Masjid Baiturrahman represents one of the first examples of a domed mosque in Southeast Asia. Perhaps more importantly, the mosque is an architectural embodiment of the political role Islam has played in Indonesia. Built by the Dutch in 1879 and completed in 1881, it was intended to appease the Acehnese during the bloody Dutch led Aceh War. Furthermore, additions made to the mosque in 1957 were meant to symbolically link the largely separatist region of Aceh to the Republic of Indonesia.
Masjid Baiturrahman replaced a mosque built six years prior in 1872 by Sultan Nur al-Alam. This original mosque, named Mesjid Raya or Grand Mosque, was said to replicate a 1614 mosque built by Sultan Iskandar Muda with its layers of wide hipped meru roofs. When the kingdom of Aceh resisted Dutch mercantile treaties in 1873, the Dutch invaded Banda Aceh, starting the 30 years Aceh War, and destroying the newly constructed Mesjid Raya. In an effort to persuade the Acehnese to end their resistance, the Dutch rebuilt this central mosque from 1879 to 1881.
The architect de Bruchi modeled the new mosque on a Moghul plan quite unlike any before seen in Southeast Asia. Whereas the pre-extant mosque was laid out on a square plan with a four-tierd meru roof, this new Dutch creation copied many structural, formal and stylistic elements of Mughal mosques. The timber-framed dome, heretofore foreign to Acehnese architecture, was clad in black ironwood shingles, which contrasted with the whitewashed walls of the mosque while its thick timber towers rose above the town profile. These Mughal elements were further embellished with Moorish touches, such as the tear shaped arches with parabolic intrados and the arabesque plaster moldings.
During the twentieth century elements have been added to the mosque in stages. In 1936 two side domes were added. In 1957 a fourth and fifth dome were added at the rear, completing a symbolism of the five pillars of the Indonesian Pancasila. Also in 1957 two minarets were added and the mosque was renamed Masjid Baiturrahman. During the late 1980s, the mosque was refurbished and the grounds landscaped.
Upon its construction, the mosque was received with hesitancy. For many years after the Dutch presented the mosque to Banda Aceh, religious leaders considered it inappropriate for worship and banned the public from using it for prayer. However, today Mesjid Baiturrahman has grown to demarcate the significant religious position of Banda Aceh as Indonesia's "eastern gateway to Mecca" or Serambi Mekah (Mecca's veranda), as well as represent an independent link between the Acehnese umma and the international Muslim community.
Ed. Martin Frishman and Hasan-Uddin Khan. 1994. The Mosque: History, Architectural Development and Regional Diversity. London: Thames and Hudson, 240.
Smith, Holly S. 1997. Aceh: Art and Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 17-18, 45-6, 65-66.