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Historical City Centre of Yogyakarta

Date of Submission: 14/03/2017
Criteria: (i)(ii)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of the Republic of Indonesia
State, Province or Region:
Province of Special Region of Yogyakarta
Coordinates: 49S 9140218,535709 – 9133731,202953
Ref.: 6206

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


The historical city of Yogyakarta is a traditional Javanese city founded in 1756 by Pangeran Mangkubumi or the first Sultan Hamengkubuwana as the centre of the Sultanate of Ngayogyakarta Hadiningrat (henceforth: Kasultanan Yogyakarta). Distinct from other Javanese city, the city centre was designed based on specific Javanese cosmology and philosophy as manifested in its location and plan. The location of Yogyakarta city was deliberately chosen to precisely reflect microcosmos, whereas the plan of the city centre was drawn up based on the Javanese philosophy regarding the nature of human destiny. Accordingly, every component of the historical city centre of Yogyakarta has its own philosophical meaning.

The city centre of Yogyakarta is located in a flat land at the slope of Merapi Volcano. In the broader landscape, it is situated in between the Merapi Volcano and the South Sea or Indian Ocean which are considered as two significant elements in Javanese cosmology. To the east and the west, it is also flanked by three rivers each. There are Kali Code, Kali Gadjahwong, and Opak River in the east side, and in the west side there are Kali Winongo, Kali Bedog, and Progo River. In Hindu-Javanese cosmology, such a landscape has been perceived as a reflection of the Universe which consists of the Mahameru Mountain in the centre surrounded by rings of intersperse sea and land. It was the reason for Sultan Hamengkubuwono I to choose this flat land as the suitable place to build his palace and the city of Yogyakarta.

In such a landscape setting, the historical city centre of Yogyakarta was regarded as the microcosmos where human should live to abide their destiny. The city was accordingly planned to reflect human destiny as conceptualized in Javanese philosophy. In this context, human destiny is explained in three basic concepts. Firstly, every human being should know the origin and ultimate destination of human life (sangkan paraning dumadi) and follow that human life cycle. Secondly, during their life, human have to maintain the harmonious relations to the God – other Human – Nature (manunggaling kawula Gusti). And, lastly the duty of all human beings is to make the world beautiful and peaceful (hamemayu hayuning bawono). All these ideas are embodied in the plan of the historical city centre of Yogyakarta.

Originally the historical city centre of Yogyakarta encompassed the area of around 1500 hectares situated between Kali Code and Kali Winongo with the palace or Kraton of the Sultanate of Yogyakarta as the centre. The north and south borders were marked respectively by Tugu Pal Putih about 2 km north from the Kraton and Panggung Krapyak about 1,5 km to the south. A south–north direction street connects those three main components of the historical city. This linear street respresents a philosophical axis along which all the meaningful components of Yogyakarta city are placed to symbolize the entire human life cycle (sangkan paraning dumadi). The truncated pyramid structure of Panggung Krapyak embodied female element (yoni or womb) where the earliest form of life is conceived. Here the human life cycle begins and then follows the course from Panggung Krapyak to Kraton which depicts the human life sequence from conception to adulthood (sangkan = origins). Meanwhile the life sequence from adulthood to the death and return to God (the Creator) is signified by the course from Tugu Pal Putih to Kraton. Tugu Pal Putih or white sign column was originally design as a white silindric column with a spheric shape top. This column symbolizes male element as well as the unity of the God with the King and the King with its people as a manifestation of harmonious relation of God and human (manunggaling kawulo gusti). When the Sultan meditation in Kraton, he will direct his concentration to this column.

The course from Tugu Pal Putih to Kraton is divided into three parts symbolising the way to achieve status in human life. From north to south, these parts represent the pathways to attain the excellence (margotomo), enlightened life (malioboro), and dignity (margamulyo). Along the course there are also two important city components, i.e. Kepatihan (administrative office) and Pasar Beringharjo (sultanate market). These two components signify the obstacles or temptations to accomplish an ideal life, i.e. in overly pursue of bureaucratic power or social status and material well being respectively.

