Being the largest, oldest, most famous and most beautiful palace in Cirebon, one of main cities in Java’s Northern coast, Kasepuhan Palace is surely worth a visit. The palace is the legacy of the first Cirebon’s Islamic Sultanate.
How to get there
It takes approximately four hour train ride from Jakarta, the Capital of Indonesia, to Cirebon. Once you are in the city, you can use hired vehicle or public transportation including local pedicabs to get to the Palace. Located in the centre of the city, the palace is easily accessible.
Kasepuhan is also known as Pakungwati Palace after
Like any other ancient kingdoms in Java, the layout of the royal complex must follow a sacred traditional pattern. The Palace has to face north. In front of the Palace there has to be one large central square to house lively traditional ceremony or other public gatherings. To the west of the square, there should be a mosque or other religious buildings. To the north, there should be a jail and to the east, a marketplace. In Kasepuhan, the Palace and the Mosque still stand proudly until today, however the square looks very much abandoned and both jail and market had long been vanished.
Historically, Cirebon was one of the busiest ports in Java. It was a place where many cultures intermingled. As a meeting place of many cultures, Kasepuhan Palace has a unique mix of Pre Hindu, Hindu, Islamic, Chinese, European and Javanese architectural styles
Pre-Hindu, Hindu and Javanese influences
Entering the Palace, the first thing you see is a Hindu-styled split gate named Gapura Adi. It is similar to the gate of Balinese Hindu temples. This red brick gate leads you to Siti Hinggil area, a square surrounded by mortarless thick red brick bearing wall. Siti means land in local language and hingil means high. This area was built on a level higher than any other areas of the palace to symbolize the divinity of the member of the royal family. There are five wooden pagoda-like pavilions in the area used for royal ceremony. The structures are covered by wooden roof and have no wall. The roofs follow the style of traditional local houses.
In the area, there is also a pre-Hindu artifact called lingga-yoni. Being a symbol of fertility, this artifact‘s form resembles that of male and female genitalia. Other sign of Hindu influence is the existence of two white lion statues
The throne room
Visitors can see the throne room from a rather far distance. The Sultan’s chair is made of wood; it is simple in its design. There are nine flags behind the Sultan’s chair, each with different color that represents the nine Muslim saints in Java (one of which is Sunan Gunung Jati). Behind the flags, there is a bed where the Sultan could take a quick nap during the day.
European architectural style can be seen in doors, windows and pillars. The doors are high and have European curve supported by Doric pillars. Interestingly, the wooden constructions used on top of the pillars to support the roof are all fully carved with Javanese ornaments. The reception room, in front of the throne room, is fully furnished with European-styled furniture. Ventilation above the doors and its red flower decorations remind us of Art Nuevo style from 18th century Europe.
Javanese influence can be seen in the detail carved wood structures that support the roof, the praying room and also in various scattered location in the reception room. In addition, green color, the royal color of Javanese kingdoms dominated the throne room and reception room.
On the front gate and also in various parts of the palace, you can see many small-sized Ming Dynasty Chinese tiles and plates embedded in the brick wall. The tiles are painted. The paintings on the blue tiles show scenes of Holland and China, and on the brown ones show biblical history. Chinese influence can also be seen in the clouds ornaments carved on the bottom of some pillars.
In 1988, two buildings in the palace compound were turned into public museum. It displays impressive collections such as the iconic royal carriage called Singa Barong, sacred gamelan orchestras with its famous Gong Sekati which is played only twice a year during Javanese traditional “Sekaten” festival, keris daggers, woodcarvings, body armor and many others. The most notable collection is the extravagant royal carriage that was made in 1549. It has a shape like bird with wings on its side, a trunk like an elephant and a head like a dragon. All of these ornaments are closely related to Hindu culture.