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Banda Aceh is the provincial capital and largest city in the province of Aceh, Indonesia, located on the island of Sumatra, with an elevation of 35 meters. The city regency covers an area of 64 square kilometres and according to the 2000 census had a population of 219,070 people. Banda Aceh is located at the northwestern tip of Indonesia at the mouth of the River Krueng Aceh.
The city was originally named Kutaraja, and determined as the provincial capital in 1956. Kuta Raja means “City of the King”, in reference to the founding of the Aceh Sultanate from Champa origins. Later its name was changed to Bandar Aceh Darussalam or popularly known as Bandar Aceh, with the first part of the name coming from the Persian bandar (بندر) meaning “port” or “haven”. Today the city is spelled Banda Aceh with the lost of “r” in “Bandar”. The city is also dubbed to as the “port to Mecca”, and Aceh is also referred to as the “porch of Mecca” (Indonesian: Serambi Mekkah), since in the past during the days when the hajj pilgrims travelled by sea, the hajj pilgrim from all over Indonesian archipelago traditionally always make a stop over in the city before continuing their journey to Mecca. It is also known that earliest Southeast Asian Islamic sultanates — such as Samudra Pasai — were first established in Aceh, which means Islam first arrived in Aceh before spreading throughout Southeast Asia.
Banda Aceh was not frequently the subject of international discussion until 26 December 2004, the day the Indian Ocean earthquake struck off the western coast of Sumatra. Banda Aceh was the closest major city to the earthquake’s epicenter, and suffered further damage when a tsunami struck shortly afterward. It was the worst hit area out of all the locations hit. 167,000 people died and many more were injured. The tsunami resulted from an earthquake of magnitude 9.3 and struck at about 6:58am. The epicenter was about 155 miles off the coast of Banda Aceh.
One of the unique features of Banda Aceh are the motorized becaks that are found almost everywhere. Unlike traditional becaks, a motorized becak can take passengers anywhere in the city. The fare for riding a motorised becak is relatively cheap and is usually negotiated beforehand.
Transport such as taxis and minibuses (known as labi-labi) is also common.
Sultan Iskandar Muda International Airport is located in Blang Bintang, 13.5 km from Banda Aceh.
Two main highways run out of 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 called 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 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 a main freight cargo terminal.