The area of the historical city centre proposed to be inscribed in the World Heritage List is 1260 hectares. The boundaries of this area are Prof. Dr. Sardjito Street – Wolter Monginsidi Street to the north, east side bank of Kali Code to the east, South outer ringroad of Yogyakarta City to the south, and west side bank of Kali Winongo to the west. This main part consists of two zones: core zone (606,904 Ha) and buffer zone (657, 064 Ha). As described above, the main components of the historical city center of Yogyakarta proposed to be world heritage are the meaningful elements along the Philosophical axis. These are Tugu Pal Putih, the pathway from Tugu Pal Putih to Kraton, Kepatihan, Pasar Beringharjo, the Complex of Kraton Kesultanan Yogyakarta, the pathway from Kraton to Panggung Krapyak and Panggung Krapyak. Details of these components are described below (from south to north).


1. Panggung Krapyak

Panggung Krapyak is located about 2 km southern of Kraton Yogyakarta. It is a truncated pyramid in shape. It measures 17,6 m x 15 m at the base and 10 m in height. Its form and meaning are similar to a yoni in Hinduism which signifies female element. This truncated pyramid had been built within a royal forest and the structure was used also for hunter’s platform.

2. The pathway from Panggung Krapyak to Kraton

This pathway connects Panggung Krapyak to the southern gate of Kraton in a straight line which symbolizes the very beginning of life (before the birth). Adjacent to the Panggung Krapyak, to the north, there is still a toponym called “mijen” meaning “be the seed of the life”. Along this pathway, there are tamarind (asem) and sapodilla (sawo kecik) trees. These trees denote a condition of “being fascinated” or “bewitching” and “everything is fine” or “goodness” respectively. Tamarind tree is the symbol of “bewitching” and sapodilla tree as the symbol of “goodness”.

3. The Complex of Kraton

The complex of Kraton (palace) is the central part of a Javanese traditional city. The Sultan resides in this complex which is surrounded by a city wall (baluwarti). As a whole Kraton complex is facing to the north. Within this complex there are important components with its significant meaning, i.e the Square (alun-alun), Great mosque (masjid gedhe), the Sultan residence and other complement elements such as water castle (taman sari). Alun-alun is an open area in front of (north) and behind (south) Kraton or Palace. It is marked by banyan trees as the symbol of protection. North alun-alun measures 300 m x 300 m. In this square, Sultan undertakes public ceremonies and meets his people. The Great mosque (masjid gedhe) is the place where Sultan together with his people meets the God. Hence the square and mosque signify the concept of a harmonious relationship of God – people – nature and also manunggaling kawula gusti (unity of God and Human as well as King and his people).

Some buildings and structures inside the Kraton have special meanings related to human life-cycle. Those are arranged along the philosophical axis from south to north as follows:

  • Kamandhungan (kandungan = womb) which signifies the condition being in inside the mother’s womb
  • Pangongan, a slightly narrow passage as the symbol of birth.
  • Gadhung melati, a gate which means passing the childhood
  • Kamagangan, a place the youth begin to study and work in internship
  • As they become a mature person, they will face the real life which is symbolised by entering the Kedhaton (residential parts of the Palace)

Other important components of the Kraton complex are:

  • Gedung Prabayeksa, where the eternal flame is kept to symbolize everlasting life.
  • Gedung Jene (yellow building) as the residence of Sultan
  • Bangsal Manguntur Tangkil as the place of Sultan to meditate
  • Pagilaran as the place where the functionaries or Sultanate officials always standby. This place is also functioned as the waiting room for people who want to see Sultan.

 4. The pathway from Tugu to Kraton

This pathway is a straight street which connects Tugu to Kraton. It consists of three segments with each has its special meaning. The first segment is about one third length from north (Tugu Pal Putih) and called as margatama (the pathway of excellence), the second is maliabara (strong willing to enlighten) and the third is margamulya (the pathway to dignity). When the Sultan is meditating in Mangunturtangkil room within the Kraton, he will focus his mind to the column as the axis from Kraton to Tugu is perceived as the symbol of the direction to Mecca. Meanwhile, the reversed direction from north to south (Tugu to Kraton) signifies the returning journey to God (death).

This pathway ends in the gate called Pangurakan, just north of the square (alun-alun). This gate represents the end of human life in the world and the soul will enter the palace (which is believed to be the heaven itself) to reunite with the God.

