The booming city of Medan, capital of North Sumatra , is an economic hub and commercial centre for the region. This is the largest city in Sumatra attracting residents from all over Indonesia who come here to do business.
For visitors, Medan is best known as the gateway to North Sumatra with many travellers flying into the city and setting off from here for adventures in the cool highlands of Lake Toba or the wild Sumatran jungle.
This is a busy and sprawling metropolis so you’ll need to be patient as noisy minibuses and becak compete with taxis and motorbikes for space through the crowds and heat.
The population of Medan is diverse. Citizens here represent virtually every ethnicity in Indonesia including Batak, Malay, Javanese, Minang, Acehnese, Indians and Chinese.
In it’s earliest days, the area which is now Medan was home to a community of traders and seafarers, under the rule of Islamic Malay leaders. This was until the Acehnese finally conquered the area after years of battling in the early 17th century. During the period of conflict, the plains were used as a battlefield between the two kingdoms which is why Medan translates literally as field or battlefield.
The modern history of the area begins in the 1860’s when entrepreneurs recognized the potential of the rich volcanic soil here and began plantation agriculture. In 1865 an adventurous Dutch entrepreneur introduced tobacco to the area ushering in a new era of prosperity. This led to an influx of foreign investment and a steady stream of European capitalists. Crops of tobacco, rubber, oil palms, sisal and tea were all planted here. Thus from a small village, Medan grew into a prosperous colonial city.
In 1886 the Dutch made Medan capital of North Sumatra and by the end of Dutch rule the population had swelled to about 80,000.
After independence in 1948, the population of Medan exploded and it is now the third largest city in the country. Today the influence of Medan’s colonial plantation past is reflected in the European architecture of many of the cities biggest buildings. Medan has become a blend of the modern and the ancient.