Advances in Applied Sociology
2013. Vol.3, No.8, 329-333
Published Online December 2013 in SciRes (
Open Access 329
A Spatial Analysis of the Recreation Potential of Cirebon,
Indonesia’s Kratons
Henny N. Edelman1, David J. Edelman2
1Putrie Consulting, Cincinnati, USA
2University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, USA
Received October 28th, 2013; revised November 28th, 2013; accepted December 5th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Henny N. Edelman, David J. Edelman. This is an open access article distributed under the
Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any
medium, provided the original work is properly cite d.
Cirebon is an important port city located on the provincial, as well as cultural, border of West and Central
Java. Historically, an important Indonesian melting pot, it is an expanding center of commerce and indus-
try. There remain, however, a number of special artistic and cultural features of the city revealed by mo-
tifs reflecting the traditions of the Kratons, or former palaces of the Sultanate of Cirebon, which reached
its height in the fifteenth century. This paper presents an analysis of the Kratons of Cirebon as a recrea-
tional and tourism resource within the concept of the spatial analysis of recreational behavior. It is struc-
tured around various aspects of the relationship between human spatial behavior and leisure environ-
Keywords: Kratons; Cirebon; Tourism; Human Spatial Behavior; Leisure Environments
Cirebon is an important port city in the south-western part of
the Indonesian archipelago. It is located on the north coast of
the most populous Indonesian island of Java. Although it is in
West Java Province, it stands on the border of Central Java.
This makes it an important cultural melting pot of the Sun-
danese and Javanese people respectively. Chinese immigrants
also play an important role. As the second port of Jakarta, and
one with an expanding export production zone, it is important
for the whole of West Java. It is also the point of export for a
la rg e n u mb e r o f a g ricultural commodities such as tea, rice suga r ,
coffee, and essential oil, teak and other products of the sur-
rounding region (Encarta, 2013). Development is occurring at a
high rate with Indonesian and foreign investment increasing.
Cirebon is an important transportation center for goods to and
from Jakarta, as well as a transit town between West Java and
Central Java, where the trucks and buses pass by the busy major
east-west highway.
Nevertheless, life in Cirebon retains much of its charm, with
bicycle rickshaws (becaks) still plying its wide, tree lined
streets. There are a number of special artistic and cultural fea-
tures of the city, including its unique glass painting and special
batik cloth, both of which are characterized by motifs reflecting
the traditions of the Kratons, or former palaces of the Sultanate
of Cirebon, which reached its height in the fifteenth century.
This old and almost forgotten sultanate, contains four Kratons
or palaces, the refuge for still living lines of an ancient royal
family. Symbolic of a feudalistic and aristocratic past, the sul-
tans have long since relinquished their traditional lifestyle (Lim
& Gocher, 1990).
This paper will analyze the Kratons of Cirebon as a recrea-
tional and tourism resource within the concept of the spatial
analysis of recreational behavior. It will be structured around
various aspects of the relationship between human spatial be-
havior and leisure environments.
First, the Kratons will be viewed from the perspectives of
those who interact with it. Its several layers of meaning will be
discussed depending on the viewpoints, interests, and cultural
context of 1) those living in the immediate area surrounding the
palaces, 2) the citizens of Cirebon, 3) the inhabitants of Java, 4)
Indonesians as a whole, and 5) foreign tourists.
Second, the four major sets of factors identified by Pearce
relating to accommodation, to attraction, to the economic im-
pact of tourism and to the tourist themselves will be discussed
in relation to the groups of the preceding paragraph (Pearce,
Background: Indonesia, Java and Cirebon
Indonesia: A Country to Explore
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Moslem country, is
situated in Southeast Asia. As was stated in the previous section,
its land mass is an archipelago, but it is one divided into two
unequal strings of islands: a southern chain containing the
comparatively long, narrow islands of Sumatra, Java, Timor
and others, and the northern chain of Borneo (Kalimantan),
Celebes (Sulawesi), the Moluccas, and New Guinea. The coun-
try consists of nearly 13,700 islands, almost half of which are
inhabited, and stretches across some 5100 km of sea in the re-
gion of the equator.
Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world.
