Medan, Indonesia

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The capital of Sumatra, Medan (field), is the third largest city in Indonesia, a trading centre and an important harbour. It is by the Deli River in northeast Sumatra. The architecture is of solid Dutch buildings from the colonial era and ramshackle housing. Medan, once the centre of Sumatra’s plantation-based economy, is now the island’s centre of commerce and industry. Earthquakes and religious violence have hit the area and the situation remains unstable.


Around 10,000 years ago, Neolithic hunters settled in the areas around what is now Medan. In the eleventh century Arab, Chinese and Indian traders arrived. Kampung Medan (Medan Village) was founded around 1590s. The first inhabitants came from the Karo community. The village did not develop until 1862, when the Dutch settled and opened tobacco plantations. Deli wrapper leaf for cigars rapidly became world famous. It was also here where modern Indonesian oil industry began. International investments were bigger here than in other areas of Indonesia. Labourers were brought into Medan from China, India, Java and Madura. The population rose tenfold from 1880 to 1920. In 1915, Medan became the capital of North Sumatra Province. Among the first modern machine printed books, newspapers and magazines in Indonesia were published in Medan.

Modern City

Standards have fallen owing to economic turmoil. Industries include bricks, tile and machinery and exports include oil, rubber and palm oil. With a limited rail network, bus is the chief form of transport. There is an international airport (Polonia Airport). The city’s two universities, The University of North Sumatra and The Islamic University of North Sumatra, were established in 1952.

Places of Interest

The sultan of Delis’ palace, built by the Dutch in the nineteenth century, is the chief historical building. The Mosque, one of Indonesia’s biggest, was built in 1906 in Moorish style. The ceremonial palace of the sultans of Deli, Istana Maimoon, was completed in 1888. Built in 1921, the Immanuel Protestant Church is an example of art-deco colonial architecture. Kampung Keling, the original centre of Medan’s Indian community, has a temple (Sri Mariamman) built in 1884. There is a Military Museum displaying weapons used in the War of Independence and paintings showing struggles against the Dutch. The Museum of North Sumatra covers the region’s culture and history. The Crocodile Farm, the largest in Indonesia, has regular performances of men fighting the animals.

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