Aceh has a fascinating history which over the centuries has shaped and transformed the region into what it is today. In 1292, Marco Polo, on his epic voyage from China visited Sumatra on his way to Persia and reported that in the northern part of the island there were as six busy trading parts including Perlak, Samudera and Lambri. The first Islamic kingdom of Perlak was established in the year 804 about 100 years after Islam is first believed to have reached the archipelago. In 1511, the Portuguese seized the important strategic port of Malcca, pushing many Asian and Arabic traders to call instead on the developing part of Aceh, bringing with them wealth and prosperity. Aceh's dominance in trade and politics in northern parts of Sumatra in the entire region had begun and would last until it reached its zenith between 1610 and 1640.
Aceh decline began with death of Sultan Iskandar Than in 1614, and as a result the British and Dutch both began vying for domination of the area. Eventually the signing of the London Treaty in 1824 saw the Dutch gain control of all British possesions in Sumatra in return for their surrender of enterprises in India and withdrawal of all claims on Singapore.
The Dutch found gaining control of Aceh to be more difficult than they had anticipated. It was a long drawn out struggle for the Dutch in their attempts to subdue the rebellious and courageous Acehnese. The Aceh War, which lasted intermittently from 1873 to 1942, was the longest ever fought by the Dutch costing them over 10,000 lives.
Things are different now as industrialization and global communications have made contact with the outside world a daily occurrence and with it has come a more open attitude towards things alien. Visitors should keep in mind, though, that the Acehnese take their religion, their manners and their morals very seriously.