The Sam Poo Kong Temple Semarang, also known as Gedung Batu (the Stone Building) is the oldest Chinese temple in Semarang, capital of the province of Central Java. Unlike most temples, the building does not belong to any specific religion, but rather functions as a place of worship for people of various ethnicities and religious groups including Buddhists, Taoists and Muslims. The temple is located on Jalan Simongan, West Semarang.
Sam Poo Kong is the oldest of 5 temples included in the Sam Poo Kong complex which spans across 3.2 hectares. The building covers an area of 1,020 square meters and is influenced by both Chinese and Javanese 14th century architectural styles. The temple is painted with a magnificent red color and crowned with a triple-layered pagoda-style roof, typical of East Asian culture. The surrounding area is thick with incense smoke, giving the feel of being in China itself.
The temple foundations were first built by Admiral Cheng Ho, elsewhere better known as Admiral Zheng He – a Muslim explorer from Mainland China.He arrived in Java sometime between the years 1400 and 1416, although the exact year is disputed. Finding a small cave in a rocky hillside, Cheng Ho used the site for prayer and later built a small temple in its place. While in Java, Cheng Ho taught the residents of the area how to farm and cultivate the land.
After some time, Cheng Ho left Java, but many of his crew decided to stay behind and settle in the area. They married with the locals, and till now, Simongan is inhabited by descendants of China. In 1704, the original temple and cave collapsed in a landslide. The local community rebuilt it 20 years later in a different location, closer to the city center and further from areas prone to decay by natural elements. It functions both as a place of worship, and a shrine honoring Cheng Ho for his services to the community.
The first and second restorations took place in 1879, financed by the wealthy Oei Tjie Sien, who took over possession from Yam Hoo Loo, and made the complex open to the public.
The temple underwent further restorations in 1937 and new additions were added to the structure such as the gate, the sacred garden and the main lobby.
In March 2011, a bronze statue of Admiral Cheng Ho was erected within the temple. The statue stands over 10 meters high and weighs nearly 4 tons, and is an icon of Semarang Tourism.
Semarang is rich in a variety of tasty snacks in all corners of the city, from side-of-the-road stalls to classy restaurants. One thing that most cuisine from Semarang has in common is a rather sweet flavor. Here are a few of the dishes to try while in Semarang.Lumpia: a light pastry filled with bamboo shoots and shredded chicken or beef, which is then boiled or fried and served with chili sauce. If you’re looking for some snacks to bring home, these can be purchased along Jalan Pandanaran and JalanPemuda in front of Pasar Raya Sri Ratu, or along Jalan M.T. Haryono.Bandeng Presto is a tasty dish made of fish cooked under high pressure until even the bones become soft and easy to eat. To prepare it, simply fry in hot oil and serve with chili sauce. This can be found in the traditional snack shops along JalanPandanaran.Tahu Pong is a kind of tofu, fried in hot oil until the outside is crispy while the inside is hollow. This snack is best served hot and can be found around Jalan Gajah Mada and Jalan Depok.Ganjel Rel is a popular dish from the past times in Semarang, and is a brown bread coated with sweetened sesame seeds.
The Sam Po Kong temple complex consists of 5 buildings, Sam Poo Kong (Gedung Batu,) Tho Tee Kong, Kyai Juru Mudi, Kyai Jangkar and Kyai Cundrik Bumi.Upon entering the north gate, there is a sign reading “Sam Poo Kong,” written in Latin on the outside and in Chinese on the inside. There is also a large tree in this area, hung with large, red Chinese lanterns. Beneath the tree is a small courtyard where various activities sometimes take place.Before entering the individual temples, there is much to see and do in the main plaza. A small pavilion carries a selection of costumes for visitors to rent, pose, and take photos in. Costumes range from the typical attire of Chinese Soldiers, complete with swords and hair accessories, to the garments worn by Chinese emperors and empresses.Visible from the main plaza are three of the pagoda temples side by side, which makes for a great photo spot. Numerous statues of Chinese soldiers stand bravely around the plaza, each displaying a different physique and clad in a different uniform. The south side of the gate is structured to look like the Great Wall of China, while another section of the courtyard bears similarity to Tianamen Square in Beijing.After exploration of the main courtyard, it’s time to take a look inside the temples. San Poo Kong (Gedung Batu) is the primary place of worship as well as the center of most activities in the complex. As you step through the temple doors, appreciate the intricate detail and design put into the ornaments which decorate it. The interior of the temple is dominated by the color red and surrounded with dragon sculptures, some of which were shipped directly from China. The pillars supporting the temple are carved with dragon scales, and large, red lanterns are hung throughout.This main temple is built directly in front of a large cave which is meant to be a replica of the original site where Cheng Ho’s temple was built. Within the cave is an altar together with small numbered sticks that are used for fortune telling. Beneath the altar bubbles a spring which is said to never run dry and possesses healing powers. The cave walls are decorated with reliefs depicting the story of Admiral Cheng’s expeditions across the ocean. The reliefs were carved in Ubud, Bali. They are made up of 10 gigantic dioramas and stretch 60 meters in length. The story is inscribed in three languages: Indonesian, English and Chinese.
From within Gedung Batu, the four other temples are visible outside. Tho Tee Kong is located at the far north end of the complex, just within the gates, and is used for those who seek blessing from Tu Di Gong, the Earth God. Beside Tho Tee Kong is the Kyai Juru Mudi Temple which is also the burial ground for Wang Jing, one of Cheng Ho’s deputies who settled in Semarang. South of the main temple is the Kyai Jankar Temple which holds an anchor used by Cheng Ho and an altar built in dedication to Cheng’s men who died in service.Ciamsi is the traditional Chinese method of fortune reading which curious visitors can try, whether to tell their future or simply for the experience. Ciamsi for personal use takes place in the main temple. During the ritual, you must first light some sticks of incense, while the Biokong, or representative of the temple says a prayer. Next, a can containing 100 numbered bamboo sticks will be shaken until one stick falls out. Each of the numbered sticks corresponds to a written message stating your fortune. If you would like a further explanation of your reading, the Biokong will provide it for you.