Approximately five kilometres from Yogyakarta Sultanate Palace, lies the ancient capital of Mataram called Kotagede or the Great City. Its first Sultan, Panembahan Senopati established this what previously a forest called Alas Mentaok in the late 16th century. Followed by the changing of the Sultans and the political situation after during the first half of the 17th century, the capital of Mataram were moved several times after only to return to a location near Kotagede.
Located right on the east bank of Gajah Wong river, this town laid witness to the dawn of Mataram Sultanate. People could still easily find the remnants of the old Kingdom by visiting and exploring this heritage district. Not to be missed on your itinerary of Kotagede are Makam Hasta Kitha Ageng (Mataram Royal Cemetery), Masjid Agung Kotagede (Great Mosque of Kotagede), Pasar Gede Bird Market or Pasar Legi and Batu Gilang ancient outer city wall site.
One of the most historical events during the Mataram era was when the colonial government decided to divide the sultanate into two separate kingdoms, Yogyakarta and Surakarta Sultanates with signage of Gayanti Treaty in 1755. Kotagede was briefly part of Surakarta Sultanate before handed to Yogyakarta in 1952.
By the end of the 19th century, this city was transformed into a centre of silver workshops and production in Yogyakarta. This transformation mainly was spurred by the growing demand of oriental silverware on the European market. Kotagede's early silver products distinctively featured stories from the Ramayana inspired by Prambanan Temple. This silver boom gave rise to Kalang Conglomerates. They then built opulent mansions in a mix of Dutch and Malay style, only few of these mansions survived and can still be found on Jalan Tegalgendu. Kotagede’s early silver work, however, suffered a different fate. Most of them did not survive nor kept in Yogyakarta, but fortunately they could still be admired at Tropen museum in Amsterdam where around 62,000 Kotagede silverware are kept.
The best way to enjoy Kotagede is by foot. During its market day in Javanese calendar which falls on Legi, you could start the journey from the famous bird market from 7AM, watch the bird sellers and locals flock into the festivities. From there, then explore around the area of the market for silversmiths and shops before going south to the Royal Cemetery. With a small donation of IDR 20,000 you could enter the inner sanctum of the cemetery in which 81 Sultans were buried dressed in Javanese royal court wardrobe. Right across from the cemetery, Kampung Alun-alun was built on what used to be the royal courtyard. Other interesting artefacts are the Watu Gilang site and the ancient walls of the old city, believed to be the very spot where the royal palace used to stand. Do not miss the Gajah Wong River. An afternoon stroll along this river, especially during sunset, would give you a glimpse of Kotagede locals’ favourite pastime, freshwater fishing. But it does not stop there. If you walk north towards Lapangan Karang, you would be greeted by numerous dan delicious street food ranging from beef satay to fried catfish for dinner.
Tips: Kotagede is famous for its unique architecture and history, you might find traditional Javanese architecture, colonial houses, and Kalang mansions spread across this ancient neighbourhood, many have been restored after the Merapi earthquake in 2012. One of the best preserved houses is Omah UGM owned by Gajah Mada University in Kampung Jagalan, west of Pasar Legi.