18 January 2008

The Construction of Taman Sari (1)

There are conflicting opinions regarding who built Taman Sari and why. Records only exist in forms of old manuscripts, scriptures, or tell-tales. From all the documentation, we’ve summed up two different versions below.

Demang Tegis: A myth?

A strange man suddenly appeared in Mancingan Village (somewhere in southern shore of Jogjakarta). With long nose and white complexion, he looked unlike any of the locals. He even spoke in a language that noone understood. The surprised villagers suspected that the person was some kind of spirit or forest fairy.

They then presented him to the current Sultan, Hamengku Buwono II. Apparently the Sultan found an interest in the strange person and took the strange man as his servant.

Some years had elapsed and the man had finally learned to talk in Javanese. According to him, he was a Portuguese (or in Javanese, Portegis) who was stranded from a shipwreck. He also claimed to have been a housebuilder, back in his homeland.

Sultan then ordered him to erect a fortress. Satisfied by the man’s work, HB II gave him the title “demang.” From then on that person was known as Demang Portegis or Demang Tegis. This Demang Tegis, so they say, was commanded to build Taman Sari. Some people rationalize that this is why Taman Sari showed signs of European architecture (Portuguese).

The strong Javanese character in Taman Sari doesn’t reflect Portuguese architectural style

The story, however, has a few flaws. Taman Sari’s architectural design more resembles a hybrid style of Javanese and Dutch, rather than Portuguese.

P.J. Veth, in Java – Book III, page 631 also wrote, “Local research says that [Taman Sari’s design] was architected by either a Spanish or Portuguese engineer, who was stranded off his sunken ship at the southern beach. However, [the architecture] that strongly shows Javanese character contradicts this.”

If Demang Tegis wasn’t the architect of Taman Sari, who then?

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