When the Dewa Agung dynasty moved here in 1710, the Semara Pura was established. The palace was laid out as a large square, believed to be in the form of a mandala, with courtyards, gardens, pavilions and moats. The complex is sometimes referred to as Taman Gili (Island Garden). Most of the original palace and grounds were destroyed by Dutch attacks in 1908 – the Pemedal Agung , the gateway on the south side of the square, is all that remains of the palace itself (but it’s worth a close look to see the carvings).

Two important buildings are preserved in a restored section of the grounds, and, with a museum, they comprise the Taman Kertha Gosa complex. Although vendors are persistent, parking is easy and it’s easy to explore the town from here.

Kertha Gosa

In the northeastern corner of the complex, the Kertha Gosa was effectively the supreme court of the Klungkung kingdom, where disputes and cases that could not be settled at the village level were eventually brought. This open-sided pavilion is a superb example of Klungkung architecture. The ceiling is completely covered with fine paintings in the Klungkung style. The paintings, done on asbestos sheeting, were installed in the 1940s, replacing cloth paintings that had deteriorated.

The rows of ceiling panels depict several themes. The lowest level illustrates five tales from Bali’s answer to the Arabian Nights, where a girl called Tantri spins a different yarn every night. The next two rows are scenes from Bima’s travels in the afterlife, where he witnesses the torment of evil-doers. The gruesome tortures are shown clearly, but there are different interpretations of which punishment goes with what crime. (There’s an authoritative explanation in The Epic of Life – A Balinese Journey of the Soul by Idanna Pucci, available for reference in the pavilion.) The fourth row of panels depicts the story of Garuda’s (mythical man-bird) search for the elixir of life, while the fifth row shows events on the Balinese astrological calendar. The next three rows return to the story of Bima, this time travelling in heaven, with doves and a lotus flower at the apex of the ceiling.

Bale Kambang

The ceiling of the beautiful ‘Floating Pavilion’ is painted in Klungkung style. Again, the different rows of paintings deal with various subjects. The first row is based on the astrological calendar, the second on the folk tale of Pan and Men Brayut and their 18 children, and the upper rows on the adventures of the hero Sutasona.

Museum Semarajaya

This diverting museum has an interesting collection of archaeological and other pieces. There are exhibits of songket (silver- or gold-threaded cloth) weaving and palm toddy (palm wine) and palm-sugar extraction. Don’t miss the moving display about the 1908 puputan, along with some interesting old photos of the royal court. The exhibit on salt-making gives you a good idea of the hard work involved.


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