The Great Mosque of Medan

December 2015 I got to visit Medan, which is located in North Sumatra, Indonesia. Beside tasting the endless delicious street food, whether you’re a tourist or not, when you come to Medan, visiting or at least having had a glimpse of the Maimun Castle and The Grand Mosque of Medan is mandatory! Then again, they’re only 200 meters apart.

The Grand Mosque Al-Mashun is one of the many significant historical buildings in Medan. This mosque marks a history of the relation between the East-Indies and The Sultanate of Deli. Sultan Ma’moen Al Rasyid Perkasa Alamsyah was the one who initiated the building of this mosque. This mosque took three years to build (1906-1909). The first prayer was a friday prayer in 1906 and it has never stopped operating ever since. This mosque can get up to 1500 person btw.


When you visit big cities in Indonesia, it is likely that you will come across colonial buildings from the East-Indies era. One of the many typical of colonial buildings are that the architecture has been modified to adapt to tropical weather i.e. high ceilings, big opening for ventilation, etc. And since we were colonized by the Dutch (for 350 years) the form of architecture were also mainly influenced by Dutch architecture. However this mosque is quite different. The  Dutch architect behind this glorious building, took a different style for the design. Using Middle East, Morocco, India and Spain elements within the style. According to the guide that I had interviewed, this mosque is in Moorish style.


The mosque has 5 domes as a symbol of 5 prayer times and 8 pillars to symbolize 8 cardinal directions. Now, let’s talk about the colors! The colors you see within the interior, exterior patterns are mostly yellow/gold, green, red and blue. Each color also has their own philosophy. Yellow is the color of Melayu. It is usually accompanied with the color green. If you pay attention the Maimun Castle you will see that those colors are dominantly used in the palace. Red is for tobacco. Tobacco and mosque? Does it make sense? Actually it does. The Deli area was one of the biggest tobacco producers in the world. Even in those years, according to the guide, Deli had exported tobacco to places such as Cuba.They are proud of their tobacco, so they put in that red color for the sake of local touch to the mosque. Last but not least, blue, which is the color for peace.


There is definitely a lot going on in the design itself. The carving, the details are mesmerizing! The carrara marble are sent from Italy, The chandelier is from France, the stained glass are from China, there is a longcase clock which was a gift from Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands.


Honestly, how can we not love this?


It is amazing on how very detailed the work and ornaments are! Very well preserved! One of the door to get into the praying hall seen from the corridor. Moroccan shape door with colors!


The patterns are also unique, using elements such as nature, even symbolic of people! If you take a close look at the pattern above, it is a symbol of person sitting. And by the repetition, it creates the impression of people sitting next to each other, like in prayer. That, is deep!


Deep? Yes! I’ve always loved philosophy behind details! Because it’s soulful and beautiful. Have you ever imagined how much time and thought the designer has put into that pattern? Juggling between philosophy, art, technical work to finally achieve the final design of the pattern that now lasts more than a century!


Tiles on the corridor ceiling. The tiles are all still original from a century ago. Just amazing!

In conclusion, Check this place out! Especially if you’re into history and design. It’s quite interesting to see a ‘colonial building’ that is not typical and has other traits. The ornaments, every inch of detail is worth to be appreciated.

The pictures are all taken by me. If you happen to use them for either private or academic purposes, kindly link them to this blog. Thank you very much and I hope you enjoyed this post.


Fort Rotterdam Makassar


Fort Rotterdam was one of the most historical places I got to visit in Makassar. It is an authentic site in Makassar’s history, a milestone of the Dutch’s colonization throughout the era.


It is located near the Losari beach. In fact back then before the nowadays development, the fort was actually very near to the sea. Boats could even attach their ropes to the fort. One of the most interesting part of this fort, is when you take a look from above, the arrangement of the building – the architectural plan – looks like sea turtle! Today, it is used as a museum about Southern Sulawesi. Let’s take a look!


This is the entrance of the area. If you pay attention to the stones, you can see that the stone are still original. It survived hundreds of years, I’m impressed!



This is the pastor’s house and the picture beneath is is what used to be a church. There’s also a hospital. Houses of the generals, houses to keep food and spices, a house to keep prison (Pangeran Diponegoro was held as a prisoner there, he is regarded as one of Indonesia’s national hero). Literally it’s a community.


This is a way to get to the upper side, we have to get through a sort of tunnel which was very low for the head. As I asked the question to the guide, he said that the tunnel was intended for rolling the canons to the upper side, that’s why the ceiling was built so low.

Let’s get to the museum! They preserve a lot of information about Southern Sulawesi’s history, culture and of course about the fort itself.


This is an original scripture about La Galigo (a Southern Sulawesi character) in an ancient language and writing. It is so ancient that there is no one in the world who can read it (according to the guide). The content consist of stories and guidance about life. It’s like a bible to people back then I guess. There is also another script which is older and it is kept in a museum in Leiden – Netherlands. I’d like to see it one day.


