The town of Siak Sri Indrapura at the mouth of the Siak river was once the seat of a great Malay kingdom that from 1723 to 1946 held sway over the seas around the entrance of the Malacca Straits all the way to Sambas in present-day West Kalimantan.
The Siak Sri Indrapura kingdom was founded in 1723 by Raja Kecil Sultan Abdul Jalil, after he failed to gain the succession to the Johor-Riau throne. Nevertheless, he soon succeeded in developing his kingdom into a strong maritime nation, strategically situated at the entrance to the busy Straits of Malacca, which at the time was being fought among the European colonizing powers of Britain, the Portuguese, the Dutch as well as the Malay kingdoms on both sides of the Strait. Sultan Abdul Jalil was a descendent of the great Pagaruyung kingdom of the Minangkabau in West Sumatra.
In its quest for suzerainity, the kingdom of Siak was supported by the Orang Laut - the sea gypsies – who were – and still remain - an inseparable part of the sea trade and traffic around the islands.
In 1946, the last sultan of Siak, Sultan Syarif Kasim II decided to join with and integrate his kingdom into the Republic of Indonesia. Siak is now a district in the province of Riau on Sumatra.
The people of Siak are staunch Muslims and have spread the religion from here to other parts of Sumatra, including to the Minangkabaus. Nonetheless, as regards the matter of inheritance of a house, Siak still follows the Minangkabau matrilineal tradition, namely that a house is bequeathed following the female line.
Today, the town of Siak, officially called Siak Sri Indrapura, is a beautiful and clean town with wide and well paved avenues, situated some 2 hours by car from the province’s capital city, Pekanbaru.
Siak Sri Indrapura is 2 hours by car from Pekanbaru, or 1.5 hours from the town of Pangkalan Kerinci. You can rent cars in Pekanbaru.
Siak has a number of attractions that are well worth a visit. Chief among which is of course the Palace , known as Istana Siak Indrapura.
Built in 1889 by Sultan Syarif Hasyim (1889 – 1908), there are in fact 4 palaces here , most important among which is the Siak Palace, set in a total estate of 32, 000 sq. meters. They are the Istana Siak, Istana Lima, Istana Padjang, and Istana Baru, each standing on 1,000 sq meters land.
The architecture is a fusion of Malay, Arab and European styles. Istana Siak has two storeys, the ground floor is where receptions and meetings are held. There is a lounge for men and another for women. On the upper floor are the chambers of the Sultan and the queen, as well as rooms for special guests.
On the roof are 6 statues of eagles, the emblem of the Sultanate, while in the gardens are 8 cannons.
Another beautiful building is the Sultan Syarif Hasyim Mosque which is also the town’s Islamic Center. The mosque has 5 large blue domes encrusted with yellow patterns.
The Tengku Agung Sultanah Latifah Bridge spans the Siak river and is 1.2 km. long. It has four lanes for two way traffic , and pedestrian streets on either side. Its fences are painted yellow with green ornaments, and it has picturesque Malay lamps for lighting. In the middle are two towers with lifts that can take one to an upper room. The local government plans to convert these into restaurants where diners can sit and watch the river and the sunset.
Turap is a park along the Siak river where people can sit and watch the river pass by, with a romantic view on the large Sultanah Latifah Bridge. People come here to watch the sunset and the food offered at the many cafes.