya and Solo, the Pesisir batiks are colorful and sometimes garish colors depicting nature in flowers, birds, butterflies, and clouds.

Trusmi village lies some 20 minutes from the center of town.

Kanoman Souvenirs and Food Center

Most popular center to buy dried food to bring home to family and friends is located by the Kanoman palace. Its caramalized fruits are favorite here.

Toko Sinta  

This is another shop that sells food stuffs like tahu gejrot – gejrot tofu – with its special yummy sauce, which sells at  Rp 17,500 per packet. There are 50 cubes of fried tofu in one packet which comes complete with sauce, onions, salt and pepper and chilli.

Other shops to browse through are the Gunung Jati at Jalan Sunan Gunung Jati in the village of Astana at Gang Pekauman, and the Cirebon Centrindo at Jalan Ampera.

Cirebon has many hotels.

There are no less than 4 palaces or “Keraton” in Cirebon. They are called: the Keraton Kasepuhan, Keraton Kanoman, Keraton Kacirebonan and Keraton Keprabon. All four integrate different architectural styles incorporating Islamic, Chinese and Dutch elements. All four palaces characteristically face north where there is a wide green square, a market, a lion statue in the garden symbolizing king Prabu Siliwangi. The walls are decorated with antique Chinese porcelain plates, although some are European in origin when Cirebon became an important Dutch port under the Dutch colonial sway.

When in Ciriebon do visit the Sunyaragi water palace. This beautiful park has innovative technology water channels for its days, where water flowed down picturesque terraces where the Queen, princesses and ladies of the court used to bathe. There is also a green hill where princes used to train horseback and martial arts. Visit Sunyaragi’s tower and special room where its doors are made like curtains.

Other places to visit are the Sang Cipta Rasa Grand Mosque, an old Chinese temple, and the sacred-held Grave of Sunan Gunung Jati.

Other attractions to do and visit are :

The Ade Irma Suryani Park. Take a Becak tour around Cirebon. The BI Building of Cirebon, The Kejaksan railway Station, The BAT factory, The red brick mosque : Mesjid Bata Merah / Panjunan, The At – Taqwa mosque, The Gunung Jati grave complex at Gunung Sembung, 15 km west of the city. Follow traces of the Wali Songo in the city of Cirebon. The Thiaw Kak Sie Chinese temple at Jalan Pasuketan, dedicated to the goddess of mercy, Kuan Yin. In the back is an iron anchor believed to be from one of the vessels of Chinese Admiral Zheng He, who visited Cirebon in the 15th. century.

GET THERE

Because of its central location, Cirebon is easily accessible by car, air or rail. There are two large railway stations in Cirebon, they are they are the Kejaksan Station and the Prujakan station. Cirebon has a small airport called Cakrabuana airport while a larger one is in construction.

When travelling by car, please note that since this is a busy highway, you will meet many container trucks on the way.

By train:

At present the railway company has a special tourist train which includes a city tour of Cirebon.

There are two packages available. The first one leaves Gambir Station in Central Jakarta at 06.00 hrs and returns at 21.15 hrs. It costs Rp 1,450,000 per seat for a maximum 20 passengers. The second package includes an overnight stay leaving Jakarta at 06.00 hrs, arriving in Cirebon at 09.00 hrs. The return journey leaves Cirebon at 15.15 hrs and arrives at Gambir Station at 18.15 hrs. Prices vary between Rp 2,140,000 to Rp 2,300,000. During peak holiday season prices may go up by 30%. The train is also often chartered for tourist groups.

In Cirebon you will be taken around by air-conditioned coach, vising the tourist village of Trusmi, the Karaton Kasepuhan, the Sunyaragi caves, Keraton Cirebon, the Grand Mosque and the Grave of Sunan Gunung Jati. Also included is the food center at the Kanoman market. Make sure to reserve your seat at least one day ahead of departure since this is a popular tour.

Tips

Since Cirebon is on flat land and located by the sea it is advised to wear light clothing (T-shirts and long pants especially when you visit palaces, religious and sacred places) and protect yourself from the sun with a wide-brimmed hat.

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