No trip to Yogyakarta would be complete without a visit to the Sultan's palace, the Kraton Kesultanan Yogyakarta. This cultural symbol of Yogyakarta, which teems with history, serves as both the residence of the Sultan and his family and the central offices of the city's government. It's also a museum of the national struggle, as Yogyakarta was the capital of the Republic of Indonesia during the war for independence.
The Kraton of Yogyakarta was built by Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono I in 1756 in the Hutan Beringan area. The Kraton extends from Tugu on the north to Krapyak on the south, and is bounded by two rivers, the Code on the east and the Winongo on the west. It lies halfway between two centers of spiritual power: Mount Merapi to the north, and the South Sea. Ten kings and their families have resided in the Kraton, from Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono I to the current sultan, Hamengku Buwono X. Since Indonesia's independence, the Sultans of Yogyakarta have also served as Governors of the Special Yogyakarta District province.
The Tugu building, two kilometers from the main Kraton, was badly damaged by an earthquake in 1867. It was restored by Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono VII in 1889, but with the design altered to its present form. The Tugu is connected in a straight line with Bangsal Manguntur Tangkil (the Sultan's throne room); when the Sultan sits on his throne and gazes toward Tugu, he will always be reminded of his people.
The Kraton of Yogyakarta faces north onto a broad plaza called Alun-Alun Lor. In the past, the Alun-Alun was used as a public gathering place, for military training of the Kraton troops, and for traditional ceremonies. Nowadays it is used mostly for the annual Garebeg and Sekaten rituals.
Near Alun-Alun Lor are 19 Joglo-style buildings called Pekapalan, which in the past served as accommodation for out-of-town Bupati (Regents) visiting the Kraton for official business or state ceremonies. To the west of Alun-Alun Lor is Masjid Agung, the Grand Mosque, built by Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono I in 1773.
The Kraton has an area of 14,000 square meters and is surrounded by a wall (benteng) four meters high and three and a half meters thick. To connect the area within the wall with the outside, there are five gates, called Plengkung: Plengkung Nirbaya (Gading) on the south, Plengkung Jagabaya (Tamansari) on the west, Plengkung Jagasura (Ngasem) on the northwest, Plengkung Tarunasura (Wijilan) on the northeast, and PlengkungMadyasura on the east. In the time of Sri Sultan HamengkuBuwono II, when Yogyakarta was at war with the British, Plengkung Madyasura was demolished to prevent the enemy troops from entering. Of the five Plengkung, only two are still intact: Plengkung Nirbaya (Gading) and Plengkung Tarunasura (Wijilan).
Inside the Kraton you will also find the carriage museum, Museum Kareta Kraton Yogyakarta, within the Kestalan complex around 50 meters to the west of Pagelaran Kraton. This building was formerly the carriage house, and was surrounded by the royal stables, or Istal. During the time of Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono IX, the stables were converted into housing for the royal servants, or abdi dalem, and the carriage house is now the Carriage Museum.
Museum Kareta was inaugurated in 1985, when there were only 18 royal carriages on display. The collection has now grown to 22, and all can still be used, drawn by specially selected horses. One of the royal carriages, Kanjeng Nyai Jimat, is considered sacred and is ritually bathed once a year; this carriage, originally used by Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono I, is the oldest in the museum's collection. The carriage was made in the Netherlands between 1750 and 1761 and was a gift from Governor General Jacob Mossel.
The history of Yogyakarta's Kraton lies not only in its physical structures or its royal residents, but also in the royal servants (abdi dalem) and soldiers. Without expecting anything in return, they loyally and voluntarily dedicate their lives to preserving the existence of the Kraton. The role and function of the temple guards has, of course, changed. When Yogyakarta was an independent kingdom, they were an actual military force. Now that Yogyakarta is part of the Republic of Indonesia, they serve mostly as ceremonial guards for annual traditional rituals – Garebeg Syawal, Garebeg Besar and Garebeg Mulud (Sekaten) – and other important events at the Kraton.
The Kraton of Yogyakarta has ten troops of soldiers, each comprising between 40 and 60 men. Each troop is led by a Panji, who, with two assistants (Panji I or Panji Prentah, and Panji II or Deputy to Panji I), keeps the troops orderly and issues orders. The Panji is advised by a Kapten; above them is a Pandega and above him, the Manggalayudha, the highest commander of the royal troops, who is directly responsible to the Pengageng Tepas Keprajuritan Karaton Ngayogyakarta Hadiningrat.