The largest Buddhist temple in the world and Indonesia’s top tourist attraction, built near the Prambanan and at about the same time



Looking up at the monument from its base; (inset) one of the meditating Buddhas encased in a latticed stone stupa on the monument’s top level, that of enlightenment


Aerial view; Buddha in a partially disassembled stupa

BOROBUDUR IS AN IMPOSING STRUCTURE MEASURING 403.5 FEET on a side with the central stupa reaching 115 feet. Completed in 825 ce under the Hindu kings of the region, it is a monument to the prevailing religious harmony of the time. For Buddhists it is a place of worship. Pilgrims take a path around the temple and then up the temple’s three main levels, which correspond in Buddhist cosmology to the world of desire (Kamadhatu), the world of forms (Rupadhatu) and the world of formlessness (Arupadhatu). The top levels feature 72 Buddha statues, each meditating inside a stone latticework stupa.

The pilgrims’ route is lined with thousands of narrative and decorative relief panels depicting the principles of Buddhist religion and life, along with scenes of contemporary Javanese life. An 8th-century ship shown on one panel (at right) inspired a replica, which successfully sailed from Indonesia to Africa in 2004. Other panels portray the life of Buddha, the Jataka tales and the story of the Indian youth Sudhana in his search for wisdom—an account popular in China.

It is estimated the construction took 75 years, during the time Prambanan and other Hindu and Buddhist temples were built in the same area. A total of 72,000 cubic yards of stone were quarried nearby, carved and fitted together on site without mortar. The complex was built following the rules of Vastu Shastra, using the technology of the Indian stone-carving tradition.

The temple was abandoned at about the same time as Prambanan, when a series of volcanic eruptions buried the area in ash. In 1814, partly crumbling, it was “discovered”—as the British liked to say—and unearthed when the local people told Java’s British governor of its existence. Later Dutch administrations set out to preserve and restore the massive edifice. In a complete overhaul by the Indonesian government and UNESCO between 1975 and 1982, over a million stones were removed, cleaned and the structure reassembled as we see it today—a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


An 8th-century ocean-going Javanese ship with outriggers; Temple design