Taman Sari shows foreign
architectural touches

Asip A. Hasani, The Jakarta Post, Yogyakarta

When the construction of the palace of Yogyakarta's Mataram kingdom was underway in 1755, the sultan's people found a Portuguese man whose ship was washed ashore on the beach south of Yogyakarta. It turned out the man was an architect.

It did not take long for Yogyakarta Sultanate founder Prince Mangkubumi, who was later crowned Sultan Hamengku Buwono I, to order the Portuguese man to help in the construction of some of the buildings in the palace compound, including the palace's castle and the sultan's pleasure palace, Taman Sari.

For his service, the sultan granted the Portuguese man a noble title, Demang. He was then called Demang Tegis, with the word ""Tegis"" referring to his country of origin.

The story of Demang Tegis is found in an old manuscript in Yogyakarta Palace, Serat Rerenggan, which also reveals that the construction of Taman Sari was led by Temenggung Mangundipuro, with help from several regents. The construction of Taman Sari was completed in 1765, or seven years after the construction began in 1758.

Did Demang Tegis really exist? If yes, is it true that he was one of the designers of Taman Sari?

Archeologists have found little hard evidence that could reveal the truth about Demang Tegis. Yet, many believe that some buildings in the Yogyakarta Palace complex, including Taman Sari, were influenced by Portuguese architecture.

""The layout of the Taman Sari compound suggests the characteristics of Mediterranean architectural style, which is geometrical in some ways and symmetrical in other ways,"" Laretna Adisakti, an architect from Gadjah Mada University, said.

The 10-hectare Taman Sari was where the sultans of the Yogyakarta Palace spent their leisure time after discussing state affairs with palace officials. Much of the sultans' private lives took place here, and many symbols of their power can be found in this palace.

A few meters from Taman Sari's eastern gate are three pools where the sultans, princes and princesses, and probably the sultans' mistresses, took baths and swam. One of the three pools, which is separated from the other two, was for the sultans' children, while the other two were for the sultans and their wives.

In between the pools are rooms which are believed to have been where the sultans meditated when they wanted to meet with Nyi Roro Kidul, who the Javanese believe is the goddess who controls the Indian Ocean.

A unique circle-shaped mosque to the north of the pools confirms the syncretism of Javanese culture in which many beliefs and traditions, including Islam, are mixed.

Four separate buildings to the east of the pools were where the Javanese gamelan orchestras played. Traditional musicians would play the gamelan as the sultans, after bathing, relaxed.

According to Laretna, some of the buildings in the Taman Sari compound were also influenced by ancient Chinese architecture.

""The Portuguese influence has more to do with the layout of the Taman Sari complex and also with the construction technology, like the raw materials used in erecting building walls,"" she said.

Demang Tegis may not have existed, she said, and the influence of Portuguese architecture on the Taman Sari complex occurred simply because the Portuguese style was then at the peak of its popularity.

The truth about Demang Tegis remains a mystery, yet the architecture of Taman Sari moved a number of Portuguese experts on architecture and cultural heritage to examine the Taman Sari complex last year.

""With financial aid from the Portuguese Gulpenkian Foundation, Portuguese and Indonesian architects, in cooperation with the Yogyakarta office in charge of the preservation of historical and archaeological remains, is preparing to renovate certain areas of the Taman Sari complex,"" Laretna, who will take part in the project, said.

A total renovation of the Taman Sari complex is impossible as most of the complex has been taken over by the houses of local residents.

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