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Surakarta’s founding in 1745 has a mystical history. Following the sacking of the Mataram court at Kartosuro in 1742, the susuhunan, Pakubuwono II, decided to look for a more auspicious site. According to legend, ‘voices’ told the king to go to the village because ‘it is the place decreed by Allah and it will become a great and prosperous city’.

Pakubuwono II died after only fours years in the city, and his heir, Pakubuwono III, managed to lose half of his kingdom to the court of Yogyakarta. Pakubuwono X (1893–1938), however, had more luck. He revived the prestige of the court through the promotion of culture and gave no time to fighting rival royals.

Following WWII, the royal court fumbled opportunities to play a positive role in the revolution, and lost out badly to Yog­yakarta, which became the seat of the independence government. The palaces of the city soon became mere symbols of ancient Javanese feudalism and aristocracy.

With the overthrow of Soeharto, Solo erupted following the riots in Jakarta in May 1998. For two days rioters went on a rampage, systematically looting and burning every shopping centre and department store.

Brows still furrow whenever you mention Surakarta (Solo) elsewhere in Java, but the golden arches and Colonel Sanders are back on the billboards and fancy new shopping malls are gradually rising from the ashes of the old. Solo, with its links to extremist groups such as Jemaah Islamiah, remains a politically volcanic city, however, and no-one can predict when the next eruption might take place.