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Heritage of the Sultans of Banten


The glory of the Sultanate of Banten is long past, yet every week thousands come on pilgrimage


Attention, attention! All participants from Pekalongan, please assemble. Repeat – all participants from Pekalongan, please assemble. We will be departing immediately for the Grand Mosque of Banten!”

A man is shouting this announcement through a loudspeaker while running place to place. Two of the five buses in the yard near the grave of Sultan Maulana Yusuf (ruled 1570-1580)have their engines fired up and are ready to go; the other three buses lined up neatly beside them are discharging their passengers. These three buses are carrying another group, from Gunungputri, near Bogor.

This busy scene is a frequent sight at the complex housing the graves of the family of the second Sultan of Banten, around 10 km north of the city of Serang. Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and on Islamic holidays, this venue is swarming with thousands of people, who come from far and wide to visit the tombs – not just from Java, but also from Sumatra, Kalimantan, and even Sulawesi.

Another place regularly visited by the pilgrims is the tomb of Pangeran (Prince) Arya Mandalika, son of Sultan Maulana Yusuf located around 1 km to the north. But the most crowded site the tomb complex of the family of Sultan Maulana Hasanuddin (ruled 1552-1570), the first king of Banten, which is within the complex of the Masjid Agung Banten Lama (Gra, Mosque of Old Banten), another 4 km to the north.

This Sultan, who built the Surosowan palace, thereby earning the appellation Kanjeng Panembahan Surosowan, was the son of Sunan Cunung Jati, one of the nine missionaries (wali songo) who disseminated Islam on Java in the 16th century CE. Hasanuddin also built the first Masjid Agung, though it has since been renovated several times. The mosque’s antiquity can only be seen from its 24 teak pillars, the pumpkin-shaped stone bases of the pillars, and the five-layered roof. The three lower levels of the roof resemble a stylized meru (mountain), while the two upper roofs resemble those of a Chinese temple or palace. This is logical, since the mosque was designed by a Chinese architect named Cek Ban Cut.

The mosque rests on a one-meter deep foundation. In the main prayer space, below the multilayered roof, is a pulpit for the khatib (who delivers the sermon), which is unusual in that it protrudes into the space where the faithful pray. In contrast, the nook for the imam (who leads the prayers) is much smaller, just a small space I like a doorway with a curving upper part.

At the front of the mosque is a veranda, and in front of that are four ponds, where the faithful used to perform their ablutions before prayers. The right wing of the mosque houses the graves of Sultan Hasanuddin’s children, while to the south is the tiyamah, a structure in Dutch style built by Hendrik Lucaszoon Cardeel in the time of Sultan Haji, the seventh sultan of Banten. The tiyamah, which has two stories and large windows, was previously used for meetings and discussions of religious issues. Now the upper part is empty, while the lower part is a museum displaying weapons of Banten’s soldiers.

But the magnet that attracts the pilgrims to Banten is the tomb complex of Sultan Hasanuddin and his family to the north of the mosque. This is in a long house, with the grave of Sultan Hasanuddin protected by a half-open door. People sit here in prayer position and recite prayers or sing songs in praise of the Prophet (saiawat). Sometimes they bring their own ulama to lead the prayers; others are assisted by the grave attendants.

Groups are constantly arriving, so each group’s p last as little as five minutes. The residents of Bant to seeing the road leading to the mosque complex congested with busloads of pilgrims on Fridays, weekends and Pilgrims even crowd the bus terminal and the alun-alun (esplanade) near the mosque, waiting for their turn to pray. “Last friday, for example, around 92 busloads of pilgrims came here,” notes Wahid a resident of Dermayon.

The second biggest attraction for the pilgrims is the 24-meter-high Menara Masjid Banten (Mosque Tower) in front of the mosque, which has become the symbol of the Province of Banten. With an octagonal Base, the tower comprises an entry door on the north, with a spiral staircase up to the top, which is in the form of a two-level dagoba. The lower level has a door on the west, while the upper level has a door on the south. From each level, visitors have a panoramic view of Banten Lama. The top of the tower is decorated with a red border design, or tumpal.

Noting the architectural style, which resembles a Dutch lighthouse with thick walls, it can be assumed that the tower was built during the time of Sultan Haji, around the same times as the tiyamah. The interior spiral stairway is only wide enough for one person – so narrow that some visitors feel suffocated when climbing up. And the walls are so thick that there’s often no cell phone signal.

Near the tower, to the northeast, is the istiwa, an octagonal sundial with a plus sign in the middle. Unfortunately, the blade that should cast the shadow is missing, but most people don’t even notice the sundial. What they do after coming down the tower is take photos, to prove they’ve done the pilgrimage to Banten.

Other Interesting Sites

Tasik Ardi
Located around 2 km northwest of Masjid Banten, This artificial lake was built in the time of Maulana Muhammad to serve as an irrigation reservoir In the middle of the lake is an island where the sultan’s family went for recreation, The Lake is now a place of family recreation for the public.

Vihara Avalokitesvara
Also Known as Klenteng Dewi Kwan Im (Temple of the Goddess of Mercy), this extensive temple complex is in excellent condition and receives many visitors of Chinese descent.

Benteng Speelwijk
mall river to the east of the vihara, this fortress was built in 1684-1685 on the site of the sultanate’s destroyed fortress and named for Cornelis Speelman, the Dutch Indies Governor General at the time. Roughly 200 meters square, all that remains is the three-meter-high fortress walls, made of bricks and sea stones, and a few underground passageways. To the east of the fortress is the kerkhoff,a Dutch tomb.

Masjid Pacinan Tinggi
This mosque, located in Kampung Dermayon – so called because its residents were newcomers from Indramayu, West Java – is said to have been built by Sunan Cunung jati himself at the start of the Banten Sultanate. All that remains is the two-story tower, with an open roof.

Istana Surosowan
The palace, lying to the southeast of Masjid Banten, was built from red bricks in the time of Sultan Hasanuddin but then demolished by Governor General Daendels (ruled 1808-1811). All that can be seen now is the foundation and the outer walls that served as a fortress.

Istana Kaibon
Kaibon, meaning “motherly,” was built for Queen Aisyah, the mother of Sultan Muhammad Syafiuddin (ruled 1809-181 3). Together with Istana Surosowan, this palace was demolished by Daendels because Syafiuddin refused to allow his people to be forced to work building the Great Anyer-Panarukan Post Road.

Unlike Istana Surosowan, which was virtually razed to the ground, Istana Kaibon still has gates, walls, and sturdy, elegant pillars. It is believed that this palace was surrounded by a moat, as it is next to a river used as a sailing route to the sea.

Batu Gilang
A stone “throne” on which kings were crowned, taken from the Kraton (Palace) of Pakuan when the Banten Sultanate defeated that kingdom. It’s in the north courtyard of the Istana Surosowan, surrounded by a wire fence.

Museum Purbakala Banten
This museum, housing antique artifacts excavated from historic and prehistoric sites in Banten, is surprisingly clean and well kept. In the museum courtyard is the cannon Meriam Ki Amuk, the “partner” of Meriam Si Jagur, now at Museum Fatahillah in Jakarta.

Pelabuhan Karangantu
This harbor, at the mouth of the Serang River, used to be Banten’s main port. The river is navigable as far as the Surosowan and Kaibon palaces. Nowadays, it is filled with countless fishing vessels, as well as boats providing public transport to the offshore islands of Pulau Dua and Pulau Tunda.


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