Once the hub of an empire, today the Kraton Surakarta, established in 1745, is a faded symbol of a bygone era. It’s worth a visit, but much of the kraton was destroyed by fire in 1985. Many of the inner buildings were rebuilt, but today the allure of this once-majestic palace has somewhat vanished and its structures are left bare and unloved – though restorations will hopefully improve things. The main sight for visitors is the Sasono Sewoko museum.
When the sultan, Pakubuwono II, moved from Kartosuro to Solo in 1745, the procession took a day to accomplish and included the removal of everything belonging to the king. Not surprisingly this included the sacred Nyai Setomo cannon (the twin of Si Jagur in old Jakarta), which now sits in the northern palace pavilion. More surprisingly, the removal process also included his trees! The royal banyan remain magnificently in place to this day.
Museum exhibits include an array of silver and bronze Hindu-Javanese figures, weapons, antiques and other royal heirlooms. There is also a fine collection of horse carriages.
A carved doorway leads to an inner courtyard, but most of the kraton is off-limits, as it still functions as the residence of the susuhunan (sultan). The upper storey of the Panggung Songgo Buwono, a 1782 tower that has endured the years intact, is said to be the susuhunan's meditation sanctum, where the sultan communes with Nyai Loro Kidul (the Queen of the South Seas).
English-speaking guides are available at the ticket counter for those wanting more lengthy descriptions of the palace – useful as labelling is limited. Dance practices are held in the grounds on Sundays at 1pm. Renovations at the kraton continue in the hope of restoring its full former splendour.
The picturesque walled streets surrounding the palace make a peaceful place to wander and absorb the local atmosphere. Neighbours seem to vie for the most colourful facade, or the most melodious songbird, and colourful flags and pennants festoon the narrow alleyways around Independence Day (August).