According to a 1995 estimate, it has 250,586,000 inhabitants
(World Population Review, 2013). Nearly three-fifths of the
people live on Java and Madura, which makes this the most
densely populated region of the country. Indonesia has many
ethnic groups, the variety of which makes the country very rich
in culture and traditions. The indigenous people of Indonesia
are mostly of mixed Malaysian origin, and the most distinctive
ethnic groups are the Javanese and the Sundanese, who live
mainly on Java and Madura; the Balinese, in Bali; and the
Bataks and Acehnese, on Sumatra. Other minority groups dis-
tributed throughout the islands include a number of related
Malay groups, several million Chinese, and other Asian people.
The number of Dutch who still live in Indonesia is less than
10,000 (Encarta, 2013).
Java: The Dominant Island
Indonesia is dominated both by Javanese culture and by the
sheer number of its inhabitants. The overwhelming majority of
the people living on Java are either the Sundanese, who inhabit
the extreme western part of the island, the Javanese, who in-
habit the central part, and the Madurese, who inhabit the eastern
part. The overwhelming majority of the population is Muslim,
although there are significant numbers of Catholics and Protes-
tants. Bali, directly to the east of Java is mostly Hindu.
Cirebon: Historical Devel opme nt an d C urrent
Cirebon, which rose to prominence in the late 14th century,
had its origins in the small fishing village of Muara Jati. This
village later became a port in the Kingdom of Rajagaluh, which
had its capital near the present day town of Ciamis. Later on,
the harbor master, Ki Gedeng Tapa relocated, founding a set-
tlement at Lemahwungkuk, the site of present day Cirebon. The
new area was named “Caruban”, meaning “mixture”. This re-
ferred to the large number of foreign merchants and traders who
were settling there. It became a melting pot of traders and of
different tribes and races. This small settlement grew to become
modern day Cirebon. At that time, however, the ruler of the
Pajajaran Kingdom appointed the harbour master as a chieftain
with the title “Kuwu Cirebon”. Later on, he was succeeded by
Walangsungsang, a son of Siliwangi, king of the Sundanese
Pajajaran kingdom, whose name is later changed to “Cak-
rabuoni” (Lim & Gocher, op. cit.).
Around 1415, the great Muslim Chinese eunuch, Admiral
Cheng Ho, visited the port of Muara Jati on one of his legen-
dary expeditions as an envoy from Imperial China to induce
local rulers to send tribute to the Ming Court. He had 62 ships,
which carried 28,000 men. It is believed that the chronicler Ma
Huang stayed and married a local girl, and began a small set-
tlement of Chinese Muslims at Muara Jati. They built a light-
house to mark the port (Lim & Gocher, op. cit.).
Syarif Hidayatullah (Gunung Jati), nephew of Prince Cak-
rabuoni, was born in Egypt. He travelled through the Middle
East, India and China before reaching the land of his Javanese
mother to spread the word of Islam. He became the Sunan
Gunung Jati after arriving in Cirebon in 1470. He was later
appointed by the Nine Walis as a messenger to spread Islam in
Sundaland and to join his uncle Cakrabuoni in Caruban. Having
studied mysticism in Baghdad, he was the most respected per-
son in the whole of Cirebon and the land of the Sundanese peo-
ple. He could influence people with his mystic power, and that
made him the most powerful and influential person in the re-
gion. He separated Cirebon from the Kingdom of Rajagaluh
and built Cirebon’s first Kraton (palace), Pakungwati in Le-
mahwungkuk. Cirebon had already become a leading coastal
town with a busy and well-maintained harbor.
In 1475, however, Cirebon was conquered by Demak princes ,
and in 1480 began the construction of Mesjid Agung (the
Agung mosque). It was known then as Sang Cipta Rasa, and it
is one of the earliest Islamic structures in Java. The mosque was
completed around the same time as the Great Mosque in De-
The Kingdom of Mataram, centered in the central Java city
of Yogyakarta, soon started to expand its power to the coastal
towns, and the port of Cirebon and its surrounding areas be-
came a vassal of the kingdom. Mataram, under the ruler Sultan
Agung, became the dominant power in Java. The Javanese
cultural mix was further enriched by the spread of Islam in the
15th and 16th centuries. The coastal population and the aristoc-
racy were the first elements to be influenced by the new culture,
and by the 16th century the nominally Muslim Kingdom of
Mataram had established control over the entire island (Suhar-
tono, 1993).
