Saturday, February 06, 2016

Water Castle - a Perfumed Garden No More

Still within the Kraton palace grounds about 2km south, we visited what is known as the Water Castle - Taman Sari. The driver explained that through that white decorative gate was a bathing complex. At one time, it was just a small part of the 59-building palace complex, complete with 18 water gardens, pavilions, mosques, and was surrounded by an artificial lake. Following a devastating earthquake in 1867 as well as destruction by the invading British in 1812, Taman Sari was abandoned by the sultanate. Since then, the complex has become overrun with squatters who settled and constructed buildings on the dry lake bed. 
A naga greeted us at the gate

 The floral designs and peacock-like birds brought me back to India, particularly the Taj Mahal in Agra. How splendid this place must have looked at one time, harkening back to the meaning of its name - garden of beautiful flowers.
Once through the gate however, I was saddened to see the state of this partially restored section. The pool, once used by concubines of the sultan, was blackened and dingy. Oh how I wanted to drain the water, scrub the bottom and repaint/tile it. The buildings walls were equally dingy. In 2004, Taman Sari was placed on the World Monuments Watch endangerment list. Another devastating earthquake two years after that further damaged the site and has increased the urgency for preservation of this culturally and historically significant site. Despite the series of natural & man-made disasters that have befallen the complex, it is considered one of the best examples of 18th century Javanese architecture and landscape design. While it is quite doubtful that the complex could ever be restored to its former glory, the WMF would love to see more funding to make some attempts at preservation.
With the guidance of the people I was with, we went past some squatter's homes and found the underground tunnel that led to the Sumur Gumuling, an water mosque. Reminding me of a real-life Escher staircase Relativity artwork, four staircases met on an elevated platform in the middle of the building. On the ground level was a pool (now drained) that once served for ritual ablution.

Although I found it a bit difficult to fathom the grandiosity the Taman Sari complex must have once possessed, even the encroachment buildings had their own flavor. Had I more time, I would have liked to wander through the alleys, catching a glimpse of life on what once was a garden of beautiful flowers.

The Taman Sari, along with the Sultan's Palace, was listed as a tentative UNESCO World Heritage site. Although I've seen some UNESCO sites that also feel neglected, perhaps a full acceptance onto the esteemed list would provide some needed funding and awareness.

No comments: