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On the coast due north of Serang, the fishing town of Banten was once a great maritime capital, where the Dutch and English first landed in Java to secure trade and struggle for economic supremacy.
Banten reached its peak during the reign of Sultan Agung (1651–83), and in 1680 he declared war on the Dutch, but conflict within the royal house ultimately led to his downfall. Agung fled Banten but finally surrendered in 1683, and his defeat marked the real beginning of Dutch territorial expansion in Java.
The chief landmark here is the 16th-century mosque Mesjid Agung, a good example of early Islamic architecture; its great white octagonal minaret was reputedly designed by a Chinese Muslim. Next to the mosque is an archaeological museum, which has a modest collection of local clay artefacts, and spikes used by Banten’s Debus followers. (The Debus tradition involves masochistic activities such as self-piercing, which the faithful are said to be able to perform without drawing blood).
Directly across from the mosque are the remains of early ruler Hasanuddin’s fortified palace, the Surosowan, which was wrecked in the bloody civil war during the reign of Sultan Agung (and again by the Dutch in 1832).
Other points of interest around the mosque include the massive ruins of Fort Speelwijk to the northwest and the huge, crumbling walls and archways of the Kaibon palace, and nearby tomb of Maulana Yusuf, who died in 1580.