Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Soul of Solo: A City Revitalized

Solo, officially known as Surakarta, shares the legacy of Java’s last surviving empire, the Mataram Sultanate, with its neighbor Yogyakarta. Each has their own palace, or kraton, and a line of royals who are revered by their subjects to this day.

Unlike in Yogyakarta, Solo’s sultan, or sunan, no longer holds formal political power. But the influence of the monarchy is still felt through the city’s widespread respect for the traditions of Java’s past.

That deeply-ingrained respect does not, however, stop the city from looking forward as well.

The mayor of Solo, Joko Widodo, has been widely praised for his progressive policies. He has rebranded the city with the slogan “The Spirit of Java,” and is said to have been implementing many positive changes on the ground to make it a better city for residents and tourists alike.

Having heard so much about Solo’s recent transformation, I decided it was time for me to make another trip there to see the changes for myself.

I started my day with a stroll down Jalan Slamet Riyadi, the city’s main business thoroughfare. There, I was surprised to see flocks of people traveling by bicycle or on foot, taking advantage of the city’s car-free day, implemented every Sunday from sunrise until 9 a.m.

The wide main road was shaded by large banyan trees. Street vendors were selling traditional goods like jamu, traditional herbal tonics, and serabi, a type of sweet coconut pancake.

As the car-free period came to an end and the usual traffic began to spill onto the main street, I noticed passengers lining up at the appointed shelters for the Batik Solo Trans — a modern transportation system, modeled on the TransJakarta busway, that was introduced to the city in December.

Further down the main strip, I saw a sign pointing down one of the side alleys that read: Kampung Batik Kauman. Curious to see where it led, I slipped into the quiet alley and was surprised to see the immaculate condition of the neighborhood. The road was paved and clean. The houses, in a mix of Javanese, Dutch and art deco styles, were neatly maintained. The diverse architecture reflected the history of the small neighborhood, which was established by the royal family to relocate residents after the city’s biggest mosque, Mesjid Gedhe Surakarta, was built in 1757.

Read the full article by Wahyuni Kamah

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