Founded in 16th Century, the Banten Sultanate was once a thriving Islamic kingdom and one of the most prominent trading centers in Southeast Asia. In its heydays, merchants from China, India, Turkey, England, Portugal and the Netherlands were frequent visitors to the Banten harbor. Spices, silk, Chinese ceramics, gold, jewelry and other Asian goods attracted European merchants. Banten was then a pioneer in international trade and was also known as an education center for Islamic studies.
The seat of power was centered at the port city on the northwest coast of Java at the mouth of the Cibanten River. The royal city of Banten was founded on the delta, formed by the two arms of the river. The royal palace surrounded by residences of the principal minister of state, was built on the south side of the royal square with the grand mosque on its west.
Today, the once great sultanate may just be pages in history, as Banten evolved into a province located west of West Java and Jakarta. However remnants of its glorious past still radiate at the site of the old capital known today as the Old Banten Complex. Centered at the Grand Mosque that still stands gallantly and serves its religious function, the site is situated about 10km north of Serang, capital city of Banten Province.
Masjid Agung Banten or the Grand Mosque of Banten is one of the oldest and historical mosques in Indonesia. The Mosque was built in the reign of Sultan Maulana Hasanudin (1552-1570), the first Sultan of Banten. The mosque features unique influences from Javanese, Western, and Chinese architecture. The stepped roof, for example, is typical of Javanese mosques, although Chinese pagodas share the multilevel structure as well. Consisting of 5 layers, the roof structure denotes the 5 pillars of Islam.
The main entrance of the mosque has six doors which symbolizes the 6 pillars of faith, important principals in Islam. All of these main doors are made relatively short in height to illustrate that one needs to humble oneself when entering the House of God. While the total number of 24 supporting columns inside the mosque depict the 24 hours we have in a day.
Towering over the Mosque is an eight-sided minaret rising almost 80 feet above the ground. The top of the minaret is accessible by 83 steps, providing visitors with a view of the nearby structures and the sea which lies about a mile to the west. Given its height, the minaret was also used as a lookout tower for seaborne raiders and pirates, aside from performing the daily adzhan or call to prayer.
Near the mosque are a number of Royal tombs. These are the final resting place of a number of Sultans of Banten, including Sultan Maulana Hasanuddin and his queen; Sultan Ageng Tirtayasa; Sultan Abu Nashr Abdul Qahar; Sultan Maulana Muhammad; Sultan Zainul Abidin; and other royal families.
Next to the grand mosque, a set of orange brick perimeter walls are all that remain of the grand Surosowan Palace, once the seat of power of the Banten Sultanate. The ruins of the palace cover about 3.5 hectares. The perimeter walls are made of coral and red brick, and are 16 feet thick, enough to frustrate most cannons during its time. To strengthen the walls, the fourth Sultan Ageng Tirtayasa hired a Dutch engineer to add bastions at each corner of the citadel. The palace was attacked by Dutch forces in 1680 and was later demolished in 1813 since the last Sultan, Sultan Rafiudin refused to bow to Dutch rule.
The other palace in the complex is the Kaibon Palace that was built for Queen Aisyah, mother of the 21st Sultan of Banten, Sultan Syaifudin who was only 5 years old when he was handed the throne. Along with Surosowan Palace, the Kaibon Palacealso destroyed by the Dutch in 1832 at the end of the Banten Sultanate era. However, unlike the Surosowan Palace , there are still some structures standing such as the main gates, and a room which is believed to be the quarters of Queen Aisyah.
To learn more about the history of the Banten Sultanate, there is also the Old Banten Museum which is located between the Grand Mosque and the Surosowan Palace. The museum houses precious heritage of the history of Banten. The museum features various collections including archeological artifacts, numismatics, ethnographic, ceramics, and more. Among the most valuable collection is the Ki Amuk Cannon which is said to have been given as support from the Ottoman empire in Turkey. The cannon is said to have a twin which is the Ki Jagur Cannon which is currently placed at the Fatahillah Museum in Kota Tua, the Old Batavia Complex in Jakarta.
Featuring historical monuments and remnants of its glorious past, the Old Banten complex is an important site that preserves the history of the Sultanate of Banten. The Grand Mosque which was once the center of Islamic studies still attracts many pilgrims today to honor their previous leaders and its past history.
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