The largest Buddhist monument in the world is located 42 kilometers northwest of Yogyakarta. It was built sometimes between the years 750-850 AD, during the Sailendra dynasty’s rule on Java.

Java, Central Java, Borobodur. Borobudur is a 9th-century Buddhist monument near Magelang, Central Java. Stupas with the mount Merapi volcano in the background. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)
Java, Central Java, Borobodur. Borobudur is a 9th-century Buddhist monument near Magelang, Central Java. Stupas with the mount Merapi volcano in the background. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

The name probably origins from the Sanskrit words “Vihara Buddha Ur”, meaning something like “Buddhist monastery on the hill”.

Java, Central Java, Borobodur. Borobudur is a 9th-century Buddhist monument near Magelang, Central Java. Borobodur is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)
Java, Central Java, Borobodur. Borobudur is a 9th-century Buddhist monument near Magelang, Central Java. Borobodur is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

About one hundred years after it’s completion a violent eruption of the nearby Merapi volcano covered the entire temple in volcanic ash. Nearly a thousand years should pass before it was discovered again. At the same time as the occurence of this disaster almost all of central Java, of still unknown reasons, was evacuated. Other reasons for the neglect was that Buddhism on Java had to give way for Hinduism, as well as the constant changes of power on Java.

Java, Central Java, Borobodur. Borobudur has six square platforms topped by three circular platforms. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)
Java, Central Java, Borobodur. Borobudur has six square platforms topped by three circular platforms. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

Borobodur was rediscovered in 1814, and the entire construction was uncovered during the following years. Unfortunately this lead to decline and plundering; large amounts of stones and sculptures disappeared. The Dutch started a restoration project in 1907, but it soon became obvious that the monument’s foundations were too weak. In 1973 a new project supported by UNESCO finally managed to stop the decline. More than 700 workers used more than ten years to take apart, restore and reassemble more than 1.3 million stone bricks. At the same time a new foundation was built that should support the heavy monument, some 60.000 cubic meters of stone, and also prevent erosion.

Java, Central Java, Borobodur. Borobudur has six square platforms topped by three circular platforms. A main dome is located at the top center. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)
Java, Central Java, Borobodur. Borobudur has six square platforms topped by three circular platforms. A main dome is located at the top center. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

The temple is located in the geometrical center of the many nearby mountains. It is inspired by old Indian architecture, and it’s design again supposedly inspired the building of monuments like Angkor Wat in Cambodia 300 years later. Borobodur consist of eight terraces built on a 118 times 118 meter base, the five lowest terraces are square, the upper three circular. The upper circle is crowned by a large stupa in the center. By starting to walk clockwise from the base in the east end all the sculptures and carvings will tell the story of the Buddhist universe 1.000 years ago. This is a 4.8 km long walk, and in this heat maybe only for the very interested.

Java, Central Java, Borobodur. The three upper circular terraces carries 72 stupas, of which most contains a Buddha statue. The mount Merapi volcano in the background. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)
Java, Central Java, Borobodur. The three upper circular terraces carries 72 stupas, of which most contains a Buddha statue. The mount Merapi volcano in the background. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

Somewhat in the shadow of Borobodur is the two temples Candi Pawon 1.5 km east of and Candi Mendut 2 km east of Borobodur. Especially Candi Mendut contains some impressing statues. Borobodur is easily accessible from Yogyakarta, where buses depart frequently for the monument, or you can rent a car with a driver to take you there. The inevitable “mob” of souvenir sellers and guides is the first you will see when arriving. A good guide can be helpful but not necessary, there is no problem walking up to the temple alone. There’s a great view from the top of the monument, but bring some water, it can be quite hot. Several hotels and restaurants are located here.

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Bjørn Grøtting

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Photographer based in Norway. See a collection of my best photos in the portfolio. Licensing of images is done through Photoshelter or alamy.
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