By 1615, Mataram people had begun to settle in Cirebon,
strengthening Mataram’s cultural influence, while the intermar-
riage of the princes and princesses of the two kingdoms helped
to increase Mataram’s power. Javanese cultural influences had
now become very strong in Cirebon and became the way of life
of the Cirebonese people.
The last pieces of the complex of Kratons in Cirebon that
form the focus of this paper were built in the second half of the
17th century. One of them, the Klinteng Thiaw Kak Sie, is not
strictly speaking a part of the Kraton complex, but because it is
within walking distance, forms part of the resource from the
tourist perspective. This building is actually a still functioning
Buddhist temple, built by the Chinese in 1658. The last two
Kratons, Kasepuhan and Kanoman, were built in 1678 and the
former is built on the site of the earlier Pakungwati Kraton of
the Hindu-Javanese regents.
Turning from the historical development of the city, which
puts the Kratons within a historical and cultural framework for
recreation and tourism, it is now useful to describe in brief the
growing economic importance and development of the city,
because this indicates the opportunities for the further exploita-
tion of the Kratons. Cirebon’s general importance has been
outlined in the introduction. Here, however, it is important to
note that the city is the fastest growing on Java. Its downtown
real estate has been rising in value with the construction of
shopping malls, hotels and office buildings. Green spaces have
been disappearing, and the city centre is becoming more dense.
The economic impetus for this has been Cirebon’s excellent
port facilities and its proximity to both Jakarta and Bandung, as
well as a major natural gas field of the national oil company,
Pertamina. This has caused Cirebon to be seen as a second port
for the Jakarta region and has led to the construction of a high-
speed, modern highway linking the three. Excellent rail con-
nections for Jakarta and Cirebon already exist. Cirebon has
hence been developed as a free port for the manufacture of
export goods and a break of bulk center for the distribution of
imports. Both domestic and foreign investment is increasing
and the number of non-Cirebonese middle-class and foreign
residents connected to the economic boom has also been on the
Given this cultural importance of the Kratons and the eco-
nomic transformation of Cirebon, the recreational and tourism
potential of the Kratons has also been transformed. However,
Open Access.
before suggesting the role of the Kratons in the future, it is first
necessary to look at how the possible “consumers” view the
Kratons and how they are currently utilized.
Perspectives of the Kratons
To assess the recreational and tourism potential of the Kra-
tons, five distinct groups with different spatial relationships to
the Kratons will be discussed with regard to the meaning of the
Kratons to them. These are: 1) those living in the immediate
area surrounding the palaces, 2) the rest of the inhabitants of the
ci ty, 3) the inh abitants of Java, 4) Indo nesians as a whole, an d 5)
foreign tourists
The Neighbors: Those Living Closest to the Kratons
Generally speaking, the people living in closest proximity to
the palace complex are working and lower to middle class.
They are mostly Cirebonese, which means they are native born
and speak the local dialect comprising a mixture of Sundanese
and Javanese. Of course, this excludes the descendants of the
Sultans themselves, who actually still live in some of the Kra-
tons and elsewhere in parts of the complex. For them, of course,
the Kratons are their private homes. However, they are seen by
Cirebonese as still belonging to the people.
This, in fact, causes no conflict, because the family of the
Sultan recognizes this. They have demonstrated this by recently
hosting the Kraton Festival, which is a kind of exhibition and
historical celebration for all of Indonesia and some neighboring
countries. It is clear, that any development of the Kratons re-
quires their approval and active participation, but that should
not be a barrier. Their living quarters could be modified with
little trouble, for example. They have frequently shown them-
selves to be co-operative in these matters, since the Sultan and
his family require income to maintain their holdings.
Living in close proximity to the Sultan and his family, the
surrounding community considers the Kratons and their owners
as simply neighbors. They have normal relations, and there is
no awe of the social positions of the members of the Sultan’s
family, although their status is respected. For the community,
the palaces are considered in much the same way as its neigh-
boring community regards the King’s palace in The Hague,
although the social relations are quite different.
