How the World Bank is supporting Indonesia’s newest world heritage site, and why it matters

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The cosmological axis of Yogyakarta and its historic heritage landmarks. Photo: © Tepas Tandha Yekti, Karaton Ngayogyakarta Hadiningrat/UNESCO
The cosmological axis of Yogyakarta and its historic heritage landmarks. Photo: © Tepas Tandha Yekti, Karaton Ngayogyakarta Hadiningrat/UNESCO

In the heart of Indonesia, where the mesmerizing Mount Merapi casts its shadow over the tranquil Indian Ocean, a six-kilometer-long axis has long been the keeper of Javanese culture and cosmic beliefs. In September 2023, The Cosmological Axis of Yogyakarta was officially declared the world’s newest UNESCO World Heritage site. The World Heritage inscription will help buoy Indonesia’s growing cultural tourism industry and is the result of close collaboration between the Government of Indonesia, local communities, and development partners including the World Bank.

Tourism Development and the World Bank

Over the past five years, the World Bank has worked hand in hand with the Government of Indonesia to finance and support the development of sustainable and responsible tourism in six key destinations in the country, ranging from cultural monuments like those in Yogyakarta to some of the most ecologically diverse national parks on earth to world-class trekking and diving sites. The effort aims to help preserve and share Indonesia’s unique cultural and natural assets with the world, and in the process drive sustainable and environmentally responsible economic growth for generations to come.

Bird-eye-view of the Cosmological Axis, taken from above Plengkung Nirbaya, a historical gateway and monument. Photo: © Management Unit for the Cosmological Axis of Yogyakarta


A Cosmic Heritage

The Cosmological Axis of Yogyakarta and its Historic Landmarks are a living testament to the rich cultural and historical tapestry of Indonesia. The six kilometer north-south axis stretches from Mount Merapi to the Indian Ocean. At the center of the axis is a palace (the ‘Kraton’), and surrounding it are a series of related monuments. The axis embodies key beliefs about the cosmos in Javanese culture, including the marking of the cycles of life. Intricately crafted stone stairs symbolize the stability and the hierarchy of Javanese society, while tripartite divisions of buildings correspond to the three realms of Javanese cosmology: the human world, the atmosphere, and the heavens. Since its establishment in the 18th century, the axis has served as a center point of government and Javanese cultural traditions.