Solo History Facts and Timeline

(Solo, Central Java, Indonesia)

Once part of the powerful Mataram kingdom that ruled so much of central Java centuries ago, Solo has grown into a well-rounded modern city that has managed to retain much of its Javanese heritage.

Commonly known as Surakarta, this city has a royal history that offers much for visitors to experience, without the hype and crowds of the more popular Yogyakarta. Well-loved by both native Javanese and foreign visitors, Solo has a reputation as one of the most Javanese of Java's main cities.

A Royal City

The roots of Solo are firmly entrenched in the royal sultanates of the pre-colonial era. Together with its sister city Yogyakarta, Solo formed the basis of the Mataram kingdom, serving as a home for members of the ruling dynasty of central Java. Two royal palaces remain here from this final era of regal dynasties in Indonesia.

Far from being an ancient city, Solo has a history that really only began in 1744. This was the year when the king of Mataram, Pakubuwono II, decided to back the Chinese over the Dutch in their colonial conflict. When the Dutch won, Pakubuwono II was forced to move his capital at Kartasura (Kartosuro), some 10 km / 6 miles to the east, and set up a new royal capital along the banks of the Solo River. Thus, 18th February 1745 is widely considered to be the official birth date of Solo.

Mataram Divided

Things went downhill after the royal city was relocated to Solo, and by 1757, the Mataram kingdom divided itself into a northern court at Surakarta (Solo) and a southern court at Yogyakarta. Much of this internal discord was provoked by the Dutch, who instigated a policy of divide and conquer to gain colonial control over the island of Java and its many kingdoms.

The Dutch Take Over

The Mataram kingdom was one of Java's most powerful, yet in the end it was forced to submit to the desires of the Dutch East India Company. Rather than fight the more powerful Dutch, the royal houses of Solo turned their energy towards the traditional Javanese arts. As a result, the history of Solo is remembered for its sophisticated court culture rather than its defeat by the Dutch.

Royal Culture Prospers

Mataram cities competed against each other to produce ever more refined examples of court culture. Some of the theatrical performances created during this era are still performed today, such as the Wayang Wong (shadow puppets) and Wayang Kulit (Javanese dance). The rulers of Solo maintained a reciprocal relationship with the Dutch into the 20th century. This balance of power is best represented by the king Pakubuwono X, who had a huge family, was very popular and encouraged a multi-ethnic community in his city.

Struggle for a New Identity

When Indonesia claimed its independence, two camps emerged in Java to debate how to reorganise the country in the wake of the Dutch departure. One group wanted a return to traditional Javanese feudal life, while another wanted to abolish all monarchy and create a Communist-style society.

Solo's rulers sided with the new Republic of Indonesia, and the region emerged as a focal point for the struggle that ensued between President Soekarno and his colonel Suharto. The latter eventually planned a successful coup and went on to rule for several decades.