This is a replica of the queen’s crown. It’s beautifully carved, amazing detail and it looks very heavy LOL. Makes me wonder what kind of technology they used back then to produce such original piece!


This is the traditional woven textile of Southern Sulawesi. From left to right. Makassar, Toraja and Bugis. The Toraja one has put their traditional house as a pattern.


This is the traditional wedding ceremony decoration where they put the newly-weds as queen and king of the day. In front of it they lay food and cover it with the hat like red cups. It’s not actually a cup, it’s made from textile. The food is brought by the groom as one of the gift for the bride. Looks like a lot of dishes huh! Mostly it’s snacks. On the sides you can see textiles, and those are the traditional textile that the groom wears at the wedding. Very typical Indonesian weddings. The more the merrier!




Out of the museum, there is also an artist! His name is Zainal Beta and he is a clay painter and has been doing it since the 70’s. What is a clay painter? Well, literally he paints with clay! You should see his work, even I’m amazed. He can paint in just 2 minutes! As I take a look from one painting to the other, he has put different colors of paint (I mean clay). I asked him how that’s possible. He said that each clay from each region has their own color. So he has to hunt clay from different places to get different colors for his work. His work is also published at the Losari beach art exhibition place. Look at the self portrait of him and yep it’s made from clay! Because I loved it so much, I got myself one of his amazing work!


As I was walking with the guide, we came across this English club! Apparently, there is a place in Fort Rotterdam that is occasionally used for learning English. I got the chance to talk a little with the teacher and the students. I had a blast! They are very smart! About the teacher, or I’d say ‘Your Majesty’! I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to meet one of the last descendent of Gowa and Makassar’s royal! He is the grandson of the last Gowa’s King and the grandson of the last Makassar’s king! Not just 1 but 2 or even 3 crowns if I’m not mistaken. He told me his real name. Probably because he is a royal descendant his name is incredibly long, I can’t even recall it. It has I think 10-20 names. I was like stunned but then he said ‘Just call me Daeng Lala’. That’s a relieve LOL! He is an English teacher and he can do a New Castle (I think) accent and he also owns a certificate for it.

As a ¼ Bugis (my Datuk (grandpa) is a Bugis) I find it fascinating to learn about the heritage that I partly came from! And I am so happy to be able to come to this part of Indonesia. Learnt the history, met the king, what a day! I had a blast! To close the day I got to try the original Makassar’s dish: Fish!

Minangkabau’s Traditional Gadang House


My visit to Padang brings me to see this real-life Gadang House (Rumah Gadang: meaning big house). Gadang house is the traditional tribal house of Minangkabau Indonesia (Western Sumatra). It’s really amazing and thank God this heritage survived through centuries! This house right here is not exactly built centuries ago but it is a reminiscent of the original one. It was built in 1988 and is now a mini library about Minangkabau. If you’re interested in visiting it, it is located in Padang Panjang a little bit outside of Padang. Pusat Dokumentasi dan Informasi Kebudayaan Minangkabau (Documentation and information Centre of Minangkabau Culture).


Whenever you see rumah gadang, the most obvious element of is the curved and pointy roof. In Minang it called bagonjong. It is a symbol of the buffalo’s horn which to their culture is considered very sacred. A little introduction about Minangkabau. Once upon a time the Minangkabau people were often mocked for their small buffalos. So one day a tournament is held between the local buffalo and a buffalo from another area. The other buffalo was huge! So the Minangkabau people did a trick. They got a newborn buffalo, a calf which is still in breastfeeding. They set it away from the mother for a few days that it made the calf very hungry. They put a pointy horn on the calf’s head. So on the day of the tournament, the calf thought that the big buffalo was its mother and ran to it with hopes to be fed. But instead, the calf killed the big buffalo so that the Minangkabau wins. Minang means winning. Kabau means buffalo. So literally it means winning buffalo!


Now about the house. So there are two types of Rumah Gadang. The first one has an ‘anjungan’ (up leveling) and the other has none only a flat floor (heritage to the Bodi and Caniago tribe). Now, whether a rumah gadang has an anjungan or not depends on which tribe builds it. This one that I’m visiting has an anjungan and it is a heritage to the Koto and Piliang tribe. The anjungan is used for the Datuk (head of tribe) to sit and on the other side for girls to create embroidery and textiles. Now, that it is a tribal house, it is inhabited by several families depending on the numbers of rooms in the house. The rooms in the house are usually uneven to keep the architecture balance of the house. So if there are 9 rooms. It means it has 8 rooms for the family and 1 kitchen. The kitchen in the very middle of the house with access to the area downstairs which they use to raise livestock (chicken, goats etc). Room 12346789 are bedrooms, room 5 is the kitchen. Families living in Rumah Gadang are those who are economically still unstable so the tribe helps them by letting them live in it. Once they are economically stable they have to get out of the house to build their own house. Not a gadang house, but just a normal one for the family.


