“Do you want to know how a sultan finds a wife?” A question I didn’t expect from an old man outside the Taman Sari Water Castle.
After more than a week in Indonesia, I wasn’t sure what else to see. Quite frankly, I didn’t know a lot of points of interest in Yogyakarta. Prior to this trip, I let my best friend do the research about the places to visit while I did the reservations for accommodation and transportation. Aside from Jomblang Cave, the only destinations that I knew of were Prambanan Temple and Borobudur Temple.
So when she mentioned that we’re heading to Kraton and Taman Sari, I didn’t think much about it. It turns out, these places will let us retrace the steps of the sultans of Yogyakarta.
The water castle is located 2 kilometers south of The Palace of Yogyakarta. To get there, most people would either ride a becak or rent a motorbike. 2 kilometers isn’t that far so we decided to just walk towards there.
Unfortunately, Taman Sari Water Castle is closed that day and there were ongoing renovations inside the grounds. Then suddenly, an old man noticed us and asked if we want to see the water castle from the other side of the building. We happily went along, curious about what we’d find on the other side.
The water castle today
The castle grounds today are now surrounded by local residents, art boutiques, and coffee shops. We went inside one of the shops in the area and found spectacular batik paintings. It’s an art and craft that has been practiced for centuries.
The old man who was with us suddenly led us to a nearby house beside the water castle. We then had to climb the towering wall beside it to get a good view of Taman Sari Water Castle.
If it’s your first time and you don’t know the castle’s history, the place will definitely not look appealing to you. Inside the castle, there are a lot of corners where you can get that perfect Instagram shot. But on the outside, it just looks like an abandoned building. It’s beauty lost in time.
What is Taman Sari Water Castle?
Taman Sari Water Castle used to be the royal garden of the Sultanate of Yogyakarta. The castle grounds was a former place meditation and rest. It also houses the private bathing pools of the sultan.
In the old days, the entire water castle complex is filled with water, but now, you can only find water inside Umbul Pasiraman which is the bathing area for the Princesses. This is where the Sultan would also ‘hunt’ for his wife.
From our point of view, the private pool of the Sultan is on the left while the pool of the princesses is on the right (the smaller one). If a Sultan would hunt for a wife, he would climb the high tower. He would sit and peer through a window down to the pool and watch all the women. When he finally has chosen, he would throw a flower to a woman below.
But that is just the start of the process of becoming one of the sultan’s wives. The chosen women will be taught and groomed as a princess. The officials would make sure that she becomes an appropriate lady of the royal court.
In modern times, this may sound inappropriate, but this is actually a normal thing back in the day. Here, young ladies are chosen for their grace, looks, and talents. To be chosen as a lady means a great honor. They know exactly they were being watched while they bathe in these pools.
As a modern woman, this process definitely sounds perverted to me, but I can understand why this is an honorable one a long time ago. To be chosen as part of the royal household would definitely be an honor in those times.
A reason to go back
It would have been nice if we got to enter the main complex. The old man told us that there is a mosque inside. There are also underground tunnels worth exploring.
It was a quick trip to these ancient grounds but definitely worth it. This place is very interesting that even Mark Zuckerberg toured these ancient grounds during his honeymoon. We could see pictures of his visit in some of the corners of the castle grounds. For sure, I have more reasons to go back to this water castle in the future.