by Mohamed Rehan
The Maldives is an archipelagic tropical country lying a few clicks south of South Asian giant India. This nearly 1,000 island nation is often regarded as one of the most beautiful countries on the planet. It is also one of the few countries blessed with the clearest of waters and whitest of beaches. It is also famously known throughout the world as one of the best tourist destinations as well. According to the most recent reports from Maldives Ministry of Tourism, the island nation currently boasts well over 150 operational tourist resorts.
Guests and holidaymakers are keen aware of the pristine qualities of the country, however there are several interesting facts and attractions that often do not make headlines or get enough limelight.
Capital City – Male’ City Population – 581,600 (estimated as of 2021) Government – Unitary presidential republic Official Language – Dhivehi President – Ibrahim Mohamed Solih (incumbent) Vice-President – Faisal Naseem (incumbent) Speaker of the Parliament – Mohamed Nasheed Chief Justice – Ahmed Muthasim Adnan Independence from the United Kingdom – 26th July 1965 Proclamation of the Republic – 11th November 1968 Geographic Facts: Country Area – 300 square kilometers Total Number of Islands – 1,192
Atolls – 26
Location – Latitudes 1°S and 8°N and Longitudes 72° and 74°E Administrative Divisions – 21 Ground Level – 2.4 meters and 1.5 meters above sea level
Maldives has had a long and rich history, and interestingly according to legends the very first settlers in the country were a people known as ‘Dheyvis’ while the first kingdom was reportedly known as ‘Dheeva Maari’ which found footing in the third century BC, however other accounts claim that the first settlers came to Maldives around fifth century. Meanwhile, the Maldives Embassy at Brussels on their site attests first settler inhabitation around 1,500 BC as per latest archaeological evidence.
The Maldives has been recognized and called by many different names in the past. When the famous Indian emperor Asoka had sent his emissaries to Maldives reportedly around the third century when the country was evidently called “Dheeva Mahal.”
Arguably during the 1100s, Maldives was also referred as “Diva Kudha” by the famous scholar and polymath Abu Rayhan al-Biruni around 1030 AD. While the modern-day Maldives is universally identified as a 100% Muslim nation, the island nation did not have always have a Muslim population. In fact, several archeological findings and copperplate records revealed the country’s Buddhistic roots indicating a pre-Islamic period.
According to the findings from the copperplate grants, dated back to the twelfth century, the first king of the Maldives recorded in history is King Shri Mahaabarana of the noble house of Theemuge from the Lunar Dynasty, who ascended to the throne in 1118 AD.
Mahaabarana had also founded the Theemuge Dynasty which ruled the Maldives from 1118 AD until 1388 AD.
Official records claim that the Maldives population embraced Islam in 1153 initially while it took another 60 years for the islanders to fully convert, following which the country established Sultanate instead of a Kingdom.
Maldives Equatorial Sunlight The Maldives lies close to the equator which is the primary reason why this country is mostly sunny throughout the year.
Sandbanks and Islands
Interestingly enough the geographical shapes of the Maldivian islands can be and have been modified by nature. This natural phenomenon occurs when the sands move away or are brought back to the shores by seasonal currents.
This is also why some sandbanks emerge at certain times during the year while it is invisible at other periods.
Maldives is one of the very few places on earth where whale sharks are encountered and observed throughout the year.
Historical textures, archeological evidence and expert findings conclude one thing – the Maldivian islands were formed when large volcanoes in the area started sinking some 60 million years ago. The coral reefs are reminiscent of these volcanoes.
Lowest Lying Country on the Planet
The island nation is the lowest lying country on the face of the Earth, with its islands reaching only 1.5 meters above sea level.
The Maldivian ancestry has traces of Indian, African, European, Arabian and Asian cultures and people.
The traditional Maldivian boats – more commonly referred to and globally known as ‘Dhonis’ – are of unique design and may have been inspired from ancient Arabian sailing ‘dhows’ which were common trading ships operating in the Indian Ocean around the eleventh century.
First Trading Coins
The Maldivians did not use copper coins as their first transactional ‘currency’, instead they took from nature – cowry shells. According to historians, the cowry shells were used as the primary unit of money during the Maldivian medieval times.
If you visit the residential local islands, chances of you witnessing homes built using corals are highly likely. However, the usage of corals to build walls for housing have since been prohibited by the Maldives government.
The most iconic traditional music from the Maldives is ‘Boduberu’ which translates to ‘Big Drums’ – which are wooden circular hollows with two pieces of leather or clothes on either end.
Maldives is blessed with a rich folklore with interesting mythical beasts and creatures which had included a beastly and towering man covered in fur called ‘Dheyo’ while perhaps the most famous one from the lore is ‘Rannamaari’ - a supposed were-beast that came from the oceans to dry lands during full moons.
Attractions in the Maldives
The Maldives is filled with several historical landmarks and sites that are now popular attractions for travelers and holidaymakers. Many of these sites provide a window into the history of the Maldivian culture and traditions.
Old Friday Mosque
This is the oldest mosque in the country that has survived into the modern-age. The mosque was first built in 1656, and was developed using coral stone and lime with intricate decorations and carvings with Quranic scriptures.
China-Maldives Friendship Bridge (Sinamale’ Bridge)
This engineering feat is currently hailed as the largest infrastructure project executed in the country till date. The bridge connects Maldives capital Male’ City with the neighboring airport island of Hulhule’ and subsequently with the residential island town of Hulhumale’. Reportedly, this mega infrastructure project cost an approximate total of USD250 million.
Maldives Fish Market
If the smells from fish offal and entrails do not put you off then this is definitely one of the sites to visit. Fishermen delivering fresh catches and talented cutters carving out the fish is a picturesque sight indicating the Maldivian lifestyle at its finest.
Curated documents, archeological findings from dig sites among other textures and scriptures will provide you with a valuable insight into the history and origin of the Maldives. The National Museum is situated in the heart of Male’ City which is a hard site to miss.
This small palace which has now become transformed into a museum was the childhood home of Maldivian national hero Mohamed Thakurufaanu who ousted the Portuguese invaders in 1573. The palace is situated in the residential island of Haa Alif atoll Utheemu.
This beautiful natural lake at the far end of Hithadhoo of the southern-most atoll of Addu atoll is the biggest in the country and is a hotspot for a variety of birdlife.
Grand Friday Mosque
The golden dome of the Grand Friday Mosque – known as Masjid-al Sultan Muhammad Thakurufaanu Al Auzam or commonly referred as the ‘Islamic Center’ – is a hard sight to miss when arriving in Male’ City. The mosque was first opened in 1984 by the then President of the Maldives, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.