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Denpasar rose to prominence during the last century, at a time when access to the sea and trade in opium, weapons and early manufactured products had become more important than control over the inland regions. Denpasar occupied the centre of the southern rice-growing plain, with direct access to Sanur and Benoa seaports in the east, Kuta in the west.
At the end of 19th century, and with the aid of Tabanan, the Denpasar princes defeated the kingdom of Mengwi to become the most powerful rulers in Bali. But soon after, Denpasar became put itself on the map with the "puputan" fight to the death against the Dutch in 1906 - when thousands of Balinese warriors dressed in the finest regalia, armed only with traditional weapons like kris (short daggers) and spears, attacked the Dutch riflemen.
Despite the war and subsequent defeat, the strategic position of Denpasar ensured its rapid growth. With the construction of roads, Benoa harbour and an airport further south, the Dutch made it the hub of their southern communications network, the most populated part of the island.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of Denpasar is the way it combines tradition with modernity. The old provincial kingdoms and villages of the densely-populated rice plain also perforate the urban landscape.
While functioning very much in the traditional way, these "villages in the city" still have their exclusive banjar neighborhood, dance groups, and temple festivals.
This blending of styles sometimes results in a stunning cohabitation of architectural genres. Hidden behind the harsh rows of Chinese shops along Jalan Gajah Mada, the old city centre, are traditional compounds with much of their original architecture preserved, kori gates and temples giving this city a historical look rarely found in other Indonesian cities.
A consequence of the city's rapid growth has been its sprawling nature. Since the road networks are not concentrated at the original urban centre, urbanization tends to follow the main roads out of the city to housing projects 20 km away, leaving large expanses of rice-growing areas untouched in the middle of the city!
Bali merges with Indonesia in Denpasar. The capital hosts all government administration offices as well as most universities and higher learning institutions, home to about 25,000 students. The local economy is geared to the needs of the nearby resorts of Sanur, Kuta and Nusa Dua, to where many residents commute daily. The dynamism of the local economy has brought not only Balinese from other parts of the island, but newcomers from all over the country to Denpasar, investors, managers, even laborers. In Denpasar, ethnic homogeneity is a thing of the past.
Non-Balinese now make up around 30% of the city population. There are several Javanese kampung, Chinese and Arab/Punjabi areas. On the whole, except in the "old villages of the city" which are solely Balinese, the population is very mixed. The Muslim call to prayer, the rumble of the baleganjur orchestra and the parson's sermon represent just come of the sounds in the Denpasar day. This variety has important cultural consequences.
Denpasar is where the Balinese scholars translate Indian holy books, new prayers are taught, and Hinduism reinterpreted. It is also home to a new cosmopolitan class of Western-oriented Balinese yuppies.
Denpasar is not an easy place to visit. To see the old city, take a drive around the old villages of Kedaton, Sumatra, Tonja and especially Kesiman, whose brick-style shrines and gates are the simplest yet most beautiful in Bali.
Other beautiful monuments include the temple and palace of Kesiman, Penambangan temple (near Pemecutan palace), and Satria temple, with its near by bird market. Pemecutan, Kesiman and Badung (now the name of the nearby regency) were the three "united kingdoms" on the territory of Denpasar.
Representing the modern tradition is Pura Jagatnatha, located in the heart of the city. It was built in the 70's to be the "territorial temple" of Denpasar, an open monument to modern Balinese Hinduism. Its main padmasana shrine, or seat of the "Supreme Siwa" embodies the new importance given to the concept of the One God in Balinese religion.
Located right next to Jagatnatha temple, a visit to the Bali Museum is a must. It has the finest collections of Balinese antiquities. Of particular interest is the stylistic simplicity of the items in its 30's collection. The overly decorative Baroque style of Balinese art is clearly a recent historical import.
Denpasar is also where Bali displays its modern image. The Taman Budaya, the Arts Centre to the east of the city, is a complex dedicated to the preservation of Balinese culture. It contains the gigantic Ksirarnawa amphitheater and a museum with an important collection of paintings and sculptures from the period of Balinese renewal, but no contemporary art.
As a modern metropolis, Denpasar offers a range of shopping centres, restaurants and food centres. For those interested in textiles and handicraft, go to Pasar Badung and Pasar Kumbasari markets, located on either side of the Badung river in the old city centre. The new centre has moved south to the Sudirman and Diponegoro roads.Rimo, Robinsons, Matahari, Tiara and Libi department stores, as well as Sudirman Mall, cater to all the needs of tourists and local customers, all at fixed prices. And for food, the south of Denpasar offers a complete range of restaurants.