5. Kepatihan

Kepatihan is a building complex which is located in the present day Jalan Malioboro (maliabara). This complex was built as the house of Patih (prime minister) who was in charge to manage government administration and carry out Sultan’s mandate. Up to now Kepatihan is still used as the center of Yogyakarta Special Region provincial administration. There are a number of authentic Javanese architectures in this complex, though some new buildings have been constructed due to development needs. The existence of this complex along the philosophical axis symbolizes a temptation. It means that one should not be bound to one’s social or bureaucratic status in order to re-unite with the God in the Afterlife.

6. Pasar Beringharjo

Pasar Beringharjo is located to the north-east of the Kraton Yogyakarta. Market place is an essential part of traditional Javanese town-scape and Kasultanan. It is a symbol of the Sultan’s duty to bring prosperity to his people. Pasar Bering-harjo was originally an open space market. In the course of history, it has changed several times and now it becomes a massive building with two floors and few modern facilities due to the need of the people. However, its function and location is still the same until today. Even so one can still feel the nuance of a Javanese traditional market. This market also represents the material world that should be left behind when one wishes to attain the unity with God.

7. Tugu Pal Putih

Tugu Pal Putih is a masonry column or pillar of 15 metres tall with square base. It has a square crosssection and tapering body. On the top of it, there is a pointed spiral, just like a horn of a unicorn. This monument is located about 2,5 km northern of Kraton, as the orientation point when Sri Sultan does meditation in his palace.

The existing column was built by the Dutch in 1889 to replace the original one which had been collapsed due to a dreadful earthquake in 1867. The original was a cylindrical column with a spheric form on the top. The total height was about 25 m. It was called Tugu Golong Gilig for its form (Golong = spheric, Gilig = cylindric). This original column signifies a male element (lingam) as well as the unity of Sultan with his people and the unity of human with the God (manunggaling kawula gusti).

The above explanation demonstrates that all the main components of the Historical City Centre of Yogyakarta signify the human life cycle. This historic urban landscape is an associative cultural landscape reflecting the Javanese philosophy of the human life process, from the very beginning of life to the reunification of the soul with the God (sangkan paraning dumadi). The female and male elements (represented by yoni Panggung Krapyak and lingam Tugu Pal Putih respectively) meet to generate life which is represented by the Kraton (as central part of the city). The pathway from Panggung Krapyak to Kraton (south to north) reflects the conception of life whereas the pathway from Tugu Pal Putih to Kraton (north to south) manifests the passage to the death and reunification with the God. Hence, the Kraton itself is perceived as the beginning and the end of human life. The philosophy behind the city plan of Yogyakarta is indeed a blend of local Javanese thought, Hinduism, and Islam.

Yogyakarta is a historic city which is still inhabited. Hence, it has naturally grown under the influences of other cultures as well as the need for development. The city has been influenced especially by Western and Chinese cultures which added new elements to the city. This is evident in the existence of western-style buildings such as Fort Vredeburg, Dutch Resident House (now: Presidential Palace or Gedung Agung), churches, shops, and hotels along the philosophical axis. While the Chinese influence has created Chinese shops and houses mainly along the Malioboro Street and in nearby kampongs such as Ketandan, Gandekan and Gondomanan. The need for development has also changed the historic city centre of Yogyakarta, particularly when the city has grown to become education centre and tourism destination in Indonesia. During the struggle for Indonesian independent, this city was turned into temporary capital city of Indonesia (1946 – 1950). However, the original plan of the city centre designed by Hamengkubuwana I and its philosophical axis are remained to be easily recognised. What is more, efforts to reinstate the historic urban landscape have been undertaken by the government.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The historic city centre of Yogyakarta was built as a representation of microcosmos based on the Javanese cosmology and philosophy. This was manifested in its specific location in the wider landscape as well as the plan of the city centre. The city is situated between Merapi Volcano and the South Sea and flanked by three rivers each to the east and west. Such a landscape is perceived as the replica of the Universe and indeed an ideal place to establish the Kraton (Palace) as the centre of the Sultanate of Yogyakarta which is also considered as the centre of the world. The plan of the historical city centre of Yogyakarta was designed by the Hamengkubuwana I to signify the human life cycle, from the very beginning of human life to the reunification of the soul with the God. This universal value has been embodied in the main components of the city centre along the so-called philosophical axis of Yogyakarta. In addition, some particular components of the city centre also represent the other basic concepts of human nature, i.e. to maintain harmonious relations between God – Human – Nature through manunggaling kawulo gusti (unity of God with Human as well as the King with his people) and to create a peaceful and beautiful world.

