Located on the north coast of Java right about its center point is the busy port city of Semarang. Although not as well known as yet for tourists as Yogyakarta (familiarly called Jogja) and Solo, yet Semarang is the Capital of the province of Central Java. In fact, the central section of the island of Java comprises two provinces. The other being the province of Yogyakarta.
According to history, Semarang was given by the Sulltan to the Dutch East India Company, VOC, in 1708, from which time this town was built into a Dutch enclave. For this reason, Semarang has an Old Town which was built during Dutch colonial times. The Old Town is best known for its Church called Gereja Blenduk. The Old Town is now being reconstructed and revitalized. In Semarang city center are also a number of colonial style buildings such as the one called Lawang Sewu or the building with a thousand doors.
Semarang was also where in the 15th century the famous Chinese Admiral Zheng He, - here better known as Cheng Ho, - first set foot on Java, where he is continued commemorated in the Sam Poo Kong Temple, once known as Gedong Batu.
The port city of Semarang is a melting pot of beautiful architecture, rich history, delectable food, and colourful multiculturism. The seaside gateway to Borobudur, the majestic and world’s largest Buddhist temple, where Semarang is a 105km scenic car ride away.
For first time visitors, here are a few places that should not be missed:
The Blenduk Church
Built in 1753 in the city of Semarang, the Blenduk Church in the Old Town or Kota Tua Semarang, is renowned for being the oldest Protestant Church in Central Java. Originally built in a traditional Javanese ‘Joglo’ style, the church then underwent a remodel in 1894 to the current iconic Doric order design that can be seen today. The emblematic octagonal copper dome (also known as mblenduk in Javanese) is said to be inspired by the Church of St Peter Basilica in Vatican City. Other iconic features of this church are the two surrounding clock towers, the stately baroque organ, floating octagonal pulpit, antique spiral wrought iron staircase and rattan teak pews.
An architectural delight of colonial Dutch design, Blenduk Church is a must see destination.
Jalan Letjend Suprapto
No 32 Kota Lama Semarang
The historical Lawang Sewu
Lawang Sewu, or otherwise known as the building with a thousand doors, is a historic landmark of Semarang. Originally built as headquarters of the Dutch East Indies Railway Company, this building is rich in historical significance. For those who love the eerie, many believe this building is said to be haunted.
Aside from the aesthetically intriguing colonial design, Lawang Sewu’s tragic past has made this a point of attraction. In 1942 it was used as a prison by Japanese Invaders where several prisoners were executed. In 1945, this building was the focus of the 5 day battle of Semarang, where Indonesia’s Independence fighters were killed fighting against Japanese soldiers. Five employees working there were also killed and a monument has been erected in the yard to commemorate the national heroes.
In 2011 Lawang Sewu was inaugurated by First Lady Ani Yudhoyono and re-opened to public after extensive renovations. Buildings A and B of the complex are open to public for tours and are frequently used fo social and cultural activities and events.
A historical and architectural icon of the city of Semarang, Lawang Sewu is not to be missed.
Komplek Tugu Muda
Jalan Pemuda, Semarang.
Admission: Adults Rp 10,000, children and students Rp 5,000
Admiral Cheng Ho, or otherwise known as Zheng He, was a significant historical figure in Indonesian history, particularly in the city of Semarang. A Muslim explorer originating from China, Ho played a critical role in introducing Chinese culture and traditions to the Indonesian community. The son of Haji Ha Ma Zhi, Ho was the right hand man to third Chinese Emperor Yong Le in the Ming Dynasty. His expeditions lasted from the 1405 until the day he passed in 1433, where he visited 37 countries over the course of 28 years.
As a tribute to his influence in Indonesian society, several landmarks have been erected in his honour - such as the Cheng Ho mosques in cities such as Surabaya, Palembang and Pasuruan.
Since Ho’s arrival in Semarang during the Majapahit Empire, Semarang has developed a strong acculturation to Chinese and Muslim lifestyle and tradition. Ho is commemorated by the Temple Sam Poo Kong and an annual festival on the 29th and 30th day of the sixth month of the lunar new year. To experience the rich cultural heritage that Cheng Ho imprinted onto Semarang, a visit to Sam Poo Kong is a must.
Sam Poo Kong Temple Complex
Sam Poo Kong (also known as Gedong Batu Temple) is the oldest Chinese temple in Simongan, Semarang. This majestic temple was established by Chinese Muslim explorer, Admiral Zheng He (also known as Cheng Ho) in the 15th century and is used today as a place of worship and pilgrimage by Indonesians of all religious denominations. The original temple was a cave Zheng He found on one of his expeditions, but due to an avalanche in 1704, a new temple (which is the present Sam Poo Kong) was resurrected in a cave next to it.
The temple’s complex spans across a massive 3.2 hectares and consists of the main Sam Poo Kong Temple and Cave, Tho Tee Kong Temple, Kyai Juru Midi Temple, Kyai Jangkar Temple, Kyai Cundrik Bumi Temple and Mbah Kyai Tumpeng Shrine. The buildings and pagodas in this complex is a delight to explore and observe. Decorated in oriental shades of vibrant red, yellows and green, Javanese and Chinese influences can also be seen in its architecture.
Every sixth month in the lunar calender, a festival is held to commemorate Zheng He’s arrival in Semarang. The lively event is celebrated by parading the statue of Zheng He from Tay Kak Sie Temple to Sam Poo Kong. During auspicious days in the lunar calendar or significant moments in Zheng He’s history, the front yard of the temple is used for carnivals and spirited celebrations. Visit Sam Poo Kong where you will be inspired and enlightened.
Admission: Adults Rp 15,000
Jalan Simongan No.129
Bongsari, Semarang Barat
Chinatown in Semarang – Semawis Night Market
Located in Gang Warung, Semarang, Pasar Semawis or better known as Waroeng Semawis, is a night market that sells a variety of scrumptious Indonesian and Chinese influenced foods and drinks. Initially established in 2004 to memorialize 600 years of Cheng Ho’s first expedition to Semarang, this night market is lined with street hawkers that sell a delectable selection of Semarang’s iconic foods. A vast selection of satays, fried rice, soups, noodles, desserts and Semarang specialities such as Pisang Plenet and Lumpia can be found here.
Besides food there are also shops selling T-shirts, Chinese herbs and other Chinese knick-knacks
For a true taste of Semarang , a visit to the Semawis Night Market is a must. The market is open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, from 6pm to 11 pm.
Jalan Gang Warung No. 50
Semarang Tengah, Semarang
The iconic Lumpia Semarang dish
You can not visit Semarang without indulging in Semarang’s iconic culinary dish : Lumpia Semarang.
A dish that is similar to the springroll, the Lumpia has a sweet yet savoury taste and is filled with bamboo shoots, egg, chicken or shrimp. It can either be served in a soft wrap or deep fried, with a side of delicious thick brown sauce, freshly cut spring onions, birds eye chilli and lettuce. A delicacy of Semarang which was derived from Tiong Hoa origins, it is no wonder that the best Lumpia can be found in this small corner of Chinatown next to the Tay Kak Sie temple. When you come here, make sure to line up early as the stall can be crowded with people looking to buy the famous lumpia as souvenier.
Jalan Gang Lombok No. 11