The capital of the Maldives, Malé lies in the centre of the 1,190 islands that make up the Maldivian archipelago. Surrounded by sea walls, Malé is 2 km by 1 km. Of the 199 inhabited islands, it is by far the most populous.
Little is known about Maldives’ early history, though Malé has long been the seat of sultanates, royalty, governments and the social elite. From its early history, Malé was at the centre of lucrative trade routes. The islands were settled by merchant sailors, latterly those involved in the silk trade. Influenced by North African travellers, a twelfth-century king converted the Maldives from Buddhism to Islam, creating the first sultanates.
In the sixteenth century Portuguese sailors were permitted to build a fort on Malé. Wanting more control of the islands, a successful Portuguese invasion was mounted by Captain Andreas Andre. He controlled the islands until a local revolt expelled the Portuguese in 1573. The Maldives were under Dutch protection for a short period in the seventeenth century. Malabars from the Indian East Coast invaded the island and expelled the sultan in 1782. A short time later, Ghaazee Hassan Izzuddeen expelled the invaders. The Maldives became a British protectorate in 1887. Malé became the capital of the independent Maldives in 1965.
Malé is the seat of government and major businesses. With around a third of the population, Malé is densely populated. The international airport is on the neighbouring island of Hululé, connected to Malé by dhoanis, or local boat.
Places of Interest
Built in 1656, Hukuru Miski is the oldest Maldivian mosque. It is decorated with stone carvings and has records of the islands’ conversion to Islam. Tombs of national heroes and royalty are within its compounds. Capped with a gold dome, the Grand Friday Mosque is the islands’ biggest mosque and Islamic centre.
The National Museum displays Maldivian culture and history including exhibitions of stone figures and pre-Islamic carvings.