Founded nearly eight centuries ago, Indonesia’s second largest city has seen empires come and go. The founders of the Hindu Majapahit Empire arrived in late 13th century and remained until the 17th, to be followed by Muslim rulers of Mataram, then the colonialists of the Dutch East India Company. In recent decades, Surabaya has grown into a cosmopolitan seaport and conurbation where 21st century hotels, apartment towers and shopping malls stand next to historic mosques and palaces.
For centuries, Surabaya has attracted immigrants from the Javanese hinterland, the neighbouring island of Madura, and from all the islands of Indonesia. As a result, the city is an ethnic melting pot, including an Arab quarter founded by traders from the Middle East, and a Chinese quarter inhabited by the descendants of traders who settled here more than five centuries ago.
On the south bank of the Kalimas River estuary, Surabaya is a fast-growing modern city: the second largest in Indonesia and one of the country’s major centres for shipbuilding, heavy manufacturing and light industry. It is also a major financial centre, and ambitious new developments for the future include the construction of Southeast Asia’s longest bridge, linking the city to the island of Madura.
The pace of life in the bustling city centre can be overwhelming for the first-time visitor. Limousines, taxicabs, buses, bemo minibuses and becak scooter-taxis jostle for space on the busy avenues, where gleaming hotel, apartment and office towers dominate. A few blocks inland from the waterfront, Kampung Arab (Arab Quarter), is a labyrinth of old-fashioned chophouses and narrow, colourful streets reminiscent of the city’s mercantile past. Chinatown straddles Jalan Kembang Jepun.Read More