Over 700 years ago, there stood a great empire, its capital located on the island of Java. An empire so vast and strong, it covered most of Southeast Asia, and stood for hundreds of years. An empire we learn of in history books, yet whose greatness we cannot quite fathom. Little physical evidence of this eminent empire remain, making its existence seem almost fictional. This is the Majapahit Empire.
Majapahit ruled over a large part of this region from Java to Sumatra, the Malay Peninsula, Kalimantan and part of Indonesia’s eastern islands from 1293 to the 1500’s. The Hindu-Buddhist Majapahit kingdom emerged after the fall of the powerfull Singosari kingdom, located also in present day East Java.
Trowulan is a district in the province of East Java, where lies Indonesia’s only site of what is said to be the ruins of the Great Majapahit Empire. Surrounded by thousands of archaeological remains, Trowulan is regarded as the possible site of the capital city of the Majapahit Empire.
Travelling to this significant place is more than just a vacation, but a journey through the history of a nation. Much can be discovered in Trowulan about the civilization during the Majapahit period, including the government system, trade, foreign affairs, technology, architecture, agriculture, handicraft and art.
The Majapahit Kingdom was established in 1293 AD, after the fall of the Singosari Kingdom. Raden Wijaya was the founder and first king of the Majapahit Empire, who reigned until 1309 AD. The kingdom reached its “Golden Age” under the rule of King Hayam Wuruk and his Prime Minister Gajah Mada, who pledged an oath to unite the archipelago. This was achieved through the organization of local and regional trade networks of rice crops, spices, ceramics and textiles. This also led to the unifying of religions, showing Majapahit as a multicultural nation, with people of various faiths living in harmony.
Trowulan was first discovered in 1817 by Sir Stamford Raffles, who described it as ruins of temples scattered about for miles, though most of the site was then covered in dense teak forest. So fascinated by the site, Raffles later referred to it as “The Pride of Java.” Later aerial photographs showed the city engraved with a network of canals running in straight lines across the city, used for drainage as well as water supply.
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Many restaurants line the Segaran Pool, serving traditional food of the region, such as Fish, steamed rice, vegetables, tomato sauce and young coconut.
One of the culinary specialties of the area is Sambel Wader, which is iwak wader, a small river fish, deep fried and served with vegetables and chili sauce. Other east Javan traditional dishes include Soto Dhok and Rawon. These dishes are quite cheap and will cost you less than 10,000 rupiah.
Many handicrafts of metal, stone and brass are sold around the area for purchase as souvenirs. These can range from simple designs to extremely intricate and elaborate ones. You can also observe the manufacturing process of these items, from modeling and casting to printing, dyeing and refining. It is a long and complex process, requiring precision, patience and skill.
The traditional Mojokerto Batik is another wonderful souvenir, with motifs displaying ancient Majapahit symbols, such as a shining sun or fields of rice.
Since Trowulan is a short distance away from Surabaya, there are many hotels available in Surabaya. But if you wish to stay near Trowulan, here are a number of hotels in Mojokerto:
Grand Trawas Hotel is located just a 50 minute drive from Juanda Surabaya Airport. Spacious, air-conditioned rooms are each fitted with a private balcony overlooking Mount Penanggungan. Facilities include spa, swimming pool, playground, tennis court, and meeting rooms. Outbound activities are organized by the hotel as well.
Address: Grand Trawas Hotel, Trawas Mojokerto 61375, East Java
Royal Trawas Hotel & Cottages is surrounded by pine forests, giving the hotel a calm and comforting atmosphere. Cottages each contain a spacious living room, a private terrace with garden views, large bathroom, and the usual amenities. Hotel facilities include a swimming pool, pool bar, kids playground, function room, and internet access.
Address: Jalan Raya Slepi, Trawas, Mojokerto, East Java
It will take more than a day to fully experience all that this historical city has to offer, so do not visit it in a hurry. Numerous ancient temples and tombs dot the city, each lending an idea towards what life may have been like in the Majapahit Era. The tomb of Sheikh Jumadil Troloyo Quobra, grandfather of Wali Songo is one of these sites, which shows the existence of the Muslim community at that time. Other tombs can also be found, which date back to before the Majapahit Empire.
Candi Brahu, or Brahu Temple is located in the Bejijong Village in Trowulan, and is said to have been used as a spot for cremations.
