Medan historical old town to return to its days of glory until 2024
With a restored old city integrating larger pavements for walking, a beautification programme in the city centre and the restoration of many art deco buildings from the Dutch times, Medan on Sumatra Island puts the chance to become a truly attractive cultural destination for international travellers.
Medan city is certainly not the most obvious tourism destination in Indonesia, being far being in popularity compared to Bali but also Jakarta, Bandung or Yogyakarta on Java Island. However, Sumatra largest metropolitan area with some 2.5 million people, is worth a visit. Especially thanks to a rich history with many heritage buildings being now renovated.
Medan is the capital of North Sumatra Province. Being the fourth largest city in Indonesia, Medan is a multicultural metropolis, being the melting-pot of the entire island of Sumatra. A Malay kingdom originally, Medan has attracted in the 19th century other ethnics such as Chinese, Batak, Minang, Javanese and Indian emigrants. They came from across the entire Indonesian archipelago and from outside due to the economic boom of the town. The prosperity of Medan came as Dutch traders opened tobacco plantations in the area in 1873. Medan then became the centre of all the exports of commodities to Europe, the region being well known for products such as tobacco, tea, sugar, palm oil, timber and rubber. The city’s light industry produced also bricks, tiles and machinery. Medan prosperity was so big that Dutch gave the city the nickname of Medan the nickname “Het Land Dollar”, meaning “the Land of Money”!
This prosperity translated into many imposing colonial structures being built in the city centre, around what is today known as “Lapangan Merdeka” -“Independence Square”, previously known as the Esplanade. While the square was surrounded by stately buildings such as the post office, the City Hall, the Bank of Java, hotels and the train station, adjacent streets became home to elegant coffee and restaurants, shops or company headquarters.
Medan old town to be turned into a cultural district
Most of the old buildings are along Jend. Ahman Yani street in the historical district of Kesawan. For many years however, very little has been done. The district offered a desolated image of dilapidated buildings, broken pavement and street lights while garbage was barely collected.
But it has now changed and the City Hall launched early this year an extensive programme of renovation of the area with its numerous Art Deco style houses and Chinese-Malay shop houses. The beautification programme will turn Kesawan district into a very attractive destination for tourists. A dozen of historical buildings have already been renovated, new hotels and coffee shops opened.
A highlight of Medan cultural offer is the old Tjong A Fie Mansion. The traditional Chinese-Malay style house is a typical 19th century mansion surrounded by gardens. Built around 1900, the house was inhabited by the last descendants of Tjong A Fie until the early 2000s. It was converted into a museum in 2009.
The city recently opened the transformed Medan Main Post Office. The structure, built in 1911 in art nouveau style, has been turned into a cultural and food hub. It now accommodates a range of small eateries, coffee shops and restaurants while an outdoor stage has been installed to welcome local rock and pop groups.
However, a major revitalisation project in the city centre is taking place at the Independence Square. The heart of Medan public life is being redeveloped until 2024. It will see the restoration of the green areas with more trees being added, the construction of a stage for cultural and sport performances as well as the development of the future Medan City Museum as well as an art gallery.
With the 130-year old Maimoon Palace, home to the former Sultan of Medan Deli and the nearby Great Mosque, built in a style reminiscent of the Taj Mahal, Sumatra Island largest metropolis is slowly waking up to the idea of becoming a full-fledged cultural tourism destination. Finally!