The north coast of Java was the home of the first Islamic sultanates, the greatest being Demak. Jepara was an independent power before falling under Demak. It hosted trading posts for the Portuguese and English as well as the Dutch. Kudus was another important city in the 1500s; today it's known as a center for clove cigarettes.
The central part of Java is the home of some of Indonesia's greatest monuments, palaces, and historical sites. The Sailendra kings ruled here in the 800s, and built Borobudur between where Magelang and Yogyakarta are today. Later Hindu kings from Sanjaya built Prambanan between today's Yogyakarta and Surakarta, and the temples of Dieng near Wonosobo, and founded the original Hindu kingdom of Mataram.
In the later 1500s, a second, Islamic Mataram kingdom would rise in this area. Courts at Kota Gede, Plered, Pajang, and Kartasura were the ancestors of today's Kratons at Surakarta and Yogyakarta.
Yogyakarta is a major cultural center today, a university town with many artists and performers. It hosted the government of the new Republic during its early years.
Surakarta or Solo is also a major cultural center, a place where the traditions of Java are preserved.
Rembang was the home of Raden Kartini, a famous writer and pioneer in women's education, in the 1890s.
In 1950, the lands of the Sultan of Yogya were organized in the new Republic as the Daerah Istimewa (or Special Area of) Yogyakarta, in recognition of the outstanding service by Sultan Hamengkubuwono IX during the revolution against the Dutch.