15 February, 2024

By Per B. Hintze 

Einstein postulated in his famous theory of relativity, that you could slow down time by traveling out to space. I have found an easier way to travel back in history: travel east of Bali in Indonesia. The further you go, the more you travel back in time. Here, there are no tourists and very few cars and modern influence.  These islands are full of authentic experiences, amazing history, and friendly genuine people.

The city of Ternate 

One of my favorite time travel destinations is the city of Ternate in the North Maluku Islands. Perched on the equator, Ternate is a small island with a big personality. It’s a place where history, spice trading, and the Sultanate come together in a unique way, and you can get a feeling for what life was like on the spice islands in past times. 

The Sultan of Ternate 

I was on a Seatreak cruise which started in Ternate. I planned my trip so that I would have some extra time to explore the city. After having settled into my hotel, I visited the Sultan’s palace. By chance, I met the Sultan himself, his name is Hidayatullah Sjah.

inside ternate sultan palace
Inside Ternate Sultan Palace. Photo by Dion Luas

He explained that the Ternate kingdom was established in 1257 by Momole Cico, the first leader of Ternate. It reached its Golden Age during the reign of Sultan Baabullah (1570–1583) and encompassed most of the eastern part of Indonesia and a part of southern Philippines.

Fort Tolukko Ternate

Ternate was a major producer of cloves and a regional power from the 15th to 17th centuries. The whole world came to Ternate and the Molukkas to trade cloves. The dynasty founded by Baab Mashur Malamo continues to the present, as does the Sultanate itself.  

When you visit the palace you might be lucky and have a chance to hang out with the Sultan, who can tell you stories about the good old days when Ternate ruled the waves. 

Alfred Russel Wallace 

Alfred Russel Wallace was a famous naturalist who was active in Eastern Indonesia in the mid-1800s. It was he who discovered the Wallace line, and imaginary border running between Borneo and Sulawesi, that separates Asian fora and fauna from Australian flora and fauna. He made Ternate his base during the second half of his collecting expedition and rented a house there, where he lived from 1858 to 1861. 

Wallace’s house in Ternate has become legendary. It was from here that Wallace sent his famous Ternate Letter to Charles Darwin, in March 1858, outlining his Theory of Evolution, which he developed independently of Darwin. This makes the house one of the most important places in the natural history of Indonesia. 

wallace house in ternate
Wallace’s House in Ternate

I visited Wallace’s old house, which is located on Lorong A. Wallace. Outside, there is a mural on a wall that says, (in Bahasa Indonesia) “Alfred Wallace, born in England, son of Ternate!” 

Spice Warehouses 

Another place that you will be able to visit on a Seatrek tour are the old spice warehouses in the center of Ternate. There are some old buildings here that look like they are over 500 years old. Here, they are still sorting, weighing, and packing spices the same way they always have done. There are no machines, and it feels and looks like the Sultan’s great-great-grandfather might have been active here. 

Things to do in Ternate 

If you’re planning a trip to Ternate, here are a few things you should see and do: 

  • Visit the Sultan’s Palace 
  • Explore the Spice Market 
  • Take a boat trip to the neighboring islands, such as Tidore, Makian, and Moti 

Tips for Time Travelers 

  • Be prepared for a slower pace of life. 
  • Bring a camera to capture the unique scenery and culture of Ternate. 
    I hope you enjoy your time travel adventure in Ternate!