A painting of Borobudur Temple by G.B. Hooijer. Photo by Tropenmuseum – Wikimedia

Top 10 Unbelievable facts about Borobudur, Indonesia


Borobudur temple on Java Island, Indonesia has earned its place on Guinness World Records. This temple has been listed as the largest archaeological site of Buddhist temples in the world.

It covers an area of ​​15,129 square meters, it is 42 meters high with 10 levels and consists of 72 stupas. Additionally, Borobudur Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage.

Commissioned during the reign of the Sailendra Dynasty in the 9th century, the temple seamlessly intertwines with the Indonesian indigenous tradition.

They believed in ancestor worship and the Buddhist concept of attaining Nirvana.

As an important place of worship for Buddhists, Borobudur is regarded as one of the most beautiful temples in Indonesia.

When visiting Indonesia, this is one attraction not to miss since it is among the famous cultural sites.

The architecture of the temple has Javanese Buddhist aesthetics creating perfect harmony. It is no surprise that this temple is one of the most popular in the world. 

There is more about this ancient temple. I have put together the top 10 unbelievable facts about Borobudur Temple. Read them below. 

1. Borobudur Temple was abandoned

Evidence shows that the Borobudur temple dated back to the 7th century. The temple was then abandoned in the 14th century after the decline of the Hindu kingdoms in Java.

It lay hidden for several centuries under several layers of volcanic ash and dense jungle.  

This temple became public knowledge in 1814 after, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the then British ruler of Java who rediscovered it.

He came to learn of the existence of this temple after Indonesian locals told him about it.

Since then, the Borobudur temple has been restored and preserved. The largest restoration of the temple took place between 1975 and 1982.

It was done in collaboration with UNESCO after the latter listed it as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

2. It took 23 years to complete construction of The Borobudur Temple

A painting of Borobudur Temple by G.B. Hooijer. Photo by Tropenmuseum – Wikimedia

Historians and archaeologists believe that this iconic landmark was first established in 800 AD.

Although its original intention was not known, they believe that it was constructed between the 8th and 9th centuries.

They got this information from the inscriptions and reliefs carved on the temple. It is also believed that it took two decades to complete this temple.

The temple has 25 floors. It remains a mystery how the architects carried rocks and lifted them to higher floors.  

Simple tools such as hammers and levers were used to carve the stones. They had no binding substances like cement.

They instead stacked the block of stones strategically on top of each other. A genius innovation.  

3. Borobudur was heavily affected by a volcanic eruption twice

Volcanic eruptions in the Java region are quite common in Java. This greatly affected Borobudur.

There are two active volcanoes in Java; Mounts Merapi Semeru and Kelud. In 2010, mount Merapi erupted twice in October and November.

Volcanic ash fell on the temple complex which is about 28 kilometres from the active volcano.

The volcanic ash was 1 inch thick. It killed vegetation around the temple. There were fears that the acidic ash would erode and damage the historic site.  

UNESCO donated $3 million as a part of the renovation costs after the volcanic eruption.

In 2014, the temple was closed after it was severely affected by another volcanic ash from Mount Kelud. This mountain is 200 kilometres away.

4. Borobudur architecture has an Indian influence

Photo by Heaven & Army -Wikimedia

After an archaeological excavation took place in Borobudur, they discovered that the structure’s design had greatly borrowed from Hinduism and some pre-Indic religious buildings.

The original foundation however indicated that this building was originally built by a different faith.

Later after the introduction of Hinduism, the building was appropriated to accommodate the new religion.

Others believe that the foundation of the temple was reconstructed after the initial design was poorly done.

There are bas-reliefs on the temple depicting scenes of the 8th century day to day life.

It shows life as it was in the courtly palace, hermits in the forest and commoners in the village.   

5. Borobudur was once colourful

The true colour of Borobudur was discovered during an excavation. Archaeologists found colour pigments of blue, red, green, black, as well as gold foil.

They concluded that the dark and grey temple seen today is a result of volcanic ash.

According to their analysis, the temple was first painted white then the bright colours were painted over it.

These bright colours were a symbol of hope according to Buddhist teachings. Similar white plasters can be found in Sari, Kalasan and Sewu temples.

The colours of the Borobudur temple wore out after years of neglect and erosion by volcanic ash.

6. Each of the hidden panels in Borobudur tells a complete story

Photo by Kassian Cephas – Wikimedia

There are 160 hidden panels in Borobudur which tell independent stories. They each provide a complete illustration of how events happened and what followed.

Some of the ancient tales told include gossip, murder, charity work, pilgrimage, and sanctuaries.

You will also see scenes of daily life complete with the full panorama of the endless cycle of birth and death.

Casijan Chepas took the first photographs of the reliefs in 1890. The photos are on display at the Borobudur Museum.

7. Borobudur was listed as one of the 7 miracles in the world

Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas – Wikimedia

Borobudur Temple is the largest temple relics from the 9th century. Despite the rough times, it has endured, it remains sturdy and beautiful.

It is one of the most famous ancient temples in the world. This attribute earned the temple a place as one of the seven miracles of the world.

The mysterious and unique work done on the temple attracts visitors from all over the world.

8. The location of Borobudur was once a lake

There are speculations about a lake existing where the Borobudur temple stands today.

A Dutch artist and a scholar of Hindu architecture came up with a theory that the Kedul plain was once a lake. Borobudur, then, was used to represent a lotus flower floating on the lake.

The temple is said to have been built on a bedrock 869 feet above sea level. This was after the lake dried out.     

Other historians and researchers believe that the area around the temple was surrounded by agricultural land and palm trees. It still is to this date.

9. The first photo of Borobudur was first taken in 1872

Borobodur in 1872. Photo by Tropenmuseum – Wikimedia

In 1873, the first monograph of the detailed study of Borobudur was published. This was followed by a French translation of the same a year later.

The first photograph of the monument was taken in 1872 by the Dutch-Flemish engraver Isidore van Kinsbergen.

After the photo was shared widely, an appreciation of this ancient temple grew and attracted both good and bad.

It was vandalized and several artefacts were stolen.

In 1882, it was recommended that Borobudur be entirely taken down. The reliefs were to be relocated to museums. This recommendation was due to the unstable condition of the monument.

10. Several relics were stolen from Borobudur

Photo by Niels – Wikimedia

Borobudur was a source of souvenirs to several people, both illegally and legally.

The then colonial government gave consent for a treasure hunter to take what they deemed valuable.

For example, when King Chulalongkorn of Siam visited Java in 1896, he requested to take home eight cartloads of sculptures from the temple.

He was given the go ahead. In his cart, King Chulalongkorn had five Buddha images, two lions, one gargoyle and several kala motifs.

Some of the recovered artefacts can be found on display in the Java Art room in The National Museum in Bangkok.