Taman Sari: Forgotten Splendor In Yogyakarta’s Water Castle

Taman Sari: Forgotten Splendor In Yogyakarta’s Water Castle

A short background…

Taman Sari, or the Water Castle (English), or Water Kasteel (Dutch), was built for the first Sultan of Yogyakarta in 1765. You could say it was a pool complex and it served as a “private pleasure garden” (yeah, it sounds kind of pervy, but you know, different times) and the sultan had a personal tower built overlooking the bathing area from which he could observe the ladies bathing, swimming, and whatnot. The complex is quite large actually and spans a few hectares and in its prime it must have been quite a sight I think.

After visiting the Kraton in Yogyakarta, and playing the explorer, I took the lead to try to find Taman Sari, the former royal water gardens of the Sultan. This turned out to be a bit harder than expected.

I kind of underestimated how easy it would be to find Taman Sari on my own and without a map. The streets running from the Kraton towards Taman Sari have a distinct lack of signage towards the site and most locals were very vague in their directions. However, eventually, and drowned in sweat, we stumbled upon a large ruined structure thinking it was the complex of Taman Sari.

That day I was not sure if the ruined building was part of the Taman Sari complex or not. However, after looking up some information later, it turned out that this building that is named Gedhong Kenongo, was constructed on an artificial island in a large man-made lake. Nowadays, the lake has dried up and people have made it their residence, so there are not many traces of the lake or island to be found anymore.

We went around the broken place and were then guided by a helpful local to the underground parts of Taman Sari, the Sumur Gumuling. A place dedicated to muslim rituals. Escher-like staircases, sharp shadows, and dark rooms and tunnels were what we encountered. I do admit, the place was really cool interesting looking, but it was very hard to find on our own. It looked like something that could be used in a Game of Thrones location. We arrived just in time as well, as this underground section closes early during the day.

After exploring the underground Sumur Gumuling area, we set off to find the parts of Taman Sari that are above ground. This again turned out to be a difficult task as the complex is in the middle of a dense kampong, an Indonesian village. We got hopelessly lost and almost gave up when out of nowhere a friendly woman appeared, who then proceeded to guide us to the entrance. We got lucky that time.

Our arrival at the main pools of Taman Sari, which are called Umbul Pasiraman, was met with a little disappointment. The pools were not as clear and blue as I had hoped and seen online before; instead they were green with algae, smelly and dirty, and there was trash floating in the waters. Not exactly a water garden fit for a king. Seeing Taman Sari in this state, I think there are significant health risks if you go into the water there as well. So, be careful. The Gedhong Gapura Hageng and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the Gedhong Gapura Panggung gates were quite awesome to see though. Great design and decorations on these large gates. I thought the design of the place and the buildings looked great though and with some more maintenance this could be a stunning location.

  • The entrance fee was something like IDR 5,000.
  • Entrance from the kampung side seems to be free.
  • The local guides expect a tip if you use them.

All in all, I’m glad to have seen it. The place has a lot of character, but I should have adjusted my expectations. I created this image in my head evocative of the Dorne water gardens described by George R.R. Martin in his A Song of Ice and Fire series, but was met with disappointment. Again, with some maintenance of the pools and buildings Taman Sari could be amazing. Right now it is just a waste that it is not I think, because there are not many places likes this around in Asia.

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