The Javanese philosophy implemented in the plan of the historical city centre of Yogyakarta is indeed a blend of local wisdom, Hinduism, and Islam as a result of intensive cultural interaction of different civilizations in Java. Certainly, those are of significant universal values. Considering that understanding, the historical city centre of Yogyakarta is justified to conform to the criteria I, ii, and vi of the Outstanding Universal Value.

Criterion (i): The Historic City Centre of Yogyakarta represents a masterpiece of human creative-genius reflecting in the planning of the city centre which manifests human life cycle, from the very beginning of life conception to the reunification of the soul with the God.

Criterion (ii): Yogyakarta town-planning was designed on the basis of Javanese philosophy which is a product of a long cultural interaction between indigenous culture, and other civilizations, especially Hinduism and Islam.

Criterion (vi): The main components of the historic city centre of Yogyakarta tangibly materialized the Javanese cosmology and traditional belief concerning the nature of human life: (a) to know the origin and ultimate destination of human life (sangkan paraning dumadi), (b) to maintain harmonious relations between God – Human – Nature (manunggaling kawula gusti), and (c) to make the world beauftiful and peaceful (Hamemayu hayuning bawana). This traditional belief is still persistence until today and performed through various ceremonies and rituals.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The integrity of the historical city centre of Yogyakarta is evident in its original spatial structure. All the significant components of the city which have philosophical values are still exist in their places and their functions almost unchanged. The philosophical axis of the city centre as the setting of those components are also maintained, so the original plan of the city centre is still easily recognized. Entirely the existing condition of the historical city centre shows the integrity as an associative cultural landscape that manifests the Outstanding Universal Value. As the guardian of Javanese culture, the Kraton (sultanate) continues their active role in preserving the integrity of the kraton (palace) and its surrounding area by implementations of traditional rules and by conducting ritual and ceremonies. The proposed area of the Yogyakarta city centre to be inscribed as World heritage incorporates all the significant components to ensure the protection and preservation of the properties.

On the other hand, the rapid development of Yogyakarta city casts foreseen threats to the integrity of the historical city centre, especially due to economic and tourism pressures. Efforts to control the impacts of the development upon the integrity of the historical city centre have been seriously undertaken by the government.

Although it has been evolving and developing since more than two and half centuries, the historic city centre of Yogyakarta maintains its original spatial structure which signifies the Javanese philosophical thought on the nature of human life. All the siginifcant components remain in their original places and retain their functions and meanings. As an associative cultural landscape, the proposed area to be inscribed as World Heritage is still in a high degree of authenticity.

However, along with the need to reduce disaster impact and to adapt to development and modernization, changes in forms as well as replacement of the fabric have occured in some of the components. The original tugu golong gilig was replaced by new masonry column as it was struck by a heavy earthquake in 1867. The royal forest surrounding Panggung Krapyak disappeared and replaced by human settlements. For a long period, new properties and facilities have been built and redeveloped with newly introduced fabrics and construction technique.

In spite of those changes, the original plan of the city centre and its meaningful components are still authentically represents the philosophical background of the plan. Such a condition has been also supported by the persistent Javanese traditional cultural values as shown in the rituals and ceremonies.

Comparison with other similar properties

To some extent the historical city centre of Yogyakarta may be comparable to the city of Ayuthayya in Thailand inscribed on World Heritage List in 1991 (C 576). The location of the city was delibartely chosen in an island surrounded by three rivers. Established in 1350, the plan of the city has been systematically laid out into grids consisting of roads, canals, and moats around the significant components of the city. This pattern was based on the effort to imitate the perfection of Ayudhaya city in the Ramayana epic. Ayuthayya city is also evidence of assimilation process of several outside cultural influences, including Japan, China, India, Persia, and even Europe.

The differences between the historical city centre of Yogyakarta and Ayuthaya are (a) that the location of the city center of Yogyakarta was chosen based on the Javanese cosmology to represent the replica of the Universe (microcosmos), (b) the plan of the city centre was designed by the first Sultan of Yogyakarta to signify the nature of human life, and (c) the philosophical concept underlying the city is the product of a long assimilation process of local wisdom, Hinduism, and Islam. Apparently, the historical city centre of Yogyakarta is the only historic urban landscape that materialise the philosophical thought on the nature of human life in the world.