Resorts on islands with tropical beaches surrounded by crystal clear waters that can only be described as paradise. This is probably what you picture in your head when you think of the Maldives. After all, that’s what the brochures show. Yet many of these beaches are nowhere near the island of Male – the capital of this archipelago, where you might spend a day before heading to a resort.
At first glance, you might not think there’s much to see in Male. Doing so would be a mistake, for Male is the island where you’ll find some of the greatest stories that tell the history of this beautiful country. So if you’re spending a day in Male before heading off to a resort, here are the places to see that tell the story of the Maldives.
Republic Square of Male – Jumhooree Maidan
You’ll find the Republic Square (or Jumhooree Maidan in Dhivehi) on Male’s northern water-front. It’s less than five minutes away from the airport ferry terminal. Built in 1989, this is among the popular places in Male for social gatherings amongst the locals, especially towards the evening. The standout feature of this large flagpole that flies a large flag of the Maldives. In its heyday, the Republic Square was an area that one could call a small park with much greenery. Alas, time has not been kind to it, with much of the square having lost much of its original greenery.
Yet, Republic Square is a place where some of the most important events in Maldivian history have unfolded. The first was Black Friday, which is considered to be one of the darkest days in Maldivian history. It took place on August 13th 2004, when the Maldivian National Security Service (NSS) used riot batons and tear gas to brutally put down a peaceful protest and injured many unarmed civilians that called for then President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to resign.
One year later, on the anniversary of Black Friday, Mohamed Nasheed (an open critic of President Abdul Gayoom) along with members of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) once again gathered at Republic Square. Once again, they demanded the resignation of President Abdul Gayoom. As before, the NSS cracked down and had them arrested. This following the destruction of the Dhunfini tent, which the MDP used for its gatherings, led to the 2005 Maldives Civil Unrest.
These two events combined with the 2003 Maldives Civil Unrest, resulted in the creation of a new constitution, which was ratified on August 7th 2008. Shortly after, the Maldives held its first democratic elections that saw President Mohamed Nasheed win the election and ending the 30-year rule of President Gayoom. Needless to say, the events that unfolded in Republic Square played a key role in shaping the modern democracy of the Maldives.
The Presidential Palace – Mulee’aage
Mulee’aage as it’s called in Dhivehi, is the Official Residence of the President of the Maldives. As the name suggests, this is a high-security zone. As such while you can walk around it, you can’t enter it. So any pictures you take will have to from outside its gate and walls. As of 2017, the complex is 98 years old and dates back to the era of the Maldivan Sultans.
Mulee’aage was commissioned in 1914 by Sultan Muhammad Shamsuddeen III and was completed in 1919. The design follows the style of colonial Ceylonese bungalows and built for the Sultan’s son, Prince Hassan Izzuddin. This was when he returned to Male in 1920 after completing his studies at Royal College, Colombo. While Mulee’aage never served as the Royal Palace, Prince Izzuddin spent much of his time here. Eventually he was banished in 1934 to the southern island of Fuvahmulah. He died four years later.
The first republic and the second republic
Following the arrest of the Prince and his banishment, Mulee’aage fell into a period of disuse until the Second World War when it became the Maldivian Ministry of Home Affairs. Then in 1952, the Maldivian Monarchy was abolished, giving birth to the First Republic. On January 1st 1953, Mohamed Amin Didi – the first