Candi Tikus, or Rat Temple, got its name from a nest of rats that was found in its grounds upon its discovery. The temple is constructed of red bricks, and oddly, is built several meters below ground level. A series of steps and corridors lead downwards, towards the center, where a small pool lies. Within the pool is a tower, roughly 2 meters tall, surrounded by 8 other smaller towers. Candi Tikus is said to resemble a similar temple built on Mount Mahameru in India.
Not far from Candi Tikus is yet another temple, Candi Bajang Ratu, or The Temple of Queen Bajang. This temple is bordered by an enormous garden, spanning 11,500 square meters, and filled with colorful flowers. A wide driveway leads towards a high, roofed gate, which opens towards the temple. Like many of the temples in the area, the temple is built of red brick, and elaborately decorated with reliefs of the classic Ramayana Legend. This temple is said to be the place of coronation of Queen Bajang.
The Majapahit Segaran Pool is the largest of 32 ancient ponds in Trowulan. It measures 375 meters in length and 125 meters in width. This pool was built slightly above ground level, and was used as a reservoir. Uncovered channels and connecting drainage systems show that it was to irrigate nearby plantations as well. According to folklore, this pool also functioned as a recreational area for royalty to entertain foreign guests. To show his wealth, the King would throw his golden cutlery into the pool when the meal was finished. Unbeknownst to his guests, however, the cutlery was not lost, but was caught in a net, hidden beneath the surface– ready to be used again. The pool was first discovered in 1926, by Maclain Pont. Today, it has been fully restored, and is once again functional.
The Wringin Lawang, or Banyan Tree Gate, is a “split gateway structure,” dating back to the 14th century. It consists of two symmetrical buildings constructed of red brick. They stand over 15 meters tall, with a width of 11 meters, making it a very grand entrance indeed. Most historians agree that this gate must have led to a compound of great importance, though exactly what is still uncertain. An ancient well found within the compound strongly suggests that the region may have been a residential area. The popular theory is that it may have been the entrance to the palace of Gajah Mada, one of the great kings of the Majapahit Empire.
The Kedaton Temple, situated in Sentonorejo Village in Trowulan, is a site that remains a mystery. The site encompasses an extensive area of red brick foundations, suggesting that the building may have been a palace. Legend tells of Brawijaya V, last king of the Majapahit Empire, and how he vanished beside Sumur Upas, or the poison well, so as not to face defeat. This poison well has been found within the Kedaton compounds. Excavation to a depth of 80 centimeters below the surface has uncovered what is thought to be a secret tunnel. Archaeologists believe that the tunnels may have connected to other kingdoms of the Majapahit Empire. Till now, the site has not been restored, as it is still under study.
To finally make sense of all the remains scattered throughout the city, one must visit the Trowulan Museum. One of Trowulan’s central attractions, the museum is located on the west end of Segaran Pool. Here, you can more systematically understand the full glory of what was once the Majapahit Empire. A vast collection of ancient relics can be found here, ranging from tools, to weapons, to household appliances and various forms of architecture. Each item comes with a brief description in both English and Bahasa Indonesia.
The museum is divided into two general areas. The first is the showroom, displaying relatively small artifacts, such as currency, weapons, musical instruments & household appliances. This diverse collection of rare and beautiful relics only confirms the advanced civilization of the Majapahit Era. Objects of ceramic and stone can be found, as well as intricately formed relics of gold, silver, brass, bronze, copper and iron – confirming the high level of skill of the metal artisans of that time.
The second is the pavilion, which is dedicated to much larger and heavier items. Ancient statues and reliefs can be found in this area.
The Trowulan Archaeological Museum was founded by Kanjeng Adipati Ario Kromojoyo Adinegoro together with Ir. Henry Maclaine Pont to house all the archaeological artifacts, and prevent looting from the site. A cafeteria and gift shop can also be found in the Museum grounds.
Trowulan lies just 60 km southwest fromSurabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city. Surabaya has available international flights from Hong Kong, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Singapore. Domestic flights are available from most cities around Indonesia.
From Surabaya, simply hire a car direct to Trowulan, or take a bus to Mojokerto and continue by rickshaw or ojek, (motorcycle taxi.)
Use a motorcycle taxi or rent a car to get around, as there is no nearby public transportation.
Bring cool clothes and enough drinking water, as the weather can be quite hot.
Purchase a book about the Majapahit history to fully understand what you are seeing.
A professional guide can be provided by the museum upon request.
Archaeological Museum Mojokerto
Jl. Jend. A. Yani No. 14, Mojokerto
Archaeological Museum Trowulan
Jl. Raya Trowulan 13, Mojokerto