Situated on the western side of Lombok Island, the city of Mataram is the capital and largest city in the West Nusa Tenggara Province. In addition to serving as the provincial capital, Mataram is the center of the provincial government, education, commerce, industry and services. Public buildings, banks, post office, general hospitals, shopping malls, and hotels are found here, making it a perfect staging point before travelers explore the undiscovered splendors of Lombok Island and neighboring Sumbawa Island.
The city is in fact an amalgamation of four towns: Ampenan, Mataram, Cakranegara and Bertais, that were once individual kingdoms and townships. Nowadays, these have become the city’s sub-districts with their own distinct features. Broadly, Ampenan is an aging port city, Mataram is the governmental and office center for the province, Cakranegara is the major commercial center on the island, and Bertais is the overland center for public transportation. The four sub-districts are connected through a main road that stretches from Ampenan Street in Ampenan to the Selaparang Street at Bertais.
The Sasak people are the indigenous people of Lombok and form the majority of Mataram’s residents. Mataram is also home to Balinese, Chinese, Chinese-peranakan (people of mixed Indonesian and Chinese descent) and a small number of Arab Indonesians, mainly of Yemeni descent who settled in the early port city of Ampenan. Although urban dwellers, the Sasak of Mataram still identify themselves strongly with their origins and the indigenous Sasak culture. The diversity of ethnic groups living in Mataram is a result of the city’s long history since the time of the ancient Laeq and Suwung Kingdom who once ruled part of the island, the arrival of the Javanese Majapahit Kingdom, traders from mainland Asia and the Middle East, the subsequent invasion of the Balinese Karangasem Kingdom, all the way to the Dutch and Japanese occupations in more modern times.
The legacy of the Balinese Karangasem rule over the Island can be found at the Pura Meru Temple at Cakranegara. Built in 1720 by AA Ngurah Gede Karang Asem, the temple is the largest and one of the oldest Hindu temples on the Island. The temple consists of three main buildings, with the center having an 11 tiered roof and a 9 tiered roof on the side building. As in all Hindu temples, the Pura Meru Temple is dedicated to Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
Across the Pura Meru Temple lies the Mayura Garden that was also built by AA Ngurah Gede Karang Asem in 1744. The garden is highlighted with an enchanting moat surrounding the magnificent palace island in the center. The garden was initially called ‘Klepug’ which was taken from the echoing sounds of ‘klepug-klepug’ coming from the spring in the pond. After its renovation in 1886, the garden was called Mayura, from the Sanskrit language meaning Peacock. It is said that, around the pond there used to be many peacocks that hunt and kill the snakes in the area. The influence of both Hindu and Islam are depicted in its buildings and statues.
The complete history of Mataram, Lombok and the West Nusa Tenggara Province can be discovered through the many valuable collections within the West Nusa Tenggara Museum. Among some of the exceptional collections are the golden handled Keris (dagger), 1.239 ancient scriptures written on palm leaves, hundred year’s old hand written holy writings, currencies from the time of the ancient kingdoms, and some of the traditional Sasak handicrafts.
Other places of interest in the city are the tomb of Loang Baloq, the tomb of General Van Ham, the Rungkang Handicrafts Center, and the gold and pearl center in Sekarbela and Kamasan.
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