Puri Agung Karangasem, once the royal palace of the kingdom of Karangasem, offers a glimpse into the splendour of the days when the Rajas ruled Bali. Located in the centre of Amlapura, it’s a fascinating stop for anyone interested in architecture or history.
The palace was built at the end of the 19th century and is still home to descendants of the royal family. The orderly compound comprises several grand buildings and numerous separate courtyards blending Balinese, European and Chinese architectural styles. A teared pagoda-style entrance gate, symbolic of the three worlds of heaven, earth and hell, lead towards the rising sun in the east.
The first compound contains guest rooms and a courtyard for traditional performances. Another teared gate leads to a garden, before you enter the inner courtyard which houses Maskerdam, the Raja’s residence.
Maskerdam is a corruption of ‘Amsterdam’, a nod to the last Raja’s submission to Dutch rule. Inside the former living quarters you’ll see several furnished rooms, including the royal bedroom and a sitting room, in all their faded glory. Even more fascinating is the large number of photographs hanging on the walls depicting the Raja’s interactions with the Dutch colonial overlords at the turn of the century. No one has lived in Maskerdam since the last Raja’s death in 1966.
Within the compound are a number of other small pavilions. The elevated, ornately decorated Bale Pawedaan is still used for royal tooth-filing ceremonies and other rites of passage. A large pond houses a floating pavilion, Bale Kambang or Gili — a traditional dining room, also used for Balinese dance and gamelan performances. From here you can see that Maskerdam is framed by the sacred mountains, Gunung Agung to the northwest and Gunung Lempuyang to the northeast.
Further inside, other courtyards lead to the current family’s homes and former quarters of the royal slaves and concubines.
Crumbling red brickwork, and thresholds worn down by royal footsteps inject a melancholy ambience as you wander around this historical site. Life today for the royal descendants must be very different from its once glorious past.
At the time of our visit in 2016 there were no guides, but an orientation sheet printed in English is available.
It’s possible to stay in the Puri Agung Karangasem with members of the royal family through AirBnb for $35 per night. We did not see the rooms, but we imagine it would be a memorable stay.
To see other relics of this former kingdom, visit the water palaces of Taman Sukasada in Ujung, and Tirta Gangga. Not far from Puri Agung Karangasem, Amlapura market is also worth a stop while you are in town.
By Sally Arnold
Last updated on 1st March, 2016.