Taman Sari Water Palace, Yogyakarta
“The sultans had two hobbies”, the guide is explaining. “Hunting and hunting.”
“They hunt for four-legged…”, he pauses. “And they hunt for two-legged.”
It’s to investigate this second type of hunting – the one that certainly sounds more salacious – that I’m on my way to the Royal Water Palace (Taman Sari) in Yogyakarta. It’s not far from the official royal palace, known as the Keraton.
In fact, although it was built as a holiday retreat for the Sultan, it’s only a few minutes away by car or bus these days.
The Keraton is still in use, as Yogyakarta still has a Sultan who acts automatically as the region’s governor. But the Water Palace is now a part of history. Its main use is not really appropriate in modern Indonesia.
As I arrive, I can see that it has fallen slightly into disrepair. Not in the sense that it hasn’t been looked after – more that it has not been maintained to the same level an actively-used palace would have been.
Where once water would have flowed from fountains, there is just an empty entrance to a pipe. Where once people would have sat and entertained each other, there is just a dusty floor with a scattering of unswept leaves.
In the main part of the palace, through the entrance gardens and down the steps; beyond a large wall offering privacy, is the pool.
The blue waters are still here today and – with the sun shining down into the area – they sparkle. The wind blows ripples across the surface and they softly collide into the gentle fountains poking out from the floor.
It was here the hunted would play, not unwittingly.
Young ladies – chosen for their looks, their grace, their artistic talents – would swim in the water and stretch out by its edge. It’s probably not fair to say they would relax, though. You see, they knew they were being watched.
High in the tower at one end of the pool, the hunter would play. It was here that he would sit, peering out through a barred window down to the pool. He would watch the women and, when the time was right, choose one.
This was a great honour, though. The women were not being chosen for a quick bit of fun. The sultan was looking for wives and, once a lady had been chosen, she would be taken away to be styled, tested and taught – essentially a process for officials to make sure she would be appropriate for the sultan.
This was the first step of her introduction in the royal court.
It feels a bit strange to climb up the steps of the tower today and look out through the window. To me, it seems a bit perverted and a bit creepy. But I think that’s because I’m judging it on modern standards.
I can understand, when I try, that this was appropriate and honourable behaviour for the royal leaders of this land once upon a time. And, for the women, it was something they aspired to.
The pool itself seems comfortable and the atmosphere would have been enjoyable at times.
The Water Palace certainly does seem a long way from the Keraton, even if in reality it is just a few blocks.
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN YOGYAKARTA
There are some really cool places in Yogyakarta, which is just would you would expect from one of Indonesia’s most creative cities.
If you’re looking for a backpacker option, I would recommend the cool Cubic Jogja.
A good cheap and comfortable hotel is Aloha Hotel.
For some ecofriendly accommodation, there’s the affordable Greenhost Boutique Hotel in a good location.
And when it comes to luxury, I would recommend the Sofia Boutique Residence.
Time Travel Turtle was a guest of the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.
22 thoughts on “Sultan wants a wife”
Interesting, if a bit creepy. But like you said, hard to judge a different time and place…
He he… I’m glad you agree with me that it’s a bit creepy!! 🙂
Sounds pretty much just like another day at any public pool where teenagers hang out!
Ha ha ha. Just don’t mention the ‘wife’ word to them!
Glad you enjoyed Tamansari, it’s my favourite place after Benteng Vrederburg in my home town. Even for me the history is a little bit creepy, but nonetheless it’s part of the rich heritage Jogja has.
Yeah, I really liked it there and found it really interesting. It’s so beautiful (even today, without all the daily care it would once have got). It is a little creepy, but I didn’t judge!! 🙂
It’s difficult to put yourself in other people’s shoes sometimes. The archways and courtyards remind me a little of the Moorish Alhambra in Spain.
Exactly. Who are we to judge? Especially when we can just enjoy the aesthetics for what they are.
I think it was just an early (and slightly twisted) form of window shopping. 🙂
Ha ha – who needs a catalogue in the mail when you can do it this way, right? 🙂
Such interesting history. It’s especially hard as a woman to imagine condoning this type of behavior, but as you said, it was a different time. Nonetheless, the water palace looks like yet another beautiful place you had the chance to visit.
Is it really too different to girls getting dressed up to go to a club where they’re hoping to meet a rich banker who will one day be their husband?
Sounds a lot easier than the rituals we go through these days 😉
Ha ha – I wonder if there’s an online version of the sultan’s swimming pool? (Don’t google it – you might get ideas!)
It’s good to be the Sultan.
I’m sure he had a comfortable life.
I think most ladies feel watched and judged while sitting poolside. The big advantage now is that we get a final say in the outcome 🙂
Ha ha… yeah, imagine the body image issues in society today if everyone was being watched from a tower by a sultan! 🙂
Love your photos here. They really give a sense of what it must have looked like to a Sultan.
At least a sultan on holiday looking for a wife… 🙂
I wonder if it was at all like the women of the Forbidden City in Beijing. It’s a bittersweet honour. In the Forbidden City, they were never allowed to leave and only could see their families once a year from the window. I wonder if these women were torn away from their families too? Beautiful location though.
I imagine it was quite a privilege for these women – and the families were probably happy for them to go. But, yeah, it would be bittersweet in many ways…