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Yogyakarta is a bustling town of some 500,000 people and the most popular tourist destination on Java, largely thanks to its proximity to the temples of Borobudur and Prambanan. The town is a center of art and education, offers some good shopping and has a wide range of tourist facilities.
Strictly speaking, the city (kota) of Yogyakarta is only one of five districts within the semi-autonomous province of Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta (DIY), literally the “Yogyakarta Special Region”. (The other districts are Sleman on the slopes of fiery Mount Merapi to the North, Bantul all the way to the sea to the South, the hills of Gunungkidul to the East and the low lands of Kulon Progo to the West.) This special status is thanks to the Sultanate of Hamengkubuwono, which has ruled the area since 1749 and steered the state through difficult times of occupation and revolution. During the Indonesian war of independence, Sultan Hamengkubuwono IX offered the fledgling Indonesian government his enclave as capital city, thus Yogyakarta became the revolutionary capital city of the republic from 1946 to 1949 when Jakarta was still occupied by the Dutch. As a result, the central government recognized the Sultan of Yogyakarta as the appointed governor of the province of DIY; the only one in Indonesia that is not elected directly by the people. The Indonesian central government has tried to weaken the sultan’s power by calling for direct election for the governor, however the present sultan Hamengkubuwono X was chosen by an overwhelming majority.
Alas, Yogyakarta lies in one of the most seismically active parts of Java and has thus repeatedly been struck by earthquakes and volcano eruptions. The worst in recent times was the earthquake of May 27th 2006, which killed over 6,000 people and flattened over 300,000 houses. However, the epicentre was 25 km north of the city, which thus avoided the worst of the quake, and a surprisingly effective disaster recovery effort saw most of the physical damage repaired quite quickly.
Only four years later, in October 2010, the nearby volcano of Mount Merapi erupted, spewing lava over nearby villages and killing 353 people. After rumbling on and off for two months amid fears of another Krakatoa devasting the entire island, the volcano quieted down by December 2010. On past form, it’ll be another 2-3 years until the next small eruption and 10-15 years until the next biggie, so pay a visit while you still can!