Standing in the middle of the grandeur that is Borobudur, it’s hard to believe that this massive temple was ever ‘hidden’. Covering an area of 15,129 square metres, reaching 10 levels and 42 metres into the sky, if the walls of this, the largest Buddhist temple in the world, were arranged in a straight line they would reach a length of six kilometres. Add in 504 Buddha statues, 72 massive stupas, and 2,672 intricate relief panels, and the length, breadth and artistic scope of Borobudur really is quite breathtaking in its majesty.
But hidden it was. For over 500 years, buried beneath layers of volcanic ash, deep within a jungle of towering trees and dense vegetation.
Located on the island of Java, Indonesia, the magnificent Borobudur temple is believed to have been built in the 8th or 9th century during the reign of the Shailendra dynasty. It was only in 1814, however, that Borobudur would emerge from the wilds of nature, courtesy of the curious nature of English governor Thomas Stamford Raffles.
With Java under British rule at that time, Governor Raffles became enamoured by folklore and stories told by local villagers about a mysterious and abandoned structure. Not content to leave such tales as mere fireside storytelling, he sent a team of 200 men to investigate. After two months of hacking into the jungle, burning vegetation, and digging away at compact earth, the magnificence of Borobudur was revealed.
As if Borobudur isn’t quite miraculous enough in and of itself, even more incredible is the engineering feat that is its structure. Constructed from approximately 55,000 cubic metres of stone blocks, not only were these stones taken from neighbouring rivers and transported to the site on foot, they were cut to size by hand, and laid without any mortar, adhesive or cement. Making use of an intricate interlocking puzzle pattern instead, all work was completed with simple tools such as hammers and levers, with the only ‘machinery’ at workers disposal being a ‘pedati’ – a cart pulled by a cow.
Despite the discovery of this amazing place, and its unbelievable construction, it would take another 160 years before any real effort was made to protect and restore what is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 1975, a complete restoration of Borobudur Temple began, led by UNESCO and the Indonesian Government, with funding from five other countries. The whole project took seven years to complete, with more than one million stones dismantled, cleaned, catalogued, and meticulously put back into their rightful place.
The only way to truly understand the wonder of Borobudur, widely considered as one of the seven wonders of the world, is to visit and walk around this giant of zen and mystical belief yourself. An hour’s drive from Yogyakarta, the easiest way to get there is by joining a tour or renting a car. Local guides are also available on site and highly recommended.