Our armchair travels have brought us to The Maldives, a tropical nation in the Indian Ocean that consists of 26 atolls, which are made up of hundreds of islands. The capital, Male´ is densely populated well-known for its historic mosques and impressive architecture.
Old Friday Mosque is the oldest mosque in the country dating from 1656. This lovely structure is made from coral stone and has intricate decoration and Quranic script chiseled upon it. Visitors who want to get a look inside the mosque must get permission from an official of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. You must be respectful and well-dressed. The interior is noted for its fine lacquer work and impressive woodcarvings. There is one long panel that was carved in the 13th century which commemorates the introduction of Islam to the Maldives. This mosque was built on the foundations of an old temple that faced west towards the setting sun but no northwest towards Mecca. Therefore worshipers here have to face the corner of the mosque when they pray. On one side of the mosque is a cemetery with many elaborately carved tombstones. Headstones with rounded tops are for females, with pointy tops for males and those that feature gold-plated lettering are the graves of former sultans. There is no permission needed to walk in the cemetery.
The National Museum is a gift from China. It houses an excellent and well-labeled collection of historic artifacts. These trace the unusual history of these isolated islands. Displays begin downstairs with galleries that are devoted to the ancient and medieval periods of Maldivian history. On display you can see weaponry, religious paraphernalia and household wares. There are also carved Arabic and Thaana-engraved pieces of wood commemorating the conversion of the Maldives to Islam in 1153.
A Beaked Whale
Upstairs you can see displays that represent the modern period, among them some prized examples of the lacquer-work boxes for which the Maldives are famous. There are also pieces like the country’s first gramophone, telephone and a massive computer. The more unusual things on display include the minutes of the famous underwater cabinet meeting under President Nasheed in 2009 and a most impressive marine collection. The highlight is the 6m-long skeleton of the very rare Longman’s Beaked Whale.
The museum is surrounded by Sultan’s Park. This was once part of the grounds of the sultan’s palace. It is a lovely place with flowers and trees. It is the nicest public space in Male´.
Grand Friday Mosque and Islamic Center has an impressive golden dome that dominates the skyline of Male´ and has become a symbol for the city. The mosque was built with help from the Gulf States, Pakistan, Brunei and Malaysia and opened in 1984. It was built of white marble. It is the biggest mosque in the country. Visitors can enter the mosque between 9 AM and 5 PM and outside of prayer times. The mosque is closed to all non-Muslims 15 minutes before prayers and for the following hour. The best times to visit are before noon and between 2 PM and 3 PM. Men must wear long trousers and women long skirts or dresses. The main prayer hall can hold up to 5000 worshipers and there are beautifully carved wooden side panels and doors, a specially woven carpet and wonderful chandeliers. The Islamic Center also has a conference hall, library and classrooms.
Built as a palace for the Sultan of the Maldives Muleeaage dates back to the early 20th century. For about 40 years this building was used for government offices. In 1953 it became the president’s residence when the first republic was proclaimed. Today it remains the presidential residence. At the eastern end of the building is an elaborate blue and white gatehouse. The Medhu Ziyaarath is the tomb of Abul Barakat Yoosuf Al Barbary, who brought Islam to Male´ in 1153.
The National Art Gallery has also found its home in Sultan’s Park. Even though there are no permanent exhibitions there are regular displays of Maldivian art. The biennial Maldives Contemporary Exhibition is a wonderful chance to see the varied art produced in the country, from photography to painting and conceptual works.
For a real flavor of the Maldives visit the busy produce market. Here people from all over the country gather to sell home-grown and imported vegetables. The most plentiful produce are coconuts and bananas. It can be a most interesting and fascinating experience.
The eastern seafront of Male´ is the city’s recreational center. There is a lovely little beach known as the Artificial Beach. Here you can find lots of fast food cafes and open fields for soccer and cricket. Up towards the airport ferry you can find fairground attractions at the Majeediyya Carnival, including a bowling alley and other eateries.
In the middle of the town you’ll find a small mosque, it is the tomb of Mohammed Thakurufaanu, who is the national hero of the Maldives. He liberated the country from Portuguese rule and was sultan from 1573 to 1585. Thakurufaanu has also been commemorated in the name of the road that rings Male´, Boduthakurufaanu Magu with bodu meaning “big” or “great”.