Introducing Solo (Surakarta)
Arguably the epicentre of Javanese identity and tradition, Solo is one of the least Westernised cities in the island. An eternal rival to Yogyakarta, this conservative city often plays second fiddle to its more conspicuous neighbour. But with backstreet kampung and elegant kraton, traditional markets and gleaming malls, Solo has more than enough to warrant at least an overnight visit. And as there are some fascinating temples close by, it also makes a great base for forays into the lush hills of Central Java.
In many ways, Solo is also Java writ small, incorporating its vices and virtues and embodying much of its heritage. On the downside, the island’s notoriously fickle temper tends to flare in Solo first – the city has been the backdrop for some of the worst riots in Java’s recent history. On the upside, the city’s long and distinguished past as a seat of the great Mataram empire means that it competes with Yogyakarta as the hub of Javanese culture.
Solo attracts many students and scholars to its academies of music and dance. The city is an excellent place to see traditional performing arts, and traditional crafts – especially batik – are also well represented.