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 Persian bandar meaning "port" or "haven." The city is also dubbed the "port to Mecca," or the "porch of Mecca" in reference to the days when hajj pilgrims travelled by sea from Indonesia and would make a stop over 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 travelers 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'.
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.
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 the 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.
Banda Aceh is divided into nine districts (Indonesian: kecamatan):
One of the unique features of Banda Aceh are the motorised becaks that are found almost everywhere. Unlike traditional becaks, a motorised becak can take passengers anywhere in the city. The fare for riding a motorised becak is relatively cheap and is usually negotiated beforehand. Transport by taxis and minibuses, known as labi-labi, are also common.
Sultan Iskandar Muda International Airport is located in Blang Bintang, 13.5 km from Banda Aceh.
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 sea ports, 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, along with the government program for the transportation development in Indonesia that implemented last year, Banda Aceh had own its BRT system for the first time named Trans Koetaradja. Currently, the Trans Koetaradja runs a single line from Keudah to Darussalam with ten buses operated on the line. It operating hours were Monday-Saturday from 07:00-18:00 LT and on Sunday from 07:00-17:00 LT.
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.
Football is the most popular sport, and Giants Football Club from Aceh, Persiraja Banda Aceh is the most popular team.
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 all cities with a tropical rainforest climate, Banda Aceh does not have a true dry season month where an average of less than 60 mm of precipitation falls. 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.
Besides its landmarks, royal heritage sites, and attractive beaches, Banda Aceh is also famous for its keudè kupi (coffee shop) where specially brewed coffee is served. There are two kind of brewed coffees Ulèë Karéng and Beurawé coffee.
Several festivals are held annually by the city:
There are three beaches close to Banda Aceh which can be visited by car or motorcycle in 15 to 20 minutes:
The religion of the majority of the population is Islam, with minorities including Buddhists, Christians (both Protestant and Catholic), and Hindus.
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.
The Hindu community consists of both Balinese Hindus and Tamil Hindus who originate from India.