Nestled into a deep curve along central Java's northern coast, Semarang has long been one of Southeast Asia's most intriguing ports. Fronted by a glittering bay and cut by a network of narrow canals, this modern city of 1.5 million, the fifth-largest in Indonesia, is a blend of fascinating historic sites: crumbling fortress walls, colorful Chinese temples, lattice-fronted cottages, and gleaming mosques. Many cultures have influenced Semarang's ambience, beginning with the Chinese fleet that visited in 1405. An Arab mullah founded the original village in the late 15th century, and Javanese rulers from the nearby court of Mataram oversaw the settlement until 1678. Semarang was designated a Dutch trading outpost in 1705 and was soon competing with Surabaya and Jakarta as colonial Java's leading port. Then and now, surrounding areas feature coffee, sugar, tobacco, and rice cultivation.
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