Center of Culture
Solo was first chosen by King Pakubuwana II as the site for his new court. Aligned along a North-South axis and flanked on the East and West by the majestic Merapi and Lawu mountains, the site was said to have been chosen following divine portents. This mystical ambience is still present in the city today. Visitors can contemplate the mountains from afar as the sun rises over the peaks bringing life to the city; or take hikes into the lush countryside.
Gold Dance Crown – 1920’s Solo
Solo is often regarded as the cultural heart of Java, known for its aristocratic refinement and artistic accomplishment. There are two existing palaces – the Kasunanan Palace and the Mangkunegaran Palace, both with fascinating histories spanning hundreds of years into Java’s past. These palaces have both played an important role in the historical development of the Javanese arts. The Solonese traditional dance, gamelan music and wayang puppetry are renown for their subtle elegance and mystical power; and have become an integral part of Indonesia’s artistic identity.
Solo is also one of Indonesia’s centers of traditional Batik textile production. Batik is a sophisticated dying process during which natural patterns of birds, flowers and animals interwoven among cultural symbols of life and spirit are painstakingly painted onto cloth with wax. The traditional hand-made process has been replaced by machine printing in many cities, although in Solo the traditional method remains popular.
Wayang Shadow Puppet Play
Living in Solo can be a life-changing experience. Visitors from abroad can immerse themselves in the delights of Javanese culture – whether it be studying traditional Javanese dance; learning the refinements of Javanese language; listening to the exotic sounds of the gamelan music; experiencing the rejuvenating qualities of a traditional spa; or simply sampling the unique local cuisine. Solo has a charming atmosphere, its people are friendly and refined, and culture runs deep through every part of life in Solo.
Batik Wax Painting Process
Solo is also a place of opposites, merging traditional culture with modern lifestyles; in some places vibrant, in others calming and tranquil. Recently, Solo has undergone considerable growth and visitors can now experience the best of both worlds, with access to all the perks of modern life while experiencing an ancient culture. One of the most charming features of the city is its laid-back atmosphere. And one of the favorite past times of Solonese people is to simply take the time to relax and enjoy life. Surrounded by such a rich culture and variety of sensory pleasures, it is easy to sit back and enjoy the sights and sounds of Solo.
Royal Ceremonial Cloth – 1920 Yogyakarta
Located just one hour from Solo is the mystical Mount Lawu, with its enigmatic ancient temples and breathtaking views. Mountain worship is an important aspect of traditional Javanese mythology and pilgrims continue to climb Mount Lawu on certain auspicious days, to partake in the mountain’s powerful relationship with its people and gain mystical knowledge and insight. At night, visitors can enjoy equatorial views of the milky-way away from the lights of the city, as it sweeps across the night sky.
Gedung Songo Temple – Central Java
Visitors can also take day trips to the North Coast to visit Semarang, which has a fascinating mix of cultures and a strong traditional Chinese influence. A fascinating place to visit is the famous Sam Po Kong temple, established on the spot where the legendary Chinese admiral Zheng He (also known as San Bao or Sinbad in the west) stepped ashore and meditated in a cave in 1406 during one of his legendary voyages around the world. From here, travelers can journey to the Dieng Plateau, said to be the mystical abode of the gods in past times, located within the crater of an ancient volcano. Alternatively, visitors can take a trip to Yogyakarta to buy handicrafts or silverwork, stopping off ancient Hindu-Buddhist temples on the way. More adventurous travelers can take a thrilling day-trip to hike up the still-active Merapi volcano, or simply take leisurely strolls through lush paddy fields and contemplate Java’s famous tropical sunrises, which cover the land with a golden hue in the morning.
Studying the Arts
Traditionally, the Javanese arts formed an integral part of palace rituals. Some of the dances are said to be sacred and are only performed within the palace walls. The bedoyo and srimpi dances symbolize the courtship of the founder of the Mataram dynasty (Panembahan Senopati), with the goddess of the south sea; and are performed as a magically powerful ritual, legitimizing the kings right to rule. Nevertheless, many of the dances and music are now open to the public and foreign students from around the world visit Solo to study dance, wayang puppetry and gamelan music at the ISI college. This is an unforgettable experience, learning directly from some of Indonesia’s most eminent artists who teach at the college.
Traditional Solonese Dance Costume
Cost of Living
The cost of living in Solo is far lower than in other cities in Indonesia. Solonese people are crazy about good cheap street food and when evening comes, people often cluster around the many popular food stalls. There is a plethora of transportation modes available from Becak (pedicabs), to mini-buses, taxis and trains. Alternatively, visitors can rent or buy motorcycles, which are very easy to re-sell.
Becak Pedicab Transportation
Sampling different kinds of cuisine is a favorite pastime of Solonese people. An amazing array of delicacies are available such as tahu kupat, made from fried tofu, pressed rice pieces, noodles and roasted nuts. Served with Sumatran kopi and a late morning snack of fresh jackfruit, this makes an excellent breakfast. Nasi liwet, Solonese style coconut rice served with green papaya and chicken, is another favorite. Or simply sample a plate of rice with eggplant and tofu stewed in red curry, served with soybean tempeh on the side; or lamb kebab served with lontong rice cakes. A favorite eating place is the lesehan food stalls, where customers can enjoy their meals by the side of the road, as they watch the play of life in Solo. A variety of desserts are also available, such as srabi (Solo pancakes with rice-custard) or kueh putu (milled rice steamed with Javanese sugar and coconut in a bamboo tube). Tropical mango, papaya and banana fruit juices or mixed herbal concoctions are said to boost stamina and virility.
Traditional Spa Massage
To calm the spirit and awaken the senses, visitors can pamper themselves with traditional spa therapies. In the past few years, a number of spas have surfaced to cater to the growing number of spa enthusiasts. Professional techniques using essential oils of Ginger, Vetiver and Ylang Ylang are used to relax the mind and body and stimulate the blood flow. Royal Java with Rosemary, Cloves and Shenanth warm the body, washing away tensions, while Green Tea oil rejuvenates the spirit. A massage with warm stones will relax and purify the body. Baths laced with flower petals or cocoa, rice powder and green tea will leave the skin supple and fresh. Alternatively, experience the reinvigorating traditional massages of experienced Javanese masseurs. Spa treatments are highly affordable in Solo, only a fraction of the cost of treatments Bali and other parts of the archipelago.