Cosmopolitan Capital of Central Java
The city of Semarang, capital of the province of Central Java, sits precisely in the center of the northern seaboard of the fertile and densely populated island of Java.
In the 15th century the Chinese emperor’s emissary Zheng He , otherwise known here as Admiral Cheng Ho, set foot here on Java , its auspicious occasion commemorated in the temple of Gedung Batu. From the 17th century onwards, Semarang became a busy entrepot for spices and from the 20th century on a busy harbor for trade and passengers when travel was made predominantly by sea. This strategic position of Semarang has made the city a melting pot of Chinese, Indian Arab, and European cultures. Today the city of Semarang is home to around 1.5 million residents.
Java’s northern seaboard, known as pesisir, has always been a busy route. The Grand Postal highway – or de Grote Postweg - built by Dutch Governor General Daendels in the 19th century, until today continues to be a very important road connecting the west with the eastern part of Java. Trains between Jakarta and Surabaya also make Semarang their major central stop.
West of Semarang are the batik centers of Pekalongan and Cirebon (now in West Java) while to its east are the towns of Demak, Kudus, Jepara and Rembang, cradle in the growth and spread of Islam on Java. While to its south, in its hinterland, lie the temple regions of Borobudur, Prambanan and the Dieng Plateau, as well as the royal cities of Yogyakarta and Solo. This scencry south of Semarang is beautifully green and fertile, highlighted by many volcanoes and lush paddy fields. Many international cruise liners today make Semarang their port of call to allow passengers to visit these important ancient world heritage sites.
While to the north of Semarang are the still pristine islands of Karimun Jawa, a haven for divers.
The name “Semarang”, is believed derived from its founder , Raden Made Pandan Arang, who built the city at a delta called Pergota or Pragota, that was dotted with tamarind trees, locally known as “Asam Arang”. The city of Semarang was declared a region on May 2nd, 1547 with Kyai Ageng Pandan Arang II, the son of Raden Made Pandan, as its regent. Politically as well as culturally, the anniversary of Semarang eventually falls on this date.
Wander around the Chinese quarters and the Dutch commercial district, and you will see the influences of different cultures everywhere. In the older part of the city near the harbor named Kota Lama, or the Oudstadt, stroll around and explore the historic old buildings in what was once the European commercial district. The most renowned landmark to see here is the Koepelkerk, a Phanteon style church, locally known as Geraja Bleduk, a copper domed Dutch church dating from 1753.
Don’t forget to visit Gedung Batu where stands the old Chinese temple and the recently erected statue of Admiral Cheng Ho.
Semarang is accessible by air and land. Its strategic location does not make it so difficult to get there. Many domestic airlines fly to Semarang from Jakarta and Surabaya.
From Jakarta, Bandung, Surabaya, and Malang, trains are available as well as buses and rented cars. Going to Yogyakarta and Solo, buses are available.
The train station in Semarang is called Stasiun Tawang. It is located right at the northern side of the Kota Lama. Bus station is in Terboyo, which serve inter-city buses.
Cruises depart or visit Semarang from the port of Tanjung Emas. Taking a cruise is a great way to take in the attractions of Central Java at a relaxed pace. International cruise liners also stop in Semarang, using it as a base to visit various attractions in the region including Borobudur and Prambanan.
Semarang’s main shopping district is Jalan Pemuda, a wide tree lined boulevard once considered to be the most preferred shopping strip in Java. Toko Oen is right in front of Sriratu Shopping Mall. The cookies, cakes, coffee, ice cream, and breads are freshly made from the kitchen and the taste remains the same such as it was prepared decades ago with heritage recipes.
There is also Simpang Lima shopping district, where a mall named Ciputra stands attractively. Around it, food sellers and souvenir sellers fight for space to sell their products.
Close to Metro Hotel at the edge of Kota Lama, people sell interesting products and souvenirs in a larger size like the miniature trucks, clay pots, and also toys.
If you go much further inland to the south, you may visit the Ambarawa Railway Museum. Although recently renovated, the souvenir shop is an interesting place to buy a small locomotive miniature as a memento. Several kilometers from there, a huge marsh called Rawa Pening Park, is a center of water hyacinth producer and souvenirs made of it. Small packages of fried anchovy and shrimps are sold in the front parking lot of the park.
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