It is ancient landmarks like the Taman Sari that make Yogyakarta an important tourist destination in Indonesia. Yogyakarta is known as the center of Java’s culture and history. Also known as Taman Sari Water Castle, this majestic landmark used to be the royal garden of the Sultan of Yogyakarta, built in the mid 18th Century and located just 2 km south within the grounds of the Royal Palace, more easily referred to as Kraton. This water castle functions as a workshop, defense, refuge and a place for rest and meditation. Although it is still just in UNESCO’s tentative list, to be considered as a World Heritage Site is quite an honor for this otherwise humble site. UNESCO actively seeks for the most beautiful, significant and noteworthy natural and man-made sites in order to put them on its elite list that says these landmarks must be protected and enjoyed by all mankind as a very important gift to humanity as a whole.
Taman Sari is Javanese for “garden of beautiful flowers”, and that is exactly what this park is all about. While it is a garden, it is clearly a “water castle” (as an old Dutch literature described it) as it used to have large artificial lake called Segaran to the west, an artificial island called Kenongo Island in the middle of Segaran, a bathing complex called Umbul Binangun in the middle of pavilions and pools to the south, and a smaller eastern lake. Sadly today, only the central bathing complex remains. One can only imagine how majestic the other areas could have looked.
The place was built during the reign of Yogyakarta’s first sultan, Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono I. He was also the monarch who built the Kraton complex in which his royal palace stands until today. The sultan had gone through so many wars and battles and so he ordered the construction of a special place in which he could spend time to relax. Construction of this expensive project began in 1758 and was completed in 1765. The last to be built were the gates and walls. The building’s plan was so extravagant it almost emptied the palace treasury completely. The original complex had a total of 59 buildings that all bore a hybrid design of Javanese and Dutch architecture. Along with the buildings were a mosque, swimming pools, 18 water gardens and pavilions, and the Sultan’s special place to relax and meditate. It was used only until 1812 when the British invaded Yogyakarta and destroyed much of the sultanate and damaged this amazing water castle.
After the first sultan died, nobody bothered to manage this expensive facility, since its management was very costly. It was difficult to keep its elaborate hydraulic systems running. Taman Sari then sustained major damages from the Java War of 1825-1830. It took more than a century before the Yogyakarta government attempted to restore the castle and unfortunately only the bathing complex has been completely restored in the 1970s.
Today, what remains are humble representations of the former and original splendor of the water castle. The Taman Sari area along the Kraton complex is occupied today by about 2,700 people belonging to the Kampung Taman settlement. They are known for their batik and traditional handicrafts. Taman Sari is beside the Ngasem Traditional Market and Sokotunggal mosque.