The Garden of Java – Central Java is rich in culture and history, a legacy which it acquired from a Hindu and Buddhist past, strongly overlaid with younger Islamic elements. The first Islamic kingdom of Java was born in Central Java, and it was from this region that the faith eventually spread to other parts of the island.
The Demak kingdom was established by Raden Patah in 1611, in the wake of the decline of the Hindu Javanese states.
One of the province’s greatest Islamic edifices is the Grand Mosque of Demak, which is said to have been built in a single night by one of the nine “Wali” -the early leaders and proselytizers of Islam in Java. Symbolic of the early spirit in which the new faith was introduced, the mosque displays in its architecture a curious mixture of Islamic and Hindu influences.
The great influence of Hinduism and Buddhism, particularly between the 8th and the 10th centuries A.D., can today be seen in Central Java, among other things in its magnificent temples. The Borobudur Buddhist shrine near Magelang, for example, has to this day not found its equal in Java in term of size, grandeur, and finesse of detail. The Stark elegance of the Dieng temples is still impressive.
The imprints of history are everywhere. In Semarang, one can still admire the quaint charm of 17th-century European buildings in several corners of the city. In Kudus, near Demak, the presence of what is believed to be an old Hindu temple tower on the grounds of venerated mosque illustrates better than any text the spirit in which the shift from one religion to the other must have taken place.
Surakarta, or Solo for short, is the province’s center of Javanese culture. The courts of Solo illustrate the great value which the Javanese attach to the elements of grace and refinement. Today, the courts are no longer the seats of the power which they once were. Still, they are still regarded by the people as the bearers of the values which the Javanese have treasured for so many generations.
Central Java has places of interest in abundance. Cool mountain resort span the length of the province, from Baturaden, Gua Lawa (Bat’s Cave) and Jatijajar Cave in the western regencies, to Wonosobo and the Dieng Plateau in the center and Tawangmangu near Solo in the east.
For those who like the beaches and the sea, there is, for example, the Cilacap, coast with its “buried fortress” and Nusa Kambangan isthmus. For a more adventurous trip, ferries can take you to the Karimunjawa islands in the Java Sea, about 135 kilometers north of Jepara. The simplest Javanese houses have bamboo frames, posts of coconut or teak wood, and roofs of dried palm-leaf or earthenware tiles.
The houses of those who can afford them, however, are much more elaborate and can take many shapes, such as Limasan (pyramidal), Nnjerum, Joglo, Daregepak, Serotong, Klabang Nyander, Tajuk, Sutuk Ngambang, and Sinom. The first type mentioned is the most often seen. The Joglo is among the grandest.
Mostly, farmers, many Central Javanese villagers derive their income from other kinds of manual labor, such as making coconut oil, Tempe fermented soybean cakes, red bricks, batik, and mats.