Banda Aceh is the capital and largest city in the province of Aceh, Indonesia. It is located on the island of Sumatra and has an elevation of 35 meters. The city covers an area of 61.4 square kilometres and had a population of 223,446 people at the 2010 Census, rising to 250,227 at the 2015 Census; the latest official estimate (as at mid-2019) is 268,148. Banda Aceh is located on the northwestern tip of Indonesia at the mouth of the Aceh River.
The city was originally established as Bandar Aceh Darussalam Kandang and served as a capital and hub for the Sultanate of Aceh upon its foundation in the late 15th century. Later its name was changed to Bandar Aceh Darussalam, and then became popularly known as Banda Aceh. The first part of the name comes from the Persianbandar (بندر) meaning "port" or "haven". The city is also dubbed the "port to Mecca," or the "porch of Mecca" (Indonesian: Serambi Mekkah) in reference to the days when hajj pilgrims travelled by sea from Indonesia and would make a stopover in the city before continuing their journey to Mecca.
Banda Aceh had long been at the centre of protracted conflicts between the Acehnese and foreign domination, including war with Portuguese, wars with the Dutch, the Japanese, and the Indonesian government. The city rose to international prominence in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean earthquake in 2004, which struck off the western coast of Sumatra. Banda Aceh was the closest major city to the earthquake's epicentre, which lay 249 km off the coast. It suffered great damage in the earthquake and further damage when a tsunami struck shortly afterwards. 167,000 people died as a result and many more were injured.
The aftermath of the tsunami has seen a cessation of much of the conflict in the city and province, and domestic and international aid, as a result, has seen a major modernisation and reconstruction of the city over the past decade.
Banda Aceh, situated at the tip of Sumatra, has long been a strategic, transportation and trading hub in the eastern Indian Ocean. Its first mention in western accounts comes from 1292 when Marco Polo and his expedition visited the city, referred to as 'Lambri' from Lamuri Kingdom which previously existed there and noted as the logical first port of call for travellers from Arabia and India to Indonesia.Ibn Battuta also reported visiting the city in the mid-14th century when under the control of the trading kingdom of Samudera Pasai, the then-dominant entity in northern Sumatra. However the Pasai began to collapse under pressure from declining economic conditions and the Portuguese, who occupied much of the area after occupying Malacca in the early 15th century. Sultan Ali Mughayat Syah, ruler of the newly founded Sultanate of Aceh, aggressively expanded in the area in the 1520s and established sultanate was built on the remains of the Pasai and other extinct kingdoms in the area, and made Banda Aceh the capital, naming it for himself as Kutaraja or 'City of the King'.
Koetaradja/Banda Aceh old map
After a long period of rule by the Sultanate, Aceh began to come into conflict with the Dutch and the British in the second half of the 18th century. At the end of the 18th century, the territory of Aceh in the Malay Peninsula, namely Kedah and Pulau Pinang, were seized by the British. In 1871, the Dutch began to threaten Aceh, and on 26 March 1873, the Dutch formally declared war on Aceh. The Dutch bombarded the capital in that year and sought to capture the Sultan's palace in the city to bring about a capitulation of the Acehnese. Significant support from the British in the region led the modernisation and fortification of the city, and while coastal areas were lost the Dutch underestimated the city's defences. The Dutch expedition commander General Johan Köhler was killed in a skirmish around the city, leading to the failure of the first expedition. A second expedition was mounted by the Dutch within months and was successful in overwhelming the city. The Dutch moved into the capital in January 1874 believing the Acehnese to have surrendered; however, the conflict moved into the countryside, and the Acehnese continued to actively oppose Dutch rule.
Banda Aceh aerial view after the tsunami disaster, 2004
After it entered the Government of the Republic of Indonesia on 28 December 1962, the name of the city was changed back to Banda Aceh by the Ministry of Public Administration and Regional Autonomy on 9 May 1963. On 26 December 2004, the city was hit by a tsunami caused by a 9.2-magnitude earthquake in the Indian Ocean. The disaster killed 167,000 inhabitants and destroyed more than 60% of the city's buildings. Based on the statistical data issued by the City Government of Banda Aceh, Banda Aceh had 248,727 inhabitants in May 2012.
Mayor office of Banda Aceh
Banda Aceh is divided into nine districts (Indonesian: kecamatan), listed below with their areas and populations at the 2010 Census:
Two main highways run from Banda Aceh to the south. One runs down the eastern side of the province through main towns such as Bireuen and Lhokseumawe to Medan, the large capital of the province of North Sumatra. The other highway runs down the western side of the province, through lesser-populated areas, to the towns of Calang, Meulaboh, and Singkil. The main bus station, Terminal Terpadu Batoh, is located at Jalan Mr. Teuku Muhammad Hasan.
Banda Aceh has two seaports, Pelabuhan (port) Ulèë Lheuë and Pelabuhan Malahayati. Pelabuhan Ulèë Lheuë was formerly the main sea port in Aceh. It now functions as a ferry terminal. It is located in the Meuraksa area. Pelabuhan Malahayati, the current main sea port, is located in Krueng Raya, 27 km from Banda Aceh. It now functions as the main freight cargo terminal.
Since May 2016, Banda Aceh has had a bus rapid transit system, called Trans Koetaradja. Initially, Trans Koetaradja runs only a single line Keudah – Darussalam (vv) (Corridor I), which operates from 06:30–18:36 on Monday-Saturday and 07:20–17:20 on Sunday and Holidays. Since 2017, it added 2 additional lines: Corridor II-A with route Sultan Iskandar Muda International Airport – Pasar Aceh (vv) and operates from 08:00–18:20 everyday; and Corridor II-B with route Pelabuhan Ulèë Lheuë (Port) – Pasar Aceh (vv) and operates from 07:00–18:35 everyday. From 2016 till 2018, thanks to subsidies from Aceh government, it is a free-of-charge transportation for passengers.
Banda Aceh at night
The TVRI Aceh, state-owned, Kutaraja TV and Aceh TV, both privately owned, are the local TV stations in Banda Aceh. The oldest newspaper in the Banda Aceh region is Harian Serambi Indonesia. Several other newspapers such as Harian Aceh, Harian Waspada, Harian ProHaba, and Harian RajaPost are also available.
Lapangan Blang Padang is a multi-use park located in the centre of Banda Aceh and has become a location for citizen sports activities for decades. It has jogging track, volleyball court, football pitch, basketball court, and food courts, as well. There is a famous replica of RI 001, the first Indonesian plane, at Lapangan Blang Padang.
Some other sport complexes in Banda Aceh are: Lapangan Neusu, Komplek Harapan Bangsa, Lapangan Gelanggang Unsyiah, and Lapangan Tugu
Indoor Sport Hall
In Banda Aceh, there are several indoor sport halls (id: Gelanggang Olah Raga, abbreviated as GOR) which previously hosted as a venue for multiple sports: GOR KONI, GOR Dista, GOR Pango and GOR A. Madjid Ibrahim Unsyiah.
In addition, there are also several small capacity stadiums in the city, i.e.: Syiah Kuala University Stadium and Lambhuk Mini Stadium.
Banda Aceh features a tropical rainforest climate under the Köppen climate classification, with near-constant average temperatures. The city's annual average temperature is 27 degrees Celsius. However, the city features wetter and drier seasons, with June through August being the driest months of the year. Like other cities with a tropical rainforest climate, Banda Aceh does not have a true dry season, with the driest month averaging 90 mm of precipitation. On average, the city experiences a little less than 2000 mm of precipitation annually.
As the capital of the Aceh province, Banda Aceh is home to many landmarks important to the history of the Acehnese people and the sultanates.
Baiturrahman Grand Mosque
Kerkhoff Poucut entry gate
The Baiturrahman Grand Mosque was originally built during the Sultanate of Iskandar Muda (1607–1636). It was rebuilt in 1875 after it was burnt down in the Aceh war. It has seven domes and four smaller towers along with the main tower. The mosque can accommodate up to 9,000 people.
A number of places near the centre of Banda Aceh have been established as memorials of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami on the city. These include several mass burial centres such as the graves at Ulee Lheue, places where boats were carried several kilometres inland by the tsunami (PLTD Apung 1, or the "Floating Diesel Plant", and the "Floating Boat on the Roof"), and the Tsunami Museum. The PLTD Apung 1 had been located near the Ule Lheu beach before being shifted close to the city centre by the tsunami. It has become one of the most important landmarks in Banda Aceh.
Dutch Kerkhof Poucut Cemetery is a Dutch military burial ground located near the centre of Banda Aceh, next to the tsunami museum. The cemetery name is a combination of Kerkhof (Dutch for churchyard or graveyard) and poucut or poteu cut (Acehnese for prince). The Kerkhoff Poucut is recorded as the largest Dutch military cemetery outside the Netherlands. There are around 2,200 graves of white Dutch soldiers as well as recruits from Ambon, Manado and Java, and several Dutch generals.
The Aceh Museum is one of the oldest museums in Indonesia. The original museum was established almost 100 years ago. After Independence in 1945, the museum became the property of the regional government. In 1969 the museum was moved from the original site at Blang Padang to the current location in Jl Sultan Alaiddin Mahmudsyah. The museum contains a wide range of artefacts relating to the history and cultural life of Aceh.
Several festivals are held annually by the city:
Banda Aceh Festival
Festival Krueng Aceh Peunayong
Festival Geulayang Tunang (kite festival)
Indonesia City Expo
There are three beaches close to Banda Aceh which can be reached by car or motorcycle: Ujông Batèë Beach, Lhôk Nga Beach, and Lam Pu'uk Beach, which is the most developed of the three.
Banda Aceh is home to four long-standing churches: the Hati Kudus Catholic church, Western Indonesian Protestant church (GPIB), Methodist church, and the Batak Protestant Church (HKBP). There are 93 mosques and 112 musholla (small mosques). There is a Buddhist temple and a Hindu temple in the city.