Five regions in Indonesia where you can find authentic architecture

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Five regions in Indonesia where you can find authentic architecture

“Architecture is the mother of art and culture,” Frank Lloyd Wright, a renowned US architect, once said. The statement implies that we can discover a country’s cultural heritage from its traditional buildings.

Even though many old buildings in Indonesia have been demolished or renovated for commercial purposes, there are many places across the country where you can discover original cultural properties as well as witnessing the residents' conventional daily activities.

West Sumatra

Compared to other areas in Indonesia, this region is probably the easiest spot to locate traditional architecture. Most of the people of Minangkabau still live in rumah gadang or gadang house the traditional houses, or at least they still preserve its unique roof shape.

Taper-shaped like a buffalo’s horn, the roof is known as atap bagonjong and has its own story. It is said that there was a buffalo fight between the Sumatranese and Javanese people. The Sumatranese’s buffalo won. As a way to celebrate they shaped their roofs similar to the buffalo’s horn.

Another unique part of the rumah gadang is the existence of one main pillar in the middle of the building, which symbolizes womanhood. In Minangkabau culture, the women are considered the head of the family.

To find well-preserved rumah gadang, you can go to Batusangkar—located about 100 kilometers from Padang—or Solok Selatan, which also known as nagari 1000 gadang or the country of 1,000 gadang houses. Solok is located around 160 kilometers from Padang and takes around three hours to drive there.

North Sumatra

Home to the Batak ethnic group, this province has several traditional houses in different locations. One worth a look, and is still there, is owned by the Batak Toba.

Samosir Island, which is located in the center of Lake Toba, is a perfect spot to see the native village of Batak Toba ethnic group. Batak Toba houses are boat-shaped with beautifully carved gables and sweeping ridges. The pillars at the bottom section symbolize the bottom of the earth, while the house’s main building represents the world and the roof, built to soar high, symbolizes the sky. At a glance, it looks like Tongkonan, Tana Toraja’s traditional house. The difference is that Tongkonan has a balcony to host musical performance as a part of their cultural ceremony.

Villages on Samosir Island that still preserve their traditional houses include Tomok, Siallagan, Ambarita and Simanindo. Expect to see stone graves, stone chairs where they used to hold assemblies, stone tables where they executed prisoners and stone barns. The residents used to utilize the latter to store their valuable belongings.

East Nusa Tenggara

Neighboring Timor Leste, this province is not only blessed with a breathtaking underwater fiesta but also great architecture. Visit Wae Rebo — one of its must-see areas in Manggarai regency — to see cone-shaped traditional houses with wood structure and the alang-alang plant as the rooftop. Although it may look simple, the 15-meter house can survive up to 70 years. Wae Rebo's local residents also use the 5-story building as a place to socialize and to store items such as rice.

Another area worth visiting for the same purpose is Bena village. Located in the southern part of Bajawa, Ngada regency in Flores, it is home to about 20 traditional stilt houses built around a huge yard. You will also find stacked stones, like the ones from the megalithic era, the final resting place of their ancestors.


Some of Bali's best attractions are the very well preserved local buildings. From pura (temples) to houses, you can easily spot them throughout the province. However, if you want to see a cultural village that is still intact, go to Panglipuran.

Located around 45 kilometers from Denpasar, Panglipuran is one of the villages that still uphold Tri Hitra Kirana, the Hindu philosophy to construct a building. The philosophy teaches humans to create harmony between the world occupied by human and the world of the deities. It is suggested that the Pura, as the holiest building, is built on the north (headwaters) of the site, while the house should be at the center of the village (pawongan) with the cemetery to the south. Unlike other Balinese people, Panglipuran residents don’t practice cremation but rather bury the deceased instead.

South Sulawesi

Although experiencing aggressive development, South Sulawesi still has spots for you to witness its beautiful traditional architecture.

After around an 8-hour trip from Makassar you arrive at Tana Toraja, an area that still maintains its traditional houses, particularly Kate’ Katsu and Lemo, which are located near Rantepao, North Toraja. Tongkonan, the Toraja traditional house, is the main attraction here. Its roof is shaped like a boat and it was built as a symbol of authority and wealth.

The higher the owner’s social status, the higher the roof will be. Another symbol — the buffalo horn — is displayed in front of the house. The buffalo horn was acquired from the family members’ burial ceremony. The richer the deceased was the more buffalos will be sacrificed — which then will also add the number of horns displayed in front of the house.

The fact that the Tongkonan is always built facing north is also worth knowing. It is believed that the direction is connected to the deities. (swd)