Medan is the third largest city in Indonesia, the capital of Sumatra, and the gateway to the wildlife of north Sumatra and picturesque scenery of Lake Toba. On the verge of modernisation, Medan is a beguiling blend of temples, mosques, old colonial buildings and modern shopping centres.
Sumatra’s capital of Medan often acts as a gateway to the popular island attractions of Gunung Leuser National Park and Lake Toba. The city began life in 1590, with the arrival of the Dutch and the tobacco plantations. Over the following years, the former village grew so large and so quickly, that Medan was made the capital of North Sumatra in 1886. Today, the city is still surrounded by plantations and is now Indonesia’s third largest urban area.
Although Medan would not be considered one of Sumatra’s main attractions, rather a gateway to the island’s more popular cultural and wildlife destinations, the city does boast some interesting sights. The Museum of North Sumatra is housed in a traditional building and has a good collection of early Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic artefacts, right through to Dutch colonial-era historical treasures. Highlights include fine stone carvings, incredible carved wooden dragon coffins, fine textiles and an impressive ornamental Keris (dagger) collection. Also, of note is the Maimoon Palace built in 1886, by the sultan of Deli, featuring Malay, Mughal and Italian influences. While the current sultan still resides there, it is still possible to visit some of the rooms.
There are many houses of worship to visit in the city, owing to the island’s Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic history. The most impressive of these include the Grand Mosque built in 1906, with Middle Eastern, Indian and Spanish architectural influences and the oldest Hindu temple, Sri Mariammam, built in 1884, which can be found in Medan’s Little India district. But essentially, Medan is a city transforming from an old colonial past to a modern 21st century metropolis, full of diversity, with large glittering shopping plazas, rubbing shoulders with street vendors and traditional markets.