The Cirebonese
For the rest of the Cirebonese, the Kratons are an important
historical and cultural symbol. They are proud of them in that
they represent the past power and glory of their forefathers.
Nevertheless, they are also not impressed by the royal titles of
the inhabitants, but consider them fellow citizens. This is, non-
etheless, a bit simplistic. Actually, what is referred to here are
the urban Cirebonese, or rather those of all classes living in the
city itself. In the villages surrounding the municipality, but still
considered part of Cirebon, the Kratons are more important to
the cultural identity of the residents. They visit them at certain
special times of the year and consider the Sultan’s descendants
as people worthy of special honor.
Nevertheless, a large number of urbanized Cirebonese and
their rural brothers and sisters share certain traditional views
towards the ancestors of the royal family. This concerns the
pre-Islamic, mystical strand of Javanese culture, and it gives
added importance to the Kratons (See the previous discussion
of the Gunung Jati). The Cirebonese are very superstitious peo-
ple, and the influence of the Gunung Jati’s magical power re-
mains quite strong in their daily lives. This is important in un-
derstanding Indonesian Islam, because the religion never re-
placed Javanese or Sundanese traditions but was simply adop-
ted in addition to them
The Javanese
Here, the term Javanese refers to all the Indonesian inhabi-
tants of the island of Java, rather than to the Javanese ethnic
and cultural group referred to above, which is centered in the
middle and eastern parts of the island. Because of its physical
position as a transport node linking Central and West Java Pro-
vinces, many Javanese frequently pass through Cirebon. Thus,
everyone in Java knows of Cirebon, and it is a heavily used rest
stop for those travelling the length of the island. The rest of
Java’s inhabitants are equally as superstitious as the Cirebon-
ese, and the Kratons, therefore, have importance to them as
well. Visitors to the Kratons include many Indonesians who do
not live in Cirebon. For them, the main attraction is the actual
tomb of the Gunung Jati and his Chinese wife. Thus, the site is
important to Indonesian Chinese as well, who often visit it in
conjunction with a visit to the Buddhist temple located there.
Thus, if it were easier to visit both the tomb and the Kratons
between train changes in Cirebon, there would be more visitors
to both.
Indonesians from Other Islands
As far as the 35% to 40% of Indonesian citizens not living on
Java are concerned, the Kratons of Cirebon exert far less influ-
ence, although the history of the country taught in any second-
ary school (SMP) will include a section on the development of
Islamic kingdoms, of which the Sultanate of Cirebon is an im-
portant one. Indonesia is composed of dozens of cultures and
traditions, hundreds of ethnic groups and hundreds of languages
and dialects as well. The dominance of the Javanese and Sun-
danese cultures extends to the other islands in varying degrees,
but the pre-Islamic traditions of the island do not have much
meaning. They have their own cultural symbols and relics.
Foreign Tourists
Put simplistically, foreign tourists in Indonesia generally
have two destinations: Bali and Yogyakarta. The former is
largely developed for mass tourism and the convention trade,
while the latter, “Yogya”, attracts the growing number of tour-
ists more interested in Javanese culture. Cirebon and its Kratons
are not widely known to them, although a small number are
starting to appear in the city because they have read about Java
and realize the importance of the palaces. However, these are
the few foreigners interested in Indonesian culture to a more
than ordinary depth.
Current Utilization of the Kratons
While the basic argument of this paper is that the Kratons of
Cirebon are an underused recreational resource, this does not
mea n t ha t th ey a re not used at all. As has been pre viously not ed ,
they are inhabited. Moreover, festivals are occasionally held
the r e, a nd th e occasional Ind onesian or foreign tou rist passe s by .
However, these are normally visiting because they have come
Open Access 331
to Cirebon as pilgrims to visit the nearby tomb of the Gunung
Jati, which is one of the holiest Moslem places in Java. Malay-
sians and people from Brunei also consider the place holy. On a
daily basis, however, the citizens of Cirebon living both nearby
and elsewhere in the city and its surroundings do not visit.
