Taman Sari is one of Yogyakarta’s historical sites associated with the former Sultanate of Yogyakarta. It is located within the grounds of the Keraton (palace), but admission is separate. Today, entrance to the Water Castle is approximately 500m southwest of the Keraton. The name “Tamansari” translates to “A Beautiful Garden,” and the purpose of the complex was to provide the Sultan and his family a quiet place for retreat and relaxation. Built in the 18th century (Javanese Year 1684, but actually 1784 A.D.), the buildings remaining at Taman Sari seem much older. The entire complex boasts unique architecture, although today much of the area has been converted to a residential neighborhood called Kampung Taman. Taman Sari has been listed as a tentative UNESCO World Heritage site since 1995 but has yet to be approved.

The bathing complex at Taman Sari.

Hours to the general Taman Sari complex are 9:00 – 15:00 daily; the cost is Rp. 15,000 for international visitors and Rp. 5,000 for domestic visitors. I tried to show my KITAS but was told it was not accepted here. I find this difficult to believe and would encourage KITAS and KTP holders to try for the domestic discount, even though the price for foreigners here is not nearly as high as it is at other sites in Yogyakarta

History

Construction of Taman Sari began during the reign of Yogyakarta’s first sultan, Sultan Hamengkubuwono, but was not completed until the time of Sultan Hamengkubuwono II. The first Sultan had been at war for many years and wanted somewhere to relax in peace after the previous conflict. On the present-day site of Taman Sari was a bathing complex known as Pacethokan Spring, but this complex was removed and rebuilt to yield the current buildings. The lead architect for the construction of Taman Sari had previously traveled to Bavaria in Europe to study architecture, which explains the European influence of the buildings within the complex. The funding of the project originally came from local taxation. However, the cost of construction proved to be far greater than the tax revenue. This prompted the original architect to resign; he was replaced by a new project lead who saw construction to completion.

The Taman Sari complex was only used in earnest between 1765 and 1812. Maintenance was abandoned shortly after the death of Sultan Hamengkubuwono I because the hydraulic mechanisms between the many lakes, ponds, and pools were complex and difficult to maintain. The Java War (1825-1830) added to the damage and neglect. An earthquake, which occurred in 1867, drained all water features and destroyed several buildings, which led to the complete disuse of the palace complex. Over time, impoverished families began to inhabit the site and created the settlement of Kambung Taman in the abandoned lakebeds and deserted pavilions. It was not until 1970 that a restoration effort began.

A view of the modern-day settlement of Kambung Taman from atop Pulo Kenanga.

Functions

Defense and Shelter

The high walls and gates surrounding Taman Sari are reminiscent of a fortress. If you pay close attention, you may notice the bastions, or places to set weapons, atop the walls that remain. The eastern and western gates are also equipped with guard posts. The various sections of Taman Sari are interconnected by underground tunnels, which provided protection from potential enemies above. Two buildings known as Gedong Temanten were formerly used by castle guards. The name temanten comes from Javanese and is likely associated with the symmetrical shapes of the pair of buildings, akin to a bridal couple.

One of the underground tunnels at Taman Sari.

Religious Space

Sumur Gumuling, the well, was used as a religious space by the Sultan, as was Pulo Panembung. These buildings were used for religious services as well as for meditation. Their construction yielded good acoustics, so the voice of the priest could be heard well throughout the complex during services.

Recreation and Relaxation

Many of the facilities at Taman Sari tend towards relaxation and retreat. The bathing complex is the most well-preserved component of Taman Sari today, but there were a plethora of pools, ponds and gardens, as well as an artificial lake. The lake once extended from Situs Pulo Kenanga to Pulo Gedong, which explains why many of the buildings bear the Javanese word pulo, meaning “island.”

Buildings and Spaces

Taman Sari was originally divided into four areas: the artifical lake, Segaran, in the west; the bathing complex, Umbul Binangun, in the center; Pasarean Ledok Sari and Garjitawait Pool, private spaces for the Sultan and his wife located in the south; and and eastern extension which stretched to Magangan in the southeast and contained a smaller lake. Many of the buildings in these areas have been lost today. Only the central bathing complex remains well-preserved. Overall, the Taman Sari complex consists of approximately 59 buildings and 18 water gardens.

Segaran Lake (“artificial sea”)

The Segaran Lake was entirely man-made and surrounded man-made, artificial islands. Buildings were connected by an underwater tunnel, which was the starting point for the Sultan and his guests to reach Taman Sari by boat. Today, the lake bed is filled with residential settlements. However, the underwater tunnels are still in existence and can be accessed by several points throughout the Taman Sari complex.

Gedong Gapura Hageng

The ornate top of the western gate of Taman Sari, Gedong Gapura Hageng.

