Palembang is a sissling hot, lively industrial and communicational centre which is hardly visited by foreigners, but is working on it's image. With over one milion residents it's, besides Medan, the biggest city of Sumatra and the sixth city of Indonesia, after Semarang. The growing economy is based on coal, plantations, oil raffination and production of fertilizer.
Palembang spreads towards two sides along the six-hundred-metre-wide Musi River on a strategical point: just below the connection of two important side rivers which offer access to the vast Sumatran hinterlands. The city has a 1,300 year history, washed in Malay culture, and once was the location of the buddhist principalty of Srivijaya. It's textile and paint belong to the best of Indonesia.
The old palace
The most important point of orientation of the city is the Ampera bridge, built by the Japanese as official payback, forced by Soekarno, he opened it with a big show in 1964. The central span between two main towers used to be lifted for the biggest ships, but nowadays it's stuck.
North of the bridge if Jl. Sudirman, the main street of Palembang, which comes together with Jl. Merdeka in front of Mesjid Aging or Royal Mosque. The mosque was built in 1740 by sultan Machmud Badaruddin, and is reconstructed not too long ago. This was the location of the earlier capital of an islamic principalty which often was on war with the Dutch, until the last sultan, Ahmad Badaruddin, surrendered to be banned to Banda Neira in 1825.
The Sultan Machmud Badaruddin II Museum, at the northern side of the brigde, is a good starting point for a trip around the city. The museum, with it's circling stairs, shows a strange blend of colonial and traditional Malay architecture. It was built by the Dutch in 1823 on the location of the former palace of the sultan (which was destroyed by Dutch troops) and served as the official Dutch residence for years.
It has been redecorated with a traditionally palace interrios, complete with royal sleeping room and living spaces. Downstairs are restaurants which offer specials from Palembang. The tourism office is at the other side, besides a new open air theathre where traditional Malay dances are shown.
The backside of the museum houses the new artmarket with small exhibition rooms, where local artists use fine gold and silver threat (songket), and difficult red-black paint.
This last craft was introduced in Palembang from China. Baskets, tikar and shellproducts are also produced here. Walk from the musem towards the river and turn right onto Jl. Keraton towards the old fruit market, where women in batik sarongs sit between mountains of banana's, melons and papaya's.
The view on the Ampera Bridge is very impressive. About 500 metres west from the museum is Benteng Kuto Besak, an old fortress, surrounded by three-metre-high, dirty grey (once white) wall. The fortress was built in 1797 by the sultan, and is now in use by the army. The area is prohibited. The nice buildings can be seen through the fence.
A little more upstream is a mooring place for water taxi's. To have a taste of the real Palembang, a short trip along the river is very nice. Wander downstream along a group of living boats which are located just before the Ampera Bridgde across the river and keep following the northern shoew until the lively floating market (Pasar 16 Ilir).
One kilometer more downstream, at the left side, is the most important riverport of Palembang, Boom Baru. Another two kilometers ahead is the vast Pusri fertilizer factory, which is said to be the biggest in Southeastern Asia. Just after this you will see Pulau Kemaro, a small island with a big buddhist temple and the grave of a Chinese princess.
The legend tells that the princess was sent to marry the king of Srivijaya. When she arrived, boats with big pottery pots were sent ashore. The king expected gold and opened them, but the first one only had vegetables. He ordered the other pots to be thrown in the river. When the princess saw that happening, she jumped in the river and drowned. Several of the pots broke, and they indeed contained gold. The princess was buried on the island, and the temple which is built next to it, is said to bring luck.
Traditional rumah limas
The new Museum of Sumatra Selatan, five kilometers north of the city, has a collection of mysterious megalythical statues from Pasemah, among them a famous one with the image of a warrior with a drum on an elephant. There also is an 150-year-old rumah limas (house in traditional Palembangstyle), which is moved to here from the citu. Too bad a big part of the interrior was moved to Taman Mini Indonesia Indah (TMII) in Jakarta verplaatst, but the beautifull collection of clothing, hunting-, argicultural-, and fishery attributes is still here.
Palembang has two other well-preserved MI>rumah limas which are still used as of today: Rumah Hasyin Ning and Rumah Bayumi along Jl. Mayor Ruslan. The tourist office can arrange a visit for you.