Administratively, Sanur is included in the city of Denpasar. But with white sand, coconut trees, and some of the best international hotels on the whole island just a few metres away, Sanur was Bali's first beach resort. Only a few hundred meters inland, it is a village traditionally run by the brahmins the priestly caste of Bali.
The Sanur area, the beach front of Denpasar now extending from Sanur westwards to the Suwung marshes and Serangan island, is steeped in history. The Blanjong, written in Sanskrit in 913, is the oldest inscription of its kind in Bali. It tells of the founding of a Buddhist monastery. Other traces of contact with the outside world persists to this day. The villages of Renon, on the road to Denpasar, and Semawang, near Sanur Beach hotel, still host a Baris Cina dance, with warriors wearing Portuguese-like 16th century helmets, perhaps the sign of early European contact.
Tourism in Sanur began in the 30's. Expatriates, writers and other luminaries had beach bungalows there. After independence, the Dutch painter Le Mayeur lived there and gained fame for his affair with and marriage to Ni Pollock, one of the best dancers of his day. Le Mayeur's impressionistic work, while heavily damaged, can be seen at Le Mayeur Museum near Grand Bali Beach Hotel. Donald Friend, one of Australia's great artists, also lived in Sanur until the 60's. Sanur was where the Indonesian government made its first attempt at mass tourism: the construction of the Bali Beach bunker, built using Japanese war reparations. The hotel burned down in 1993, but has now been restored even grander than before with the addition of a Bali-style roof. The Hyatt, built in the 70's is famous for its garden and lobby, built like a huge traditional Balinese wantilan.
The charm of Sanur lies in the relative tranquility of its social scene. It is a resort for families of visitors wanting the right mix of beach and Balinese life. It also has the immense advantage of being much nearer inland tourist spots - just half an hour from Ubud. Another advantage of Sanur compared with Kuta is its quieter beach, making it a favorite walking place.
The main road passes inland, not along the beach front itself. The beach varies from black sand in Padang Galak to white sand in the stretch from Grand Bali Beach to Semawang island. This island is currently developing into a popular resort area. It has several attractions for tourists, most famous being the Pura Sakenan temple, built in the coral-stone architecture of the coast. The temple comes to life on Kuningan day, when thousands of worshippers cross the narrow strait to pay their respects to Empu Kuturan, 10th century reformer of Balinese Hinduism.
THE TREASURES OF DENPASAR
The capital of Bali is often considered a sprawling and noisy city that has attracted thousands of inhabitants from the rest of the island. It is also the first stop-over point for any visitor to Bali.
Arriving at Ngurah Rai Airpot, one is struck immediately by the warmth of the hosts. The city is indeed filled with treasures from its rich and colorful past. The airport itself is named after a freedom fighter, Ngurah Rai, who led a small band of soldiers toward the end of 1946, in the struggle against the colonial rulers of that time, the Dutch. All 94 soldiers led by Ngurah Rai were slaughtered, now remembered by a monument near the airport. The site where the fight took place is now called Marga Rana. The 20th November is designated Marga Rana Heroes' Day and celebrated with parades and other public ceremonies.
The centre of life in the city revolves around Puputan Square. In the centre of the square is a bronze memorial for those who lost their lives in the one sided struggle with the Dutch. At one corner of the square stands a 5 meter stone statue dedicated to the 'Great
The nearby Bali Museum was established in 1932. Archaeological finds, dance masks, handcraft, paintings, as well as architectural illustrations of the various Balinese temples, provide and unrivaled exhibition of the culture.
Go to the three-story Central Market in the early morning, when it is a hive of activity. The whole of the first floor is devoted to meat and fish, dairy products, as well as flowers. If looking for spices, head for the second floor. Handcrafts are on the third.
There are several other markets well worth visiting in the capital city, including the Kumbasari, just across from the Central Market. For souvenir hunters, two streets, Jalan Gajah Mada and jalan Thamrin, have all you will need to remember your trip to Bali. Specialty and Art shops abound here and all over in Denpasar. Visit the Bird Market (Pasar Burung) for a closer look at several fine feathered creatures, as well as cats, dogs, snakes and fish.
The night market (pasar malam) usually starts in the late afternoon and is a favorite for eating in a relaxed atmosphere as you watch the world go by. Make your way towards Sanur and you will find the Niti Mandala Civic Centre, home to several government offices, including the Bali Government Tourist Office. Interesting to note is the architectural style used in constructing adapting age-old Balinese designs to the modern era.
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