Kota Gede Tour – Charming Old Town Of Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Kotagede Street Art , Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Kota Gede Street Art

Kota Gede or Kotagede is for heritage hunters like me. It is for people, who like me like to get lost in narrow lanes of the past. It is for people who love heritage that exists in a common man’s house and its surroundings. If you like walking around the old town in the oldest living quarters of a city, come along. Let me take you for a walk through the heritage area and the traditional market.

Where is Kota Gede? Well, it is a suburb of Yogyakarta in Central Java, Indonesia. It is about 5 KMs from Yogyakarta. You can take a taxi, bus or horse carriage to reach the place from Yogyakarta.

What is Kota Gede?

Traditional Houses
Traditional Houses

Kota Gede literally means the big city or a great city. It is the oldest living neighborhood of Yogyakarta. It was once the capital of Mataram Kings way back in late 16th CE. I, however, see it more as a place where wealthy merchants lived. They built houses with thick walls to take care of their abundant wealth.

Today, it is home to silversmiths. Go there to do your silver shopping or just to see how finely carved silverware is made.

What to do in Kota Gede, Yogyakarta

Narrow decorated streets of Kota Gede, jogja
Narrow decorated streets

Narrow lanes reminded me of Pols of Ahmedabad. These lanes also fit into each other like a jigsaw puzzle connecting small sub-neighborhoods. There are small gated communities of few houses with their very interesting security arrangements. The exteriors of the houses have intricately carved wooden panels or brackets in both places.

You can find Hindu, Muslim & Christian houses here. I loved the way our guide showed us how to identify the houses. All houses have wood carvings on their doors and windows. A Hindu house has a lotus carved, Muslim house has calligraphy and Christian ones have a crown carved. Sometimes you have to make an effort to decipher, but more often than not, you would find those symbols.

Visit Pasar Gede on Pasar Legi

Pasar Gede meaning the great market is the traditional market square of Kota Gede. Pasar Legi means the market day. It is best explored on the Pasar Legi, which is regular but not every day.

Women handle most stalls at Pasar Gede
Women handle most stalls at Pasar Gede

Any small town or maybe even bigger ones revolve around a market. A traditional market sits at the heart of the town as well. We took a walk around this market that does not seem very different from our own markets. But each market must have something that makes it distinct.

So, this is what I found at Pasar Gede market. Like most local markets in Asia, this is also primarily run by women. Most stalls have a woman behind them.

Coconut grating Machine, kotagede
Coconut grating Machine

A coconut grating machine – how our South Indian women would love it.

Neatly piled coconut shells
Neatly piled coconut shells

At another place, I saw these coconut shells neatly arranged. Now, you know that Indonesians eat a lot of coconuts.

Fish packets at Pasar Gede Market, Jogja
Fish packets at Pasar Gede Market, Jogja

The fish market was quite like the fish market in Goa, but what was different was these neatly packed ready to pick packaging of the fish. Some of the fish seems marinated but as a vegetarian can’t say much about it.

A basketful of Tofu, Kota Gede Yogyakarta
A basketful of Tofu

Tofu is what I get to eat all the time in South East Asia, but this is the first time I saw how it is sold in the local markets. In a pile in the bamboo baskets.

Walking around Jagalan Heritage area

This is the heritage area. Lined by Kalang Houses – a combination of the traditional wooden Javanese houses with brick Dutch architecture.

Beautifully Carved doors at KotaGede, Yogyakarta
Beautifully Carved doors

Old city walls can still be seen at Jagalan Heritage area.

Located close to Merapi Volcano, most areas in Java are prone to volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. You can see the impact of earthquakes on houses here. Some empty houses will tell the story who decided to move after such mishaps.

Charming wooden doors - Kotagede
Charming wooden doors

Walking around we saw many beautiful carved doors.

Traditional Community Alarm System
Traditional Community Alarm System

An interesting part was Alun-Alun village where there are 10 or so interconnected houses and they are located between two gates. Lately, this lane has come to be known as “Between Two Gates”. There was a huge wooden horn like a bell and a stick hanging outside a house. I conveniently thought this was a doorbell. And yes, I was wrong for people in this kind of communities hardly need a doorbell. This is a security stick – if someone senses a danger, to inform the community of the same. In simple words, it helped to keep the thieves away. Simple & Creative – I must say.

Colorful wooden partition and window
Colorful wooden partition and window

It is difficult to put in words how it feels to walk in those narrow lanes. It is like sleepwalking in another era.

Street Art

Wall mural depicting women at work
Wall mural depicting women at work

I believe street art is a recent phenomenon. It is like the current day trend around the world.

Street Art
Street Art

Just a glimpse of the street art in this area.

Ndondongan Area

Wall of the Royal Tombs, Kota Gede
Wall of the Royal Tombs

This is the only area where you see a well-preserved heritage building – the royal tombs & a mosque. It is a brick structure with connected compounds.

Men in traditional Dress at Local festival at Kota Gede
Men in traditional Dress at a Local festival

The day we were here, there was a local festival going on. We saw artists sitting & painting. Children with painted faces danced around as the sponsors Air Asia distributed hand fans to everyone.

A dancer in her elaborate costume
A dancer in her elaborate costume

It was a pleasure to be a part of the local celebration.

Art, Craft, Food

Kota Gede Silver Jewellery

I could not meet a silversmith but I received this lovely silver brooch. Does it not remind you of filigree work from Odisha.

Well, Java and Odisha had trade links on ancient times. We would never know which one of them developed this skill & which one of them adopted it. Or could it have been a joint effort?

Batik – DIY

Batik Workshop at Kota Gede
A Batik Workshop

Batik printing using the traditional wax method can be found across South East Asia. Here you can try your hands at Batik, as we did.

Painting with the wax
Painting with the wax

Trace the design on a piece of cloth with was, and then dip it in the color before putting it in the hot water to remove the wax.

Jamu Tasting

Jamu is nothing but drinks made from various herbs and fruits. I tried the one with lime, honey & ginger – it was refreshing, especially after all the walking we did.

As an Indian, we are familiar with most of the tastes, but some of the combinations were new. The lady explained the advantages of each of the drinks – like this cleans your skin, this cleans your stomach, this is good for digestion, etc.

How to reach Kota Gede?

Street Signs at Kota Gede
Street Signs
  • You can always take a taxi or bus.
  • However, I suggest you take a ride on Becak – it is a twisted version of our very own cycle rickshaw.
  • Or, try riding an Andong – a horse-drawn carriage – a quirky mix of our desi tonga & and a Victorian carriage. The colorful carriages are picture perfect & would make you feel you are traveling back in time.
  • If you want to stay with modern transportation, you can still have the quirkiness of Jogja, try the glittering Tuk Tuks or Auto Rickshaws. Remember, they look their best after sunset.

I loved walking around and would recommend it to anyone.

Recommend you read the following travel blog on places to visit in wonderful Indonesia.

Visiting Wonderful Indonesia – First Impressions

Borobudur Temple – Heritage Jewel of Indonesia

Arborek – Glimpse of heaven called Raja Ampat

Storytelling ruins of Prambanan temple, Java


    • Durga, there are many such old quarters in India. I have written about a lot of them from Delhi & Hyderabad. Yes, tourism ministry can do something about promoting it, but so can we, by visiting them & by sharing pictures of them so that others go.


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