Named after the single most enduring kingdom in ancient Indonesia, the Kingdom of Majapahit, the five-star hotel stands proudly — with its facade reflecting the typical European extravagance of white-colored pilasters and giant pillars — on Jalan Tunjungan, a Surabaya business district.
Hotel Majapahit may be Indonesia’s most historically relevant, having witnessed the country’s independence from both Dutch colonialism and Japanese occupation.
Through the course of more than a century, Hotel Majapahit’s history traced back to when Lucas Martin Sarkies, a high-profile hospitality businessman, purchased a 1,000 square meter block of land in 1900 on the aforementioned street to follow his father’s legacy in developing a luxury hotel.
He then commissioned Regent Alfred John Bidwell, a renowned designer at the time, to develop a Dutch colonial art nouveau hotel named Oranje Hotel, after the Dutch royal family. The luxury accommodation started catering to its top-class clientele in 1911.
In 1936, the management expanded on the structure to include an Art Deco style lobby extension. The inauguration was made by a royal party of Crown Prince Leopold III and Princess Astrid of Belgium and the famous silent movie star Charlie Chaplin, accompanied by American actress Paulette Goddard and writer Joseph Conrad.
Apart from hosting famous global personas, the hotel also served as a historical venue for a five-year armed struggle against the colonial powers. In 1942, the Imperial Japanese Forces took over the Oranje Hotel and renamed it Hotel Yamato, turning the building into their headquarters in East Java and also as a camp for Dutch prisoners of war.
At the end of World War II, English and Dutch country section officers returned to Surabaya and stormed room 33, where the Dutch occupation had set its temporary headquarters and demanded an explanation about the raising of the Dutch flag on the hotel roof’s mast.
As Indonesia declared independence on Aug. 17, 1945, the anticolonial group “Arek-Arek Suroboyo” refused to see their newly independent country return to colonialism. They rushed to the hotel roof and tore off the bottom blue strip of the Dutch flag to retain the red and white parts, identifying the merah-putih (red-white) colors of the current Indonesian flag.
The hotel was renamed to Hotel Merdeka (Independence Hotel).
However, the building received yet another moniker one year later, when famed Armenian hoteliers, the Sarkies Brothers, returned to manage the hotel and changed the name L.M.S. Hotel as a tribute to its founding father Lucas Martin Sarkies.
However, more rebranding efforts followed from 1969 to 2003 as the hotel changed hands from one owner to another. With the each new proprietor also came renovations, which eventually turned the old Dutch structure into a five-star, deluxe hotel.
In 2006, it was finally dubbed with its current name of Hotel Majapahit under CCM Group, one of Indonesia’s leading conglomerate companies.
Allowing visitors to stay overnight
Now 104 years old, the hotel’s management has worked to preserve its heritage and the historical remnants housed within its walls, all of which have ostensibly become a distinctive attraction to travelers who wish to experience the majestic atmosphere of the hotel.
“We think [the hotel] can [continue to] survive, because we have some features that others don’t. Our North Garden, for example, has become our mascot of sorts,” Emiliana Ayundra, marketing communications supervisor of the hotel, said.
Hotel Majapahit aims to serve travelers as one of Surabaya’s must-see destinations with entire rooms that provide a glimpse of colonial elegance and extravagance; rooms that house huge, layered chandeliers hung from high ceiling; grand wooden doors carved with European flowers; and plush Arabian carpets.
With 143 rooms — each decorated to match the hotel’s historical angle — to choose from, including executive suites, garden terrace rooms and Majapahit suites, Hotel Majapahit promises an oasis of personalized calm, classic colonial elegance and chic simplicity.
To indulge its clientele’s appetite, the Sarkies Restaurant — certainly named after the hotel’s founding father as an honor — offers discerning travelers a wide selection of Asian and Western dishes in colonial surroundings.
Meanwhile, the hotel also pampers visitors with spa facilities that offer luxurious traditional treatments using local beauty products sponsored by internationally acclaimed Indonesian brand Martha Tilaar.
Hotel Majapahit is also fully equipped with a gymnasium, tennis court, Jacuzzi, sauna, a 25-meter swimming pool as well as a children’s pool, all completing the accommodation’s luxurious antiquated-meets-modern ambiance.
“We can say that most of our clientele come from high-class communities, such as diplomats, businessmen and celebrities,” Emiliana said.
“We attract these kinds of clients with the interesting history behind the hotel, the authentic structure — which is very different from other hotels in Surabaya — and our wonderful gardens.”
Hotel Majapahit, a landmark colonial hotel exuding heritage and class, has received several awards, including the National Geographic Traveler award in architecture and design in 2009, the 2012 Favorite Hotel in Indonesia award by the Tourism Awards of Indonesia, and the Certificate of Excellence by travel website TripAdvisor from 2012 to 2014.
“It’s all very tasteful indeed, with colonnaded courtyards, fountains, verdant greenery and a gorgeous pool area,” popular travel guide Lonely Planet writes in its review of the hotel.