There is a living system in this house. Families living here will move from one room from the side to the other side (The rooms are next to each other). The ones who enter the house are most likely a newly-wed. They will live in the first room. If another new family comes to live in the house they will have to live in the first room and the family previously living in the first room should move to the second room (which is next to it). The family living in the second should move to the third, and so on. What happens to the family living in the last room? Well, because this family has lived and benefited long enough from the house, they have to move out. Moreover, it is not necessary to wait until the family reaches the last room. Whenever they are able to afford/create a house, they are free to move out. The rooms are very small. It is intended for a young family (mother, father, a child). I think it’s only for the bedroom. If the family has a son who reaches 10 years old. He should not live in the rumah gadang anymore. He can only visit it to see parents and get clothes. Where does the boy live? He will help farming, he will go to a mosque to study religion and live there. Because back then it was very rare to get formal education so it was the only place to get educated. It has been tradition for a Minang (a person from Minangkabau) to get out of Minangkabau to look for better living. Nowadays Minangs are pretty much spread across the archipelago.  Okay back about the small room. The reason it is small is to motivate the man not to be lazy and work hard to earn, so that the family can move out from the rumah gadang.

Another system, is the border of the family’s living area. Each family’s area is defined by pillars. So their living area is their bedroom and in front of their bedroom between pillars on the sides. That area is used for having their meal, receiving guests, etc. They are not allowed to enter other’s area. In the kitchen, each family has their own stove so in this house there should be 8. They cook only for their own family.

A custom on receiving guest include receiving them in the family’s area. The guest should sit facing the owner to the outwards and the owner facing the guest, inwards facing the bedroom. That way the guest will only see the owner, the beautiful rumah gadang pattern and the nature outside the window and not the bedroom.


Like most of Indonesia’s traditional houses it is constructed of wood. Rumah gadang is built with a   earthquake safe construction which does not include concrete.  When an earthquake hit in 2007 and 2009, nothing in the house or the construction was broken. Rumah Gadang may seem like a little bit leaning but it is actually very strong. There is even a Minang phrase about it “Condong nan indah mambao rabah” meaning, although leaning, it will not fall apart. The walls are made of woven natural material. On the windows, doors and outside wall patterns are present. Phrase about the patterns “Alam takambang jadi guru cancang kayu jadi ukiran” meaning that creating the pattern, the Minangkabau people learns from the nature. The big wood are made as construction and pillars, but the leftovers are not wasted. It is used to create patterns.

kuciang lalok



Let’s talk about the pattern! The colors are not paint! The colors are derived from natural material that produces color such as leaves etc. The pattern carved on the pillars is called “Kuciang lalok” meaning a sleeping cat. It symbolizes awareness. When you see a sleeping cat, although its eyes are shut, its ears keeps moving, being aware. On the doors and windows the pattern is called “Si kambang manik” meaning the beautiful flower. It symbolizes the friendliness of the Minangkabau people in receiving their guests. Another one is called “Itiak pulang patang” meaning chicks go home in the evening. It symbolizes discipline and in order in the patterns. Similar with chicks, when they walk they’ll walk in a line. “Pucuk rabuang” pattern has the phrase of “Kete paguno gadang ta pakai”. Literally it means that a young bamboo can be used as food and an old bamboo can be used to build a house. The real meaning behind that phrase is, as a human from young to old we apt to be useful for others. It is a culture of Minangkabau to have meaningful phrases.


In front of the rumah gadang they have the rice house which is called “Rangkiang”. The first question that popped of my head was ‘Where’s the door?’ The answer to that is that it doesn’t have one. In order to collect the rice, a person has to get a ladder and climb up to that rectangular hole. It is made that way to reduce risks of getting the rice stolen. The ladder is not placed on the rangkiang for safety, it is saved under the rumah gadang. The reason why the rangkiang is put outside the house is also for safety. In case the house burnt down. They will still have food to eat. There are 4 rangkiangs. The first rangkiang with 4 pillars is the place to store rice that will be used for ceremonies such as weddings etc. The second rangkiang with 4 pillars is to store rice that is used for helping the poor and surviving the drought. The rangking with 6 pillars is used to store rice for daily use of the rumah gadang. And the last is rangkiang with 9 pillars is used to store rice for the community and development of area. For example the rice can be sold and the money can be used to help the development.

However, the real rumah gadang does not have furniture such as shown in the picture, they sit on the floor. There are furniture now basically because it’s a library.


Last but not least this is the traditional Minangkabau dress for a wedding! They have this in the house you are able to hire and take photos in it. Complete with the traditional decoration of a wedding party! I had so much fun learning about all this. Indonesia is indeed very rich in culture!