Day 25 – 10th Oct 2011 Borobudur & Prambanan Temples

Waking to a 04:00 alarm call is never easy no matter where you are in the world, but when it is in order to see two fine UNESCO world heritage sites its slightly easier – well it is for the grown-ups! Prizing the little ones out of bed and retrieving the packed breakfast that the hotel had made for us we jumped in the Car with driver that we had booked for the day and headed out to Borobudur ( a Mahayana Buddhist monument in Central Java. We drove for an hour or so passing on the way the last vestiges of the devastation caused by the recent eruption of Mount Marapi in Nov 2010. Finally, we arrived just before 6am which is when the temple opens and before most of the market vendors and tacky tourist tat floggers are out and about.


As we walked into the grounds we caught our first glimpse of this magnificent temple…

We read on the approach to the temple that the visitors of old would circle the temple 3 times starting from the east entrance and going clockwise as a mark of respect and reverence for the monument, and so we honoured the tradition – even though the boys found it rather tiresome! It did give us the opportunity to appreciate the structure, each circuit showing new details in the stonework.

The temple is constructed on hill, each level carved into the earth and then the stones laid upon the cut ground, each one balanced upon the other. Statues of Buddha feature in the alcoves on every tier – most of them without heads thanks to souvenir hunters – and huge reliefs depicting stories.

As we circled up and up we passed carvings of intricate design, but which showed signs of the neglect this monument suffered until its rediscovery in the early 20th Century. Dutch engineers (on the orders of Raffles) assessed the site and a plan was drawn up to recover the temple from the ravages of time, cutting down hundreds of trees and undergrowth to uncover the temple and then painstakingly dismantling each level and adding in drainage in order to protect the stones and the carvings. And even then, the water continued to cascade down the tiers in the rainy season requiring more work – some still in the process of being completed.

With modern tools and machinery the recovery of this site would have been difficult, but this was carried out without the benefit of those, and the result and achievement of those engineers is truly magnificent and awe inspiring at the same time. The recent eruption also took its toll as the temple was covered in volcanic ash requiring yet more recovery and protection from local conservationists and UNESCO. Indeed whilst we were there, part of the west side was cordoned off for repairs and we witnessed a chain of people bucketing away ash and spoil from the tiers.

As we approached the top the carvings gave way to the Stupa, bell-like structures which form the last 3 tiers of the temple topped off by the main stupa which was found empty, although the whole discovery and examination of the main stupa and lack of record is all very mysterious.

This was a truly amazing temple in its day before Islam took over from Buddhism, and thanks to some philanthropic English and Dutch men, and a good deal of help from UNESCO later on, we had the privilege to experience it in all its splendour.

Bidding farewell to this monument we worked our way back to the driver via a museum or two which showed cross-sections of the temple and its construction, as well as historical artefacts and a photo-homage to the gentlemen that made it all possible for the modern traveller, and indeed Buddhist, to visit the wondrous temple.


We headed back from whence we came to cross Jogja to Prambanan, a 9th Century Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. ( The temple is the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia and another UNESCO World Heritage site. Again it had fallen into neglect and had also been subject to massive damage in a 16th century earthquake until one of Sir Thomas Raffles’ engineers happened upon it in 1811 and he then commissioned a report on the temple.

It was not until the 1930 that proper restoration of the site began, however serious looting had occurred in the 100 years in between rediscovery and reconstruction and a lot of the foundation stones had been used in local construction, and the statues taken to use a garden ornaments! Nevertheless the reconstruction was undertaken and the main Shiva temple completed in 1953.

Since then, the other main temples have been worked on, each one opening on completion, but the small outer ones have been left as ruins due to the looting. In 2006 Prambanan was hit by another earthquake which cause structural damage and emergency action by UNESCO, and then the volcanic eruption in 2010 added to the difficulties of restoring this fabulous temple. Below is a picture of the site shortly after rediscovery and how it looks now.

Arriving in the fierce late morning heat we alighted at a pleasant ticket office where we were offered free coffee and water (a nice change) before heading out into the heat once more to take in the wonders of our second temple of the day. The first picture shows our first glimpse of the temple with myself and Oskar for scale, and the second is a model of how the site would have originally looked.

What a marvellous spectacle it must have been in its heyday. Nowadays the impression is still very strong, the intricate carvings and detail, the precise placing of stone upon stone a testament to the skill of the architects and builders of the temple, but more than this, a credit to UNESCO and the people of Indonesia that continue even now to repair and reconstruct this magnificent temple. A sample of photos for your delight, I am sure Tania will post more in her blog!

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Prambanan. Borobudur is famed as the most visited attraction in Indonesia and is indeed a wonderful spectacle to behold. Prambanan was equally impressive as a spiritual place and an example of 9th Century architecture, but I think what impressed me more was the sheer scale of the restoration work undertaken at both sites, and perhaps more here at Prambanan, and that back in the 1800s European people should care enough about the cultural history of a (conquered) nation to drag these beautiful temples back from their ruination and reinstate them to a semblance of their former magnificence.

Again on our way out we were gracefully allowed (by the children) to visit the museum on the strict understanding that afterwards we went back to the hotel to swim in the pool. I can entirely sympathise with them, having been dragged round more than one dusty remnant of ancient civilisation or stuffy stately home by my well-meaning parents. That I actually did learn something as a result is a testament to their philosophy – some of it was enjoyable too (just in case Mum and Dad read this!)

Joining our driver once more we shortly arrived back at the hotel where we paid him for his days work and swiftly headed to the pool, as promised. Dinner was at Via Via once more, partaking of their specials of the day which went down well. Early to bed, we dreamed of temples and statues. Tomorrow would be packing and then late afternoon we would be off to Jakarta by plane to meet up with Ilka, wife of Feraldi, a colleague and friend of mine from UNIDO days in Vienna. She had kindly offered to put us up for the duration of our stay, and with some luck, show us the finer points of Jakarta.

  1. #1 by sonja pillet on October 17, 2011 - 2:41 pm

    merci pour tous les infos et photos, gros bisous

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