Traditional or vernacular homes of Indonesians are the best representation of their indigenous culture. Known as the Rumah Adat, these homes varied across regions and cultures but also had certain similarities. They were made of fibre, bamboo and timbre and had sloping roofs. Built to adapt to Indonesia's hot and wet climate, these houses were constructed on stilts, which protected goods from moisturing and reduced the risk of water-borne diseases. The main strength of these stilt-houses, however, lay in their ability to absorb shock waves.
With the coming of modernity and an economy that discouraged collective resources, Rumah Adat houses are hardly, if at all, used anymore. Some of the locals have mixed the two, putting traditional Minang and Toraja roofs on modern concrete structures. This combination is in vogue for offices or museums, as a sign of national heritage. However, some vernacular homes have been retained as an attraction for tourists, especially in Tanah Toraja in South Sulawesi.
Religion forms an integral part of people's lives in the Indonesian archipelago. The biggest influence came during the 'Indianized period' from the 4th to 15th centuries, which saw Buddhism and Hinduism gain a huge following in the country. The Prambanan complex in Yogyakarta is considered the finest example of Hindu architecture; It has tall and pointed roofs that feature elaborate carvings, dedicated to the Trimurti. The Trimurti is the worship of Brahma ( the creator), Vishnu (the preserver) and Shiva (the destroyer) as the three gods/processes that complete life on earth. However, the religion practised in Bali, Java and other Hindu-dominated pockets of Indonesia combines Trimurti worship with Buddhism and local animist beliefs, so what ultimately is practised is a completely new religion.
The temples in Indonesia reflect this uniqueness. Trademark features include a split Candi Bentar gate that shows symmetry and a Paduraksa gateway where a towering roof incorporates the threshold inside. Bale kulkuls are another common feature, which act as a watchtower or drum tower and lastly, the Meru towers that represent the heavenly abode of gods. Temples are usually divided into three zones or sanctums known as Nista mandala, Madhya mandala and Uttam mandala in ascending order of sanctity. While the Candi Bentar gate demarcates the outer world from the temple, the compound as the main gateway, the paduraksa is often used to demarcate the innermost holy sanctum, where the gods reside, from the middle sanctum.
Islamic architecture is just as fascinating, especially in Indonesia, the country with the third largest number of Muslims in the world. The 15th century saw Islam gain a strong foothold in Indonesia, particularly in Java and Sumatra. Mixed with the Hindu-Buddhist influence at that time, the architecture of mosques incorporated local flavours. Thus, initial mosques had elaborate gateways and multi-tiered roofs, similar to the Meru towers of temples. Instead of the typical minarets and domes, they were usually pyramid-shaped structures that stood on four pillars. The Great Mosque of Demak and Menara Kudus Mosque in Central Java are good examples of these.