Makassar : The Largest City in East Indonesia

Formerly called Ujung Pandang, the city of Makassar is the largest city in east Indonesia. Capital of South Sulawesi, Makassar enjoys a central location in the Indonesian archipelago and today Makassar is Indonesia’s busy air hub, connecting Sumatra, Java, Bali and Kalimantan in the west with Sulawesi, the Moluccas and Papua in the east.

In fact, ever since the 14th. century Makassar was already known as a thriving sea port where merchant vessels from far away China, India and Cambodia called regularly to trade in silks, tea and porcelain in exchange for cloves, nutmeg and pearls from the Moluccas and gold and forest products from Makassar and its hinterland. And when in the 16th century the Europeans discovered the sailing route to the coveted Spice Islands, the Spanish and Portuguese made Makassar their important entrepot to store valuable spices before shipment to Europe.

Meanwhile, in this southern peninsula of Sulawesi, the Bugis, Makassar and Mandar ethnic groups, known for their seafaring prowess and boat building skills, had already developed powerful kingdoms that encouraged trade, fishery, rice cultivation as well as literature and the arts. The Bugis epic poem I la Galigo is a recognized masterpiece in Bugis literature, as are the graceful dances and bright silk costumes of court dancers with their richly decorated accessories of wide gold bangles, opulent necklaces and tiaras.

The city of Makassar, South Sulawesi
The city of Makassar, South Sulawesi (Source :

In 1667 however, through the Treaty of Bungaya, Dutch merchants succeeded to oust the Portuguese and Spanish from Makasssar to make this port their stronghold, banning other Europeans from trading in Makassar. The Dutch destroyed the fort of Ujung Pandang built by the king of Gowa in 1545, and fortified this into Fort Rotterdam, which today still stands prominently on the waterfront of Makassar, while the king of Gowa was allowed to stay at Fort Somba Opu.

Many Makassar aristocrats who refused to be dominated by the Dutch, left the city and settled in Kalimantan, the Riau Islands and present-day Malaysia. The sultans of Selangor and Johore are Bugis descendents as are the sultans of Kutai Kartanegara in east Kalimantan.

Located on the busy trading route along the deep Straits of Makassar, the city of Makassar is a bustling cosmopolitan town with settlement of many races and ethnic groups, of Chinese, Europeans, Javanese, Balinese, Ambon and others, where local and international cargo ships continue to call at its busy port. While at its traditional port of Paotere, Bugis pinisi schooners can be seen lining the quay to unload goods from near and far away islands, and various types of fishing prahus, such as the pantorani, the lepa-lepa and the sandeq unload the day’s catch.

Today Makassar is also a university town, where youth from all over the islands, especially from the eastern archipelagos gather to gain higher education.

And, to provide entertainment for its population and to attract tourists especially from east Indonesia, Makassar now boasts a large theme park called Trans Studio, touted as the third largest indoor theme park in the world.

Montage of Makassar
Montage of Makassar (Source :

Makassar’s Sultan Hassanuddin airport is today Indonesia’s most modern airport. Makassar has a wonderful esplanade called the Losari Beach, the only place in Indonesia where one can see both a beautiful sunrise as well as a spectacular sunset. The Losari Beach is lined with luxury hotels and in the evenings comes alive with food stalls.

Makassar is the Gateway to East Indonesia, as well as the entry point to an adventurous tour to the Tana Toraja highlands, where awesome mountain scenery and the unique rituals of the Toraja people await. The islands off Makassar are also known to have some of the best spots for diving. Just a mere 50 Km from the city, Bantimurung Bulusaraung National Park awaits with its stunning waterfall and hordes of enchanting butterflies, or visit Bulukumba‘s fascinating traditional ship building dockyards and pristine beach at Bira.


Freshly caught seafood served in a variety of ways, Chinese or local, is the highlight of any visit to Makassar. Surya Super Crab seafood restaurant at Jalan Nusakambangan 16 is most popular for its delicious crabs and squids, where Jakarta visitors invariably flock to carry crabs home as “oleh-oleh” – an Indonesian tradition to carry a small gift from one’s journey for those who stayed home.

Other renowned seafood restaurants are the Bahari, the Ratu Gurih, the Turi, the Imperial Star. While for local style seafood try the Lae-lae. There are a large number of small restaurants serving Makassar special barbecued, steamed or fried seafood and Coto Makassar, a Makassar specialty, which is a rich curry soup filled with thick slices of meat and offal.

For Souvenirs and shopping, head to Jalan Somba Opu. Here you will find all kinds of handicrafts including silks, gold and silver filigree called Kendari silver from Sulawesi, woodcarving and trinkets from Bali, pearls from Ambon and Papua, and beads from Kalimantan.

Makassar has a large number and variety of large and small hotels.

In Makassar one finds remains of the early history of Dutch conquest of the Indonesian islands. In the 16th and 17th century, the Spanish, Portuguese, English and Dutch fought each other and the local kingdoms in these waters for hegemony over the lucrative spice trade that has its source in the Spice Islands in the Moluccas. While the latest attraction in Makassar is a large indoor theme park called Trans Studio. Visitors to Makassar will love the fresh seafood served with spicy sauces, or shop for trinkets and more expensive gold accessories and pearl necklaces.

Fronting Makassar are beautiful islands to swim, snorkel or dive, while not far from the city are waterfalls and prehistoric caves.

Fort Rotterdam

Fort Rotterdam stands prominently on the waterfront of Makassar along the Losari Beach, a must for visitors to see. Originally called the Fort of Ujung Pandang, it was built by the 9th King of Gowa, Imanurung Daeng Bonto Karaeng Lakiung in 1545. However, after the defeat of Gowa which was followed by the signing of the Treaty of Bungaya in 1667, Fort Ujung Pandang was surrendered to the Dutch, who under Admiral Speelman rebuilt and strengthened the fort, renaming it Fort Rotterdam, after his own birthplace.

The Fort takes the shape of a turtle ready to go out to sea, symbol of Gowa, which described the kingdom as being on land but powerful at sea. Prince Diponegoro of Yogyakarta who rebelled against the Dutch in the Java War of 1825-1830, was imprisoned in the dungeons of Fort Rotterdam after he was treacherously captured and deported first to Manado and then to Makassar, where he died in 1855. Diponegoro’s tomb is here in Makassar. Today, Fort Rotterdam houses the La Galigo museum, dedicated to the history of South Sulawesi and Makassar.

Losari Beach and Paotere Harbor

The Losari Beach prides itself as Indonesia’s longest Esplanade, followed only by the Boulevard in Manado. Here are Makassar’s top class hotels offering a splendid view over the sea, the islands fronting Makassar, and the spectacular sunsets for which Losari Beach is famous. Past the esplanade’s most northern end is the Paotere port for traditional vessels and fishing boats, where one can see Bugis pinisi schooners, and local prahus like the pantorani, the lepa-lepa and the Mandarese Sandeq tied along the quay. Further north is the Soekarno-Hatta harbor where large ships load and unload their cargo. In the Chinese area one finds four old temples, most important of which is the Tian Hou Gong temple, or the Temple of the Heavenly Queen, built in the early 18th century on Jl. Sulawesi and Jl. Serui.  Also on Jl. Sulawesi is the Long Sian Gong temple, or the Temple of the Apparition of the Dragon, built in 1868. While at the south end of the Losari Beach esplanade is Tanjung Bunga area where now stands Trans Studio. In the evenings, couples gather to watch the romantic sun slowly setting over the horizon, while food stalls appear to serve the crowds with a wide variety of seafood and deserts.

Trans Studio Theme Park

The new pride of Makassar is Trans Studio, the 20,000 m2 wide and 20 meters high indoor theme park that was inaugurated by then Vice President Jusuf Kalla on September 9, 2009 (09-09-09). Trans Studio itself is part of The Trans Studio World project, which will include Trans Walk and Rodeo Drive, Trans Studio, and Trans hotels. The Project will also include a shopping mall, supermarket, hotel, office area, recreational beach area, and residential area. Trans Studio theme park has 22 features and rides including Central Studio, the Lost City, Magic Corner, Tsunami Island and Cartoon City. Many of the rides are adopted from Trans TV’s and Trans7’s shows such as Dunia Lain, Si Bolang, Jelajah, Ayun Ombak, and Angin Beliung; others are adopted from Universal Studio and Disneyland in the United States. The rides also contain space simulation program of several television stations such as Trans TV, Trans7, and other events in Indonesia. One ride that is pretty unique is “Dunia Lain”, – “Another World”. It is an Indonesian style haunted house with different kinds of Indonesian ghosts such as the kuntilanak and jailangkung.

The Al-Markas Al-Islam mosque

This is one of grandest mosques in Indonesia, and the largest in the eastern part of the archipelago. Located in the center of town, the mosque is built on 10 hectares of land. Its architecture is a blend featuring Islamic values, local culture and modern design which together reflect the pride and identity of today’s inhabitants of Makassar.

The Islands

Fronting the city of Makassar are 13 pretty islands, easily accessible by boat. Most visited are Kayangan Island, Gusung Island, and Samalona Island. The sea surrounding these islands is home to diverse marine wildlife, making it perfect venue for underwater sports such as snorkeling or diving.

Fort Somba Opu of Gowa

Located some 7 km. south of Makassar at the mouth of the Jeneberang river are the ruins of Fort Somba Opu, once the stronghold of the kingdom of Gowa. Next to the ruins is a park where various style houses of all South Sulawesi’s ethnic groups are displayed. The annual South Sulawesi Cultural Festival usually held in October is staged at this site.

Bantimurung: waterfalls and butterflies

Travelling north of Makassar before arriving at the Bantimurung waterfalls is the archeological park of Leang-leang. Here are caves where prehistoric man lived some 8,000 to 3,000 years BC. Inside one finds prehistoric drawings of babi rusa, which early man used to hunt.

The Bantimurung waterfall, situated some 45 km. distance from Makassar, is an impressive wide fall where the clear water thunders down some 12 meters over a large bulbous rock to a deep pool below. At weekends, the waterfall is overcrowded with locals, so the best time to visit is during week days.

By the side of the waterfall are iron stairs that lead up to the river above it, which one can wade through during the dry season. Here is a second fall, home to many species of colorful butterflies. The British naturalist Alfred Wallace found here the Papilio Androcles, one of the largest and rarest swallow-tailed butterflies.


As a large cosmopolitan city, Makassar has a good number of taxis available at hotels and shopping centers. Else take a bemo, or for slower sightseeing, take a becak, better known here as “roda tiga”.


As an important airline hub, Makassar is served by many Indonesian airlines flying from busy cities like Jakarta, Surabaya and Bali, using Makassar both as final destination or transit airport. Most airlines continue to Manado, the Moluccas or onward to Papua to the airports of Biak, Jayapura, Manokwari, Sorong and Merauke.

Airlines serving Makassar include: Garuda Indonesia, Air Asia, Lion Air, and Sriwijaya Air.
Other small airlines like Express Air serve flights between Makassar and Ternate, and to Jayapura.

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