Solo Surakarta : The Sights And Sounds Of Ancient Javanese Culture
Famous as a city that is fiercely proud of its Javanese traditions, the regal city of Solo or Surakarta is known throughout Indonesia as a strong upholder of Javanese culture. A visit here is a chance to connect with and take in the sights and sounds of ancient Javanese culture. You’ll need at least a few days to explore the city to wander around and discover all the vibrant old markets, busy street life and ancient buildings.
Historically, Solo has been a centre of power in Central Java. In 1745 the Mataram court was transferred here from Kota Gede, and, since then, the city has built on its reputation as a cultural hub. From Solonese dance, wayang puppetry through to hand-crafted batik, Solo remains a city that prides itself on its artistic traditions of elegance and refinement. Today, Solo is part of the province of Central Java.
While you are here pay a visit to the many cultural attractions of the city such as the two keratons or palaces, of the Sunan of Surakarta and the Prince of Mangkunegara. Take a load off your feet and ride a pushcart along the maze of white palace walls.
Absorb yourself in history with a becak ride through the old city.
Known as the city that never sleeps, there is always something going on in Solo. Warung’s operate almost around the clock so there is no danger of going hungry.
With a population of over 550,000 people, Solo is a densely populated city. But while people may live close together there are no high rise buildings, so this city has a community atmosphere that is difficult to find in any other city in Indonesia.
Compared to Java’s other ‘court’ city, Yogyakarta, fewer travelers journey to Solo. Come here and explore the refined and aristocratic Javanese traditions that you won’t find anywhere else.
Food is an important part of life in Solo so if you like to eat, you won’t be disappointed with this city. Solo hosts an array of eateries which sell all kinds of Javanese food. Warungs here are open almost 24 hours so no matter what the time, you’ll never go hungry in Solo.
As your choice of food is limited to Javanese cuisine, this is the perfect opportunity to try all those traditional dishes you’d never heard of until you got to Solo. Some popular dishes in Solo include:
Ayam bakar – Barbequed chicken served with lalapan or raw vegetables. Pecel – Cold cooked vegetables over rice with a spicy peanut sauce. Kelapa muda utuh – A whole young coconut which makes a refreshing drink.
The biggest textile market in Java, the Pasar Klewer, is in Solo and attracts people from all over the island who flock here to shop and buy cloth of every imaginable description. This busy bazaar is a hive of activity. Many stall holders are from Arab and Muslim Indian descent giving the market a multi-cultural atmosphere. Shoppers will go through aisle after aisle of tiny stalls piled high with woven and printed cottons, linens, synthetics and silks – most of them in batik prints.
Pasar Triwindu is a small yet chaotic flea market where, if you’re willing to search, shoppers can find pretty much anything and everything as long as it’s used or old. From old masks, wayangs, musical instruments and coins, this is a market filled with endless curiosities. Even if you’re not in the market for something, it’s worth a look to come here and browse at the collection of oddities on sale.
The central market of Solo is Pasar Gede, located in the Chinese district. Every day villagers pour in from the countryside to sell their produce here. Everything from vegetables, fruits, rice, coffee, dried fish, clothes and manufactured good is on sale here. This is a hot, crowded and cramped market where you will need to have your wits about you and your bargaining skills ready to get the best buys.
Fancy checking out a different kind of market? Parrots, chickens, doves, canaries, owls and the occasional eagle – all can be found on sale at Pasar Depok, Solo’s bird market.
While Solo is not as established as a tourist destination as Yogya, there are a wide range of accommodation options available. A number of major hotel chains have establishments here including the Novotel and the Ibis.
The Indah Palace hotel is a three star hotel located close to many of the landmarks in the city.
Keraton Surakarta – also called the Kasunanan – was built in 1745 and is a must see for any visitor to Solo. As you enter the grounds you will be immediately transported to a place where tradition governs daily life. While most of the woodwork in the keraton of Yogya is colored green, the dominating color in the court of Solo is sky blue. This is a unique cultural attraction not to be missed.
Visitors to the palace are requested to wear a samir or red and gold ribbon around their neck as a mark of respect. Walking through the palace, stop and look at the huge mirror whose inscription invites the visitor to examine their soul before being received by the King. You will see areas such as the keputren – an area reserved for the Sunan’s (Kings) daughters and wives where the only man permitted to enter is the Sunan himself. Unfortunately a fire in 1985 has meant that some sections of the palace have been rebuilt. A new pavilion now stands following ancient descriptions, dominated by bold red and gold colors.
The Mangkunegaran palace or Pura Mangkunegaran is the other royal palace of Solo. Set within lush gardens and European fountains, this palace was founded by a dissident prince, who in the 18th century, was awarded a portion of the Sunan’s (King’s) fiefdom to ensure he remained loyal to the Sunan. To symbolize the junior rank of the Mangkunegaran, the palace is set south of the Kasunanan palace.
The Mesjid Agung or Grand Mosque is a magnificently large mosque in a unique design that blends Middle East and traditional Javanese architecture. Originally built in 1750, the mosque has become bigger and more majestic as Sunans have made their own additions and renovations over the years. This remains a place of active worship and is still used for royal ceremonies and festivals such as the Sekaten. Visitors are welcome outside of prayer times but are required to dress respectfully, remove their shoes, and wash before entering.
For visitors traveling with children, take in the fun and excitement of the Sriwedari Amusement Park with rides and entertainment sure to impress the young ones. The onsite theatre puts on nightly cultural shows including wayang kulit (shadow puppet performance) and wayang orang (live theatre).
The handiest way to get around Solo is by becak.
The compact size of the city means walking is an option however the streets are crowded and noisy and not well paved.
Bicycles are a good option for those who are willing to brave the traffic and can be rented from tourist offices in town.
For a more traditional experience, try renting a horse drawn carriage.
Taxis are available though they can be difficult to find away from the main tourist areas.
Rental cars are available for hire and can be organized through some of the bigger hotels in Solo.
Solo has a large airport, the Surakarta – Adi Sumarmo Wiryokusumo International Airport, which has daily flights traveling from most major cities throughout Indonesia. International flights also fly from here to Malaysia and Singapore. Air Asia flies from Kuala Lumpur to Solo and Silk Air from Singapore.
Domestic airlines that fly in and out of Solo include Garuda Indonesia, Lion Air, and Sriwijaya Air.
The train goes regularly between Solo and Jakarta and the trip takes between 11-12 hours. The train continues to Surabaya.
Night buses travel from Jakarta to Solo and take around 12 hours.
From Yogya, you can travel to Solo by express minibus which takes around one hour. The cheaper but more crowded public buses also travel by this route.
A number of tour operators run tours which include visits to Solo and the surrounding area.