“Kraton” (or Keraton) is an ancient word derived from “ke-ratu-an”, which literally pertains to the place where the king or queen lives. In other words, it is the grand palace. Kraton Yogyakarta or Kraton Jogja pertains to the palace of the Sultan of Yogyakarta. It was constructed in 1755 when the city was handed over to the sultanate of Pangeram Mangkubumi, the first sultan of Yogyakarta, based on the Giyanti Agreement. Mangkubumi was the first king to reside in Kraton Jogja. His title as sultan was Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono I.
Kraton is the most important building in the city, not only politically but also philosophically. It is strategically located between the Tugu monument (5 km away) and Krapyak Village (2 km), between Code River and Winongo River, and between the Merapi Mountain and the South Sea. The rivers protect it from the floods, since the builders know that it always rains and floods in the city. For the local Javanese, not only is Kraton in the middle of the city, it is also at the center of the universe. The Tugu monument is a symbol of lingga (or lingam, which pertains to the male sex organ), while Krapyak is a symbol of yoni (female sex organ). Kraton, therefore, is human life itself, the product of the lingga and yoni.
Following the Javanese philosophy of life, all buildings and structures surrounding the palace are supposed to have a significant meaning so that the palace plays a central role in all of humanity. The physical palace is said to symbolize the human body, while the Sultan represents the soul within. The south to north direction, which is the one leading to Tugu, represents man’s journey from birth, while north to south symbolizes man’s return to his creator, Dumadi, which is God in Javanese beliefs.
While there is much philosophy and history riding on the Kraton, on the surface it is just a simple structure, without the usual pomp and splendor associated with a royal palace. Many foreign tourists have expressed disappointment upon seeing the Kraton simply because they are not aware of what the simple structure represents. It is best to visit the palace on a Sunday or Wednesday morning when traditional Java dancers perform in the main hall. The performance is called Wayang Golek and it runs for about 15 minutes. The unique steady movements and traditional Java music (Gamelan) create a mystical aura that transports visitors to an era that is full of Eastern mysticism and rich traditional culture. All Yogyakarta visitors should not miss this exotic dance number.
Other attractions inside the Kraton complex are a simple tea procession performed by the palace ladies for the princess, palace rooms with rare Javanese artifacts, a mini open-air museum, and a batik-making workshop and Wayang Kulit or shadow puppet workshop where visitors are allowed to watch traditional styles of making batik and puppets. The batik and puppets then go on sale after the demonstrations.
Kraton Yogyakarta closes in the afternoon because the Sultan usually arrives at 4:00 PM. Admission fee is 12,000 Rp, plus 1,000 Rp for the use of a camera. That is roughly US$1-2. When in Yogyakarta, this is definitely a must-see; it is not difficult to find anyway.