This is the western gate of Taman Sari which connects the first octagonal courtyard with the second octagonal courtyard and the bathing complex. When Taman Sari was in use, this gate was the main entrance to the Sultan’s garden. The eastern facade of this ornate gate is visible today, but the western facade faces out toward the Kambang Taman settlement and is largely blocked from view.

Pasiraman Umbul Binangun

This is the bathing complex of Taman Sari and the most well-preserved space remaining today. Umbul Binangun consists of three pools: Umbul Muncar, Kolam Kuras, and Umbul Bingungan. There are also two buildings here, one at either end of the complex. The bathing area here is divided into three parts, each with access allotted to a specific social group. These areas are Umbul Kawitan, pool for the Sultan’s daughters; Umbul Pauncar, pool for the Sultan’s concubines; and Umbul Panguras, pool for the Sultan. Only the Sultan and females were allowed into the bathing complex during its time of use.

This area was never the focal point of the Taman Sari complex, but as it is the best preserved section, it has become the most popular site in the complex for tourism. There are two access gates, and eastern and a western side, which lead to the central bathing pools. The pools are enclosed by a tall wall, encircled by large potted plants, and dotted by decorative springs. There is central tower still well-preserved here; this central tower was a private chamber for the Sultan to observe his daughters and concubines in the bathing pools. It also including both changing and resting rooms for the Sultan.

Views from the bathing complex at Taman Sari, the most well-preserved and popular area for tourists today.

Pasarean Ledoksari

This building was formerly a designated place for the “private pleasure” of the Sultan and his wife. The building is designed as a simple country house with a stuccoed roof and is set apart from other buildings in the Taman Sari complex. Access to Pasarean Ledoksari is via two doorways: one from Gedong Blawong on the south side and one from Gedong Madaran on the west side. Pasarean Ledoksari is actually a composed of three clusters of remote buildings, not just the one country house. However this site is completely gone today.

Gerbang Sumer Gumuling

Gerbang Sumer Gumuling the the only remaining entrance point to Sumur Gumuling. It was once one of two gates, situated to the west of Pulo Kenanga. However, since the western gate is in ruins today, Gerbang Sumer Gumuling has become the main entrance gate. This gate leads to the remains of the underwater tunnels, which are the only way to access Sumur Gumuling beyond.

The architecture within Sumur Gumuling, including the famous stairs.

Sumur Gumuling

While sumur actually translates to “well,” this building was used as a mosque or religious service site by the Sultan. This building is a two-storied circular structure which contains a small mihrab, or niche, guiding worshippers in the direction of Mecca. Today, this site is used by many visitors as an prime location for Instagram photos, as the central area of the building is a platform where four staircases meet and combine to form a single, fifth staircase. You can even pay extra to have private wedding photos taken on these unique steps. Unless you plan your visit very early in the morning, don’t expect to have the steps all to yourself for the perfect solo shot. Make sure you keep your admission ticket from the bathing complex with you before venturing to this site – you’ll need it to enter Sumur Gumuling, as there is an employee posted at the entrance to check the validity.

Pulo Kenanga

The remains of the building at Pulo Kenanga.

Pulo Kenanga is the highest building in the Taman Sari complex, although today is stands largely in ruins. Once an artificial island, the original purpose of Pulo Kenanga was as a resting places and arts exhibition hall. The arts performed here included traditional Javanese dance and batik crafts. The top of the building was once an ideal location for a panoramic view of the Taman Sari complex and surrounding Palace and city. Today, the entire roof of the building is gone and the side yards are filled with crumbling brick and rubble. This creates an almost ancient, ethereal atmosphere, especially if you plan your visit on a particularly overcast day. Due to its elevation, Pulo Kenanga still makes for an excellent location to view the surrounding city. The name Kenanga was taken from the cananga trees which once flourished in the yards surrounding the building. Today, the trees are gone, but their flowers are known for their deep fragrance.

Some of the modern-day conditions of ruins at Pulo Kenanga.

Getting Around Taman Sari

Finding your way around the Taman Sari complex can be a bit confusing. If you’re interested in a guided tour, plenty of multilingual guides are available on-site at no additional cost and will take you from space to space while providing you with a detailed history of the complex.

If you’re more of a solo traveler like me, you can follow the crowd to get from building to building. There are no signs directing you from the bathing complex to Sumur Gumuling, or from Sumur Gumuling to Pulo Kenanga, and you’ll feel like you’re walking through residential back alleys and yards as your find your way around. If there are batik shops and small food and drink vendors on your route, you’re probably heading in the correct direction. If you do find yourself hopelessly lost, many of the sites are available as points on Google Maps. If you choose to navigate using technology, you’ll just find yourself taking a roundabout route on actual roads rather than meandering through the narrow streets of Kambung Taman, as Google cannot understand the pathways through the settlement.

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