The main kraton or palace in Surakarta, the Kraton Kesuhunan, was built in 1745 when the capital of the Mataram dynasty was moved to Solo by Susuhunan, or king, Pakubuwono II. The village of Solo, only about ten kilometers east of Kartasura, was renamed Surakarta from the Sanskrit sura meaning heroic and karta meaning prosperous. Surakarta became the fifth and final capital of the Islamic Mataram kingdom.
The plan of the palace followed a spatial metaphor of cosmological meaning in which the king was the center of the cosmos. The Sultan's status is attested to by the derivation of Susuhunan's name, Pakubuwono, which means nail of the world. From his quarters in the central area of the palace, the complex radiated outward, through seven symmetrically arranged courtyards. All of the buildings in the palace complex are aligned to the axis of the nearby sacred mountain, Mount Merapi.
At the northernmost end of the palace's north-south axis is the alun-alun, or main square of the town, in which a pair of sacred banyan trees grew. This square, which measured 300 meters per side, was the town center as well as the center of royal events such as tournaments or the occasional address by the king. As the kraton was built after fleeing the attacks at Kartasura, this grassy area might have been intended as a defensive battleground. To the west of this area, Susuhunan Pakubuwono II's son, Sunan Pakubuwono III, built the Grand Mosque of Surakarta.
Facing the alun-alun, is the pagelaran, an open pavilion which served as a throne room where visiting officials would await an audience with the king. Behind this is a raised area known as sitinggil where the ruler might appear to his subjects. Progressing southward was the bale roto, an official gathering space for servants and high officials. Two streets curve from the alun-alun behind this area to form a circular drive called Supit Urang, or "prongs of the lobster" in front of the entrance to the inner palace, the Brojonolo Gate.
The geographical center of the palace was a private royal courtyard called the plataran. The residential quarters of the king were flanked along the eastern side of this courtyard, and to the west lay the buildings housing women and children and the royal treasury. The octagonal Songgobuwono Tower marked the south side of the courtyard. This pagoda-like tower served as both a watchtower as well as a place for meditation.
Proceeding south is the magangan court through which the court dignitaries entered. It shared a wall with the royal pleasure garden to the east. Finally at the southernmost tip lay another alun-alun, which though smaller and less important, contained the palace orchard and was said to have been the grazing place of the king's elephants and buffaloes.
The entire rectangular complex, measuring about 1 by 1.8 kilometers, is surrounded by a six meter high outer wall. This kraton remained the palace of Mataram for less than a decade, when political power was usurped by a rival prince who moved the throne just north of the palace to the Kraton Mangkunegaran
Though the Kraton of Kasunanan Surakarta was the earliest palace of which there were extensive remains, it suffered a severely damaging fire in 1985, and little of the palace is still standing.
Dumarcay, Jacques. The Palaces of South-East Asia: Architecture and Customs, 103-106. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.
Dumarcay, Jacques and Michael Smithies. Cultural Sites of Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, 63-64. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.