Their most important use at present, however, is once a year
at Maulud, the biggest Moslem festival of the year, celebrating
the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday. Celebrated largely at Kase-
puhan and Kanoman Kratons, it attracts visitors from all over
Java and overseas.
One of the biggest attractions is the “Panjang Jimat” cere-
mony. For this, all the heirlooms of the palaces are taken out
and displayed. This includes the sacred Kris (dagger) and blue
and white Ming dynasty plates and trays, illustrated with Is-
lamic verses from the Koran. For several days before, the
grounds of the Kratons fill with people, and hawkers abound
selling food and toys. It is a very festive occasion, with moun-
tains of rice consumed.
The ceremony is also interesting because it contains elements
of pre-Islamic Javanese culture. In the ceremony, all the dag-
gers and other heirlooms are washed with special water, which
has been prepared a few days earlier to have the smell of flow-
ers. For the people from the villages, this ceremony is very
important, and they collect the flowered water after it has been
used because they believe it has magical power.
Suggested Recreational Potential of the Kratons
in Relation to the Groups Identified
Given the history of Cirebon, its economic growth and de-
velopment, the perspectives of the Kratons held by a number of
groups of possible users of its tourist and recreational potential,
their cultural and religious significance and their current use, it
is clear that they are an under-utilized resource. In this section,
how this potential might be better developed for the groups of
people who interact with it are outlined in relation to the factors
identified by Pearce. As a note of caution, these suggestions are
very preliminary in nature and represent the views of the au-
thors, one of whom has grown up in the city, without the bene-
fit of detailed study.
Pearce has written about four sets of factors to consider in his
discussion about measuring the spatial variations of tourism.
Measurement per se is not the purpose of this paper, but
Pearce’s four sets of factors form useful analytical elements in
considering the possible future recreational development of the
Kratons. This are demonstrated below.
Pearce has identified in a well-known article accommodation,
attraction, economic impact and the tourists themselves as these
factors (Pearce, op. cit.). The tourists themselves have here
been treated as the five groups of people who interact with the
Kratons. What will now be done is to relate these groups to the
other three factors to frame some ideas that recreational plan-
ners might consider for tourism in Cirebon.
The Neighbors: Those Living Closest to the Kratons
Those living closest to the Kratons see them as simply an
object of their environment (attraction), except for those few
days of the year when the Kratons become the center of social,
cultural and religious life in the city; that is during Maulud.
Accommodation is, of course, no issue for this group. For them,
the further development of the Kratons for recreation and tour-
ism is most impo rtant for its economic value. They would seek
jobs there and also invest in businesses ranging from selling
food and cigarettes as petty traders to larger restaurants and
The Cirebonese
For the rest of the people in the Cirebon area, who also re-
quire no accommodation, the Kratons could become a recrea-
tional attraction, if they were developed for day trips. For ex-
ample, one of the palaces could be restored to its former state,
and the treasures of all put on permanent display in it. In this
sense, it would be a sort of museum demonstrating local history
and culture. In contrast to an ordinary museum, however, Cire-
bon’s unique art forms of glass painting and batik, both based
on Kraton motifs, could be sold there and their creation demon-
strated. A restaurant could also be built featuring the local cui-
sine (e.g., Cirebon is widely known for its prawns) and offering
traditional cultural performances of music, theatre and dance.
These cultural events will preserve the local culture, which
has begun to fade under the influence of western mass culture.
The young people here have also been influenced by what
Dietvorst (1995) calls a shift from the “Gutenberg generation”
to the “MTV generation”. In his words, “The former was edu-
cated with the printed word and with logical, sequential think-
ing, the later prefers crossing and fragmented stories (as in the
soaps): no linear logic, no consistency, no separation between
private and public, between commerce and arts, between illu-
sion and reality.” This cultural influence seems to be getting
into the blood of the young people who live in the Cirebon
urban area.
The economic impact of this development would have sev-
eral dimensions. First, it would generate jobs, both temporary
(e.g., for artisans, painters, masons and other skilled tradesmen,
as well as for ordinary construction workers) and permanent
(e.g., for guards, waiters, guides, artists and musicians), and
these would be for the Cirebon population at large.
The Javanese
As was mentioned previously, people from all over Java
come to Cirebon during the Maulud festival. The attraction of
the Kratons is thus already there. The challenge is to make it
more attractive so that even more people will come, stay longer
and find out that there are other, year round reasons to visit the
city and its surroundings. Accommodation is also adequate,
although Cirebon is currently experiencing the construction of a
significant number of three and four star hotel rooms. These are
of a high standard and relatively cheap for European tourists.
However, they are too costly for average Indonesian families.
For them, there are a large number of affordable family hotels
located at some distance from the Kratons. While this is not a
problem in itself, finding one is not always so easy. With the
increasing sophistication of the Indonesian consumer, advertis-
ing hotels and their rates, as well as developing a booking sys-
tem through a centralized service would be helpful. A tourist
desk in the central train station would also be appreciated. In
addition, an island wide advertising campaign in the various
media focusing on the Kratons could be useful.
The economic impact here begins to be significant. If the city
becomes a tourist destination for the Javanese, it will experi-
ence economic expansion. The target group here is Javanese
families. They will stay in the city itself and thereby pay en-
trance fees to the Kratons, eat in local restaurants, sleep in the
Open Access.
Open Access 333
city’s hotels, buy its glass paintings and batik, purchase t-shirts
and other tourist trinkets, listen to its music and view its cul-
tural performances. They would also visit the area’s other at-
tractions, which include sand beaches and Linggarjati, a semi-
rural resort area known for its lovely landscapes. Some, espe-
cially the young, would climb, as do the local youth, Mt. Cire-
mai, which, at 3100 meters, is West Java’s highest mountain.
This would generate further expenditures .
Indonesians from Other Islands
This group was characterized earlier in this paper as not
having much interest in the Kratons of Cirebon. That is, the
attraction of the resource to them is minimal. Accommodation
is similar as for the Javanese in the previous section. Some of
the se pe op le will visit Cirebon if they are making a tour of Ja va ,
but it makes little sense to target them specifically given the
higher attractiveness of the Kratons to the other groups. Thus,
the economic impact here is likely to be minor.
Foreign Tourists
The authors believe that there is significant potential for de-
veloping the Kratons of Cirebon for this group. While the av-
erage foreign tourist is less interested in the religious signifi-
cance of the site as an attraction, there is appeal in the historical
and cultural components. The culinary, architectural, musical,
artistic, and theatrical aspects of its development would be of
interest, as would be its popularity for “Indonesian” tourists. It
would appear “genuine”. Accommodation is more than ade-
quate, and the range of hotels fits any pocketbook. The choices
range from local accommodation for backpackers to fully
equipped four star hotels with swimming pools and air-condi-
Nevertheless, the Kratons themselves are unlikely to attract
large numbers of foreign tourists, with their large economic
impacts, to Cirebon. The development of the neighboring tour-
ist attractions to international tourist standards might. Cirebon
has extensive and visually appealing sand beaches, but they are
not particularly clean, and the water is polluted from both the
harbor and domestic sewage. Good beaches are about a forty-
five minute drive. If some hotels were developed there at the
standard of the best in the city, wealthier Javanese tourists, as
well as international visitors, might find the area to be an at-
tractive base for excursions to the sites of the area. Similarly the
rural vistas and the appeal of climbing Mt. Ciremai might be
enhanced by improved accommodation and services.
Nevertheless, it should be stressed that tourist development
in Cirebon’s surroundings should remain balanced; that is, what
Dietvorst (1996) calls the “accelerating” forces of modern soci-
ety (e.g., mass tourism) should not overwhelm the “inert” ones
(e.g., the rural idyll) of the countryside which attract the tourists
to begin with.
This paper has presented a spatial analysis of the recreational
and tourism potential of the Kratons of Cirebon. It has ex-
plained their history and culture, looked at the Kratons as a
resource from the points of view of a number of spatially dis-
parate user groups, outlined the current uses of the palaces and
offered some ideas for their further recreational and tourism
development based on the sets of factors identified by Pearce. It
is clear that there is significant scope here for the further de-
velopment of this rich cultural and historical resource within
the context of a growing and modernizing city still proudly
conscious of its past.
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