Bali lies between the islands of Java and Lombok and is one more than 17,000 islands that makes up the Indonesian Archipelago. Bali is small, stretching approximately 140 km from east to west and 80 km from north to south. Slightly off centre, and running east to west, are a string of volcanic mountains. The tallest is Gunung Agung, which last erupted in 1963, and is 3,142 m. at its highest point.
Lying just 8° south of the Equator, Bali boasts a tropical climate with just two seasons, wet and dry, a year and an average annual temperature of around 28° C. The rich volcanic soil and healthy monsoon season make this island extremely fertile and a range of crops are grown here.
The wide and gently sloping southern regions play host to Bali's famed rice terraces, among some of the most spectacular in the world. In the hilly, northern coastal regions, the main produce is coffee, copra, spices, vegetables, cattle and rice.
The Balinese people have strong spiritual roots and despite the large influx of tourists over the years, their culture is still very much alive. The main religion is Agama Hindu Dharma, which arrived in Bali With the spread of Hinduism through Sumatra and Java during the 11th century. Although originally from India, the Balinese religion is a unique blend of Hindu, Buddhist, Javanese and ancient indigenous beliefs, with customs that are very different from the traditional from of Hinduism practiced in India today. With the arrival of Islam in neighbouring Java during the 15th century, a large number of courtiers, artists, musicians and craftsmen fled to Bali, creating an artistic renaissance.
Today, Kuta is a major hustling and bustling resort town, with hundreds of hotels, bars, restaurants and shops. Those in search of a little peace and quiet tend to head for the more sedate resorts of Sanur and Candi Dasa, on the east coast,or Lovina in the north. Nusa Dua, another tourist enclave on the southernmost peninsula of the island, caters for the more up-market crowd and is home to almost all of the bigger 5-star hotels. The central village of Ubud, in the hilly region of Gianyar, has also blossomed as a tourist attraction and is now considered to be the artistic and cultural centre of Bali.
Although there are no artifacts or records dating back to the Stone Age, it is believed that the first settlers in Bali migrated from China around 2,500 BC, and by the Bronze era, around 300 BC, quite an evolved culture existed in Bali. The complex system of irrigation and rice production, still in use today, was established around this time.
History is vague for the first few centuries. A number of Hindu artifacts were been found dating back to the 1st century (AD), which suggests that the main religion, around 500 AD, was predominantly Buddhist.
It wasn't until the 11th century that Bali received the first strong influx of Hindu and Javanese cultures. With the death of his father around AD 1,011, Airlanggha, a Balinese prince, moved to east Java and set about creating unity. Having succeeded, he then appointed his brother, Anak Wungsu, as ruler of Bali. During the ensuing period there was a reciprocation of political and artistic ideas, and the old Javanese language, Kawi, became the language used by the aristocracy.
With the death of Airlanggha, in the middle of the 11th century, Bali enjoyed a period of autonomy. This proved to be short lived as in 1284, the East Javanese king Kertanegara, conquered Bali and ruled over it from Java. In 1292, Kertanegara was murdered and Bali took the opportunity to liberate itself once again. However, in 1343, Bali was brought back under Javanese control by its defeat at the hands of Gajah Mada , a general in the Majapahit, the last of the great Hindu-Javanese empires.
The Balinese have traditionally used their talents for religious purposes and most of the beautiful work to be seen here, has been inspired by stories from the Ramayana and other Hindu epics. The incredibly colourful cremation pyres and the everyday offerings to the gods, placed inside every shop and business, are made with an eye for detail and beauty.
The majority of Bali's 3,000,000 people live, for the most part, in tight village communities with large extended families. The largest towns are the capital Denpasar, population approximately 450,000 and Singaraja in the north. The main tourist area is Kuta, situated near the airport. This small sleepy village became a major attraction during the tourist boom of the 70's, because of its famed white-sand beaches, the surf, and stunning sunsets.
With the arrival of Islam in neighboring Java during the 15th century, a large number of courtiers, artists, musicians and craftsmen fled to Bali. As such, the Balinese have always been creative.
With the spread of Islam throughout Sumatra and Java during the 16th century, the Majapahit empire began to collapse and a large exodus of the aristocracy, priest, artists, and artisans fled to Bali. For a while Bali flourished and the following centuries were considered the Golden Age of Bali's cultural history. The principality of Gelgel, near Klungkung, became a major canter for the Arts, and Bali became the major power of the region, taking control of the neighboring island of Lombok and parts of East Java.
The first Dutch seamen set foot on Bali in 1597, yet it wasn't until the 1800's that the Dutch showed an interest in colonizing the island. In 1864, having had large areas of Indonesia under their control since 1700's, the Dutch government sent the troops to northern Bali. In 1894, the Dutch sided with the Sasak people of Lombok to defeat their Balinese rulers. By 1911, all the Balinese principalities had been defeated in battle, leaving the whole island under Dutch control. After World War I, Indonesian Nationalist sentiment was rising and in 1928, Bahasa Indonesia was declared the official national language.
During World War II, the Dutch were expelled by the Japanese, who occupied Indonesia from 1942 to 1945. After the Japanese defeat, the Dutch tried to regain control of their former colony, but on August 17, 1945, Indonesia declared it's independence by (it's first) president, Sukarno. After four years of fighting and strong criticism by the international community, the Dutch government finally departed, and in 1949, Indonesia was recognized as an independent nation.