Java is the fascinating heartland of Indonesia and there is no better place to experience the many different aspects of its complex identity. It is the fifth largest island in the archipelago, about 650 miles (1,050 km) long and up to 130 miles (210 km) wide. With 141 million inhabitants it is the most densely populated island in the world, but the vast majority of the Javanese live in the coastal plains. It is a remarkable geographical fact that eighty-five percent of the total surface of the island is uninhabitable. The mountain range that makes up the central spine and runs the length of the island contains no less than 121 active volcanoes. Natural ecosystems range from coastal mangrove forests on the north coast, low-lying tropical forests on the southern coast, to high altitude rainforests in the mountainous interior.
The history of Java is as exceptional as its nature. We even do know that the ancestors of modern man were roaming the island long before human history began.”Java Man” is the name given to fossils that were discovered in 1891 on the banks of the Solo River in East Java as one of the first known specimens of Homo Erectus. These fossils date to about a million years ago. Although Java is predominantly Muslim today, one finds traces of the great oriental religions all over. Ancient monuments and other evidence of a rich history can be found everywhere.
The advanced civilizations that blossomed one after the other were made possible by highly efficient agricultural practices developed since ancient times. The island's exceptional fertility and rainfall allowed the development of wet-field rice cultivation, which required sophisticated levels of cooperation between villages. Out of these village alliances, small kingdoms were formed. The Medang Kingdom in the early 8th century produced the Hindu temples on the Dieng Plateau. Around the 9th century the Sailendra dynasty embraced Mahayana Buddhism and both the Borobudur, the biggest Buddhist Temple in the world and the Prambanan complex in Central Java date from that period.
By the end of the 16th century, Islam surpassed Hinduism and Buddhism as the dominant religion in Java and a number of palaces remain as the heritage of the sultanates of Banten, Cirebon and Mataram. The first contact with the Dutch was in 1596 when four sailing ships landed in what is now Jakarta. By the end of the 18th century the Dutch had extended their influence over the sultanates of the interior and Indonesia became a colony of the Netherlands. Independence was declared on 17 August 1945, two days after the Japanese Emperor’s surrender in the Pacific and today the republic of Indonesia is a democracy with a thriving economy that grows by 6% a year.
As a result of its colorful past Javanese culture is a compound of many different influences. Traveling through Java is like going through a history book. In addition one travels through an incredible range of spellbinding landscapes. In between the Krakatoa in the west and the rugged Kawah Ijen Plateau in the East one finds unspoiled beaches, picturesque highland lakes, wildlife reserves, bird sanctuaries and much more that is unexpected. The list of fascinating things to see and places to visit is endless.
Java : Junction of ancient cultures and heart of the nation
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