Local name: Barabudhur

Experts believe that Borobudur was built between 750 and 850 AC during the Buddhist dynasty of Sailendra. At the base, the temple is 123 by 123 metres, and it has 9 levels. On the highest level there is a large stupa, surrounded by 72 smaller stupas.

Girls attempt to touch the Budha statue inside the stupa.
Girls attempt to touch the Budha statue inside the stupa. Corno van den Berg

The story goes that if you can touch the Buddha in the small stupa, it will bring you luck. But considering the damage this does to the statue, it’s better if you don’t.

For a long time the temple was covered by soil and vegetation, and wasn’t discovered until 1814 when Dutchman HC Cornelius came upon it.

The stupas of Borobudur
The stupas of Borobudur. Corno van den Berg

He uncovered the temple with the help of more than 200 men, and it wasn’t until 1885 that they reached the base of the temple. To protect it for future generations, the temple was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1991.

It’s a very busy tourist attraction, but the temple remains an absolute must for your bucket list. Come early in the morning to watch the sunrise here. Buy a combination ticket so you can also visit the nearby Prambanan Temple.

Attractions:

400 Stupas

There are more than 400 stupas on the top three terraces of the temple. These terraces are circles, symbolising eternal life. In every stupa there’s a Buddha statue. There are 72 small stupas on the top terrace of the temple, built around a large one in the centre. This large stupa is a symbol for Nirvana, or the afterlife. When you include this stupa in the height of the building, it reaches 40 metres.

9 Floors

The building itself is 123 square metres, and has nine floors. The lower six are square, the top three are circular. These floors are divided into three sections that represent the realms of Mahayana Buddhist cosmology. They are Kamadhatu (the world of desires) or the world we live in, Rupadhatu (the world of forms) where humans transcend earthly life, and Arupadhatu (the formless world) where the gods live, that’s where everything is perfect.

6 Kilometres of reliefs

The walls of the temple show an almost endless number of reliefs, with a total length of 6 kilometres. It is believed the nine flours represent nine different meditation techniques, which you need to master to reach the highest level. There are more than 1500 reliefs on the bottom four floors, depicting the life of Buddha. Each image is incredibly detailed.

Must Do! Tips:

Sleep with a view of Borobudur

Amanjiwo is a luxury hotel with a view of Borobudur, a perfect place to stay if you’d like to see the sun rise over the temple from your own private terrace. Or if you’d like to visit the temple early in the morning before the crowds arrive. The temple is about an hour’s drive from Yogyakarta, so you’ll save that time by staying nearby. When you arrive take a look through the window in the hall, it looks straight onto the temple. The room rates are high, so it’s not for everyone.

See Borobudur from a mountain top

The place to be if you want to see Borobudur from afar is Menorer Hill. The surrounding hills make a great backdrop for the idyllic setting of the temple between several volcanoes. The best time to ascent the hill on foot is the dry season (especially August), and the best time of day is early morning.

Watch the sun rise between the stupas

The hills around Borobudur, and its lush, green setting make a wonderful décor. Watching the sun announce a brand-new day is kind of a must here. It’s a perfect occasion to take in the remarkable building and its history, and it’ll be relatively quiet at this time of day. Of course, you can also choose to watch the sun set instead, when it colours the sky bright red. Though don’t expect the enjoy the view by yourself. Do keep in mind you need to pay extra to see the sunrise. You can always arrive just after sunrise and watch the sun climb up over the temple.

Witness the morning prayer

Borobudur is still used for religious purposes by Buddhist monks, especially in the morning. Most of them are pilgrims, who come from all over the globe. If you watch closely you’ll notice they walk around each floor seven times, in a clockwise direction. There are also many groups (tourists as well as Buddhists) who come here to meditate.

Buddhism Temples