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In 1590 Raja Guru Patimpus founded the settlement Medan Putri in the fertile lowlands between the rivers Sungai Deli and Sungai Babura. Between the end of the 16th century and early 17th century this area became a battlefield (medan perang) between the Aceh and Deli rulers. Medan was only a small village up to the 19th century. In 1823 it had a population of only 200 persons. After the arrival of the Dutch, Medan started to grow fast. In 1865 tobacco was introduced and Medan became a center for rich plantations. In 1886 it became the capital of what then was North Sumatra. In 1910, approximately 18.000 people lived here and ten years later 45.000. By the end of the Dutch rule, 1942, the population consisted already of 80.000 people. By that time it had become the richest and most productive area of the Dutch East Indies. Today there are almost three million inhabitants in Medan.

The Deli Sultanate

In the 16th century there was a kingdom called Aru, with its center where Deli Tua is now (South of Medan Town). In 1612 the famous Acehnese Sultan Iskandar Muda defeated Aru. The Acehnese appointed Hisyamsudin (later he changed name to Gocah Pahlawan) as their representative in this kingdom of East Sumatra. In 1632 Aceh established the Deli Kingdom and Tuanku Panglima Gocah Pahlawan became the first king. He died in 1669 and was followed by Marhum Kesawan who moved the center of the Kingdom to the location where Medan is now. The third king, Tuanku Panglima Padrap, (ruled 1698-1728) moved the kingdom to Pulo Brayan. The forth king, Tuanku Panglima Pasutan, (ruled between 1728-1761) moved the kingdom to Labuhan Deli. He organized the kingdom in four tribes, each led by a Datuk (a Malay title for high ranking persons). The fifth king, Tuanku Panglima Gandar Wahib, ruled in the period 1761-1805. During his time the Datuks increased their power.

The sixth ruler was Sultan Amaluddin Mengedar Alam, (ruled 1805-1850). The Siak Kingdom, during his years, became a stronger influence in Deli than the Acehnese Sultanate. The king was given the title Sultan. Sultan Osman Perkasa Alam ruled from 1850 to 1858. During his leadership the Deli sultanate became autonomous. Sultan Mahmud Al Rasyid Perkasa Alam (ruled 1858-1873) started the relationship with the Dutch, a relationship that became rather intimate. Sultan Ma’mun Al Rasyid Perkasa Alamsyah ruled from 1873 to 1924 when the tobacco trade expanded. He moved the kingdom to Medan and finished the construction of the Maimoon Palace in 1888. He also built the Grand mosque Al Mashum in 1907. He became known as the builder. Sultan Amaluddin Al Sani Perkasa Alamsyah (ruled 1924-1945) built harbors and commerce increased during this period. At the declaration of Indonesian Independence the Sultan recognized the sovereignty of the republic and was in return given an important function as administrator of Deli-Malay traditions and culture.

The Paris of Sumatra

The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 meant strongly intensified traffic between Europe and the Far East. The Dutch started the shipping company ‘Stoomvaart Maatschappij Nederland’ that quickly expanded to 43 steamships in 1877. The English, however, had already 3.000 ships in those days. A journey from Europe to Indonesia took app. 40 days. After the opening of the Gotthard tunnel in Switzerland, Genoa in Italy became the new transit harbor for passenger ships. Now the journey only took 23 days and 20 hours to Batavia (Jakarta). The ships also became bigger and more comfortable. In 1890 Sabang (Aceh) became a bunker harbor. Belawan got its harbor in 1923. Before this, the exports were very dependent on British shipping. The shipping company Koninklijke Paketvaart Maatschappij (KPM) was established for the purpose of shipping the valuable Deli tobacco, which was shipped over Batavia. This cargo was almost as valuable as gold and stringent rules regulated the handling. It was strictly forbidden to stow anything on top of the tobacco. The coolies were not even allowed to walk on it when they worked in the hatches.

Cleaning of roads in Medan was, until 1912, done by prisoners. After that free coolies got the job. In 1917 the authorities started to use horse drawn carts, equipped with brooms for the cleaning. In 1928 the horse drawn carts were replaced by motorized vehicles. The first newspaper was the ‘Deli Courant’, established in 1885. It did not appear daily. In 1898 the German Joseph Hallermann established the daily ‘De Sumatra Post’, which survived until 1939.

There were planters in Medan from many countries: England, the Netherlands, USA, France, Germany, Poland, and Switzerland. Many of them became very rich and led an affluent life style. Medan became known as the Paris of Sumatra. Still today, the area in downtown where the present airport is located, is called Polonia, a name given by a Polish aristocrat who once owned a plantation here. One area of Medan is still called Helvetia (the old name of Switzerland). This name was given by a plantation owner from Switzerland.




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