Steeped in culture and history, the lush Regency of Gianyar contains some of Bali's earliest relics and the majority of her important archeological sites. It is also rich in artistic tradition and has produced a good share of the island's most accomplished painters and dancers. Gianyar is blessed by immensely fertile soil and a plethora of springs and waterways. Two major rivers border the regency, Ayung on the west and Pakerisan on the east, and the land in between has been shaped by generations into a magnificent series of paddy terraces. The streams that gush down from Gianyar's volcanic crown have also played an important archeological role. Cutting gorges through the land and hewing boulders from bedrock, the riverways of Gianyar left in their millenialong wake the perfect combination of materials and supernatural settings for a series of rock-cut shrines (candi) and niches.
The regency's numerous springs, considered sources of fecundity and prosperity, were also long ago transformed into sacred watering holes and temple compounds. The most impressive of these sites are the holy springs of Tirta Empul and tombs and reliefs of Gunung Kawi and Yeh Pulu. The ancient hermitage of Goa Gajah ("Elephant Cave") is located on the Petanu River between Peliatan and Bedulu. Discovered by Western archeologists only in 1923, this complex comprising a man-made grotto, elaborate stone carvings, Buddhist stupas and a sacred bath is now one of the most visited tourist attractions on the island, as the procession of curio shops and snack vendors will attest to. The Gedung Arca Archeology Museum is also found in this vicinity, housing an interesting collection of stone-age artifacts. Gianyar's oldest statuary is found near the village of Pejeng at Pura Kebo Edan ("Temple of the Crazy Buffalo").
Here, amongst other silent figures, stands the centuries-old "Pejeng Giant", 3.6 metres high and sporting an enormous male organ. Also in the Pejeng area is Pura Pusering Jagat, which dates from the 14th century and contains some interesting Hindu relics, including a large, ornately carved stone vessel venerated by locals. Nearby, Pura Panataran Sasih derives its name from its most important antiquity: the Pejeng Moon. The Moon (translated as Sasih in Balinese) is a bronze-age kettle drum believed to have been forged in the first century, though local tradition has it that this relic, a wheel of the Moon God's chariot, fell from the sky. Regardless, the drum is now housed in a tower-like shrine at the back of the temple, near other 11th century statuary.
Gianyar is also an excellent place to shop. The highway from Batubulan to Ubud passes through a rapid succession of villages, each specializing in its own art form, be it gold and silver work, wood carving, sculpting or painting. Ubud itself, 25 km north of Denpasar, has been home to artists, healers and literati for countless generations, and earlier this century became a chic retreat for foreign artisu and spiritualists. Ubud caters to its ever-growing complemeni of tourists with dozens of shops and restaurants and its own tourist information office. Three museums, Neka, Puri Lukisan and Agung Rai, display fine works of modern and traditional Balinese art.