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.
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.
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.
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