The city of Semarang (capital of the province of Central Java) is located 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 scenery 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 Karimunjawa, 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.
Kota Lama or literally meaning ‘Old City’ has several other names, such as Oudstadt, and also ‘Little Netherlands’. This part of the city resembles the architecture of Holland. It has collections of old buildings that once were the residences and offices of officials in the Dutch East India Company, also known as the VOC.
Most renowned landmark in Kota Lama is the koepelkerk, or also known as the Emmanuel Church. Locally known as Gereja Bleduk, it is a Protestant church with a beautiful Pantheon style façade. Stroll around some more and you will be amazed by the whole complex. The postal office with its orange color wall stands in front of a busy street where becaks, or trishaws, pass by. The old deserted buildings are still there to survive the changing times. The mayor of Semarang is now planning to preservethe district.
The old city is also located very close to the Chinese settlements, the pecinan. Go there to see several Chinese temples with its busy daily life around them. Take a stroll in the city’s colorful Chinese district called Semawis and see the hustle and bustle of daily life in this community. As you make your way through the maze of streets and alleyways, sample some of the delicious Chinese cuisine on offer. Semarang with its Semawis and other centers of cuisine is a place for food hunters.
Visit an old cake shop and restaurant called Toko Oen not far from the Kota Lama on Pemuda Street. It lies in the busy area where Semarang’s mall, Sriratu, is located. Toko Oen is still maintained as it was in 1936 when it first opened. Not only is the building preserved, but its interior as well as the food are maintained in the old Dutch colonial style that make this small shop well worth a visit. Cruise ship passengers returning from a Borobudur tour usually stop by the shop for a quick dinner.
While you are here, take the opportunity to visit historical attractions such as the tomb of Ki Ageng Pandanaran, the other name for Kyai Pandan Arang II. This tomb marks the grave of the first official ruler of Semarang and many pilgrims flock here each year.
Bundaran Tugu Muda, or formerly known as the Wilhelminaplein, is a monument and pond built in tribute to the heroic actions of Semarang freedom fighters against the Japanese during the 5 day battle of 1945. Built in 1953, this monument reflects the history of the town and of Indonesia, with reliefs depicting the difficult period under the Japanese occupation as displayed at the foot of the monument.
Across the monument, a building built in 1904 and completed in 1907, stands gallantly. Recently renovated and conserved as one of the heritage buildings in Semarang, the Lawang Sewu, or ‘thousand doors’, is the name given by the locals. Formerly named the Nederlands-Indische Spoorweg Maatschappij (NIS), the building is an office for Indonesian railways. A 30-minute tour is a historical experience when accompanied by a knowledgeable tour guide.
The Gedung Batu temple is a sacred site for both Java’s Muslim and Chinese descendents. This collection of ancient shrines was built by Admiral Cheng Ho, or also known as Zeng He, an envoy of the Ming Emperor at the beginning of the 15th century. Thousands of pilgrims visit here each year, particularly for ceremonies and religious celebrations.
South of Semarang, In the town of Ambarawa, today German engineers come to study how old locomotive could work very smoothly. The local mechanics turn out to have mastered the art of maintaining old locomotives. The Ambarawa Railway Museum is located in the old train station of Ambarawa, a small city not far from Semarang. It has a large and interesting collection of locomotives dating back to 1891. Visitors have the opportunity to go back in time with a ride on an old steam engine from Ambarawa to Bedono.
There are also a number of attractions located close to Semarang.
The Losari Coffee Plantation is situated in the highlands of Central Java and has cool and pleasant weather all year round. This is the perfect place to relax and absorb the clean crisp mountain air with a tea or freshly brewed cup of hot coffee while taking in the breathtaking panoramic view.
The magnificent Prambanan temple was built in the 9th century and is considered to be one of the greatest Hindu temples ever built. It also goes by the name Loro Joggrang which is the name of a princess from a local Javanese legend. This temple was rediscovered in 1772 and after much restoration work, it has been restored to its former glory.
Borobudur temple, built in the 8th century, is the world’s largest Buddhist temple and one of the greatest monuments on earth. It is an architectural marvel, still used for Buddhist rituals and ceremonies today.
Surround yourself in the beauty of Indonesia’s incredible marine environment with a visit to the islands of Karimunjawa and Karimunjawa National Park, located only three and a half hours by fast boat from Semarang. Here you will find white sand and clear water where you can explore beautiful coral reefs and ancient shipwrecks.
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.
In Semarang, taxi is everywhere. Small buses are visible going by the city streets. They go to different parts of the city. You might want to ask the locals before taking one of those city buses.
Becak or rickshaw (trishaw) is a pleasant choice to feel the breeze in Semarang while you enjoy the city scenes. When visiting Kota Lama, take one of those becaks, and enjoy the relaxing ride.
Source: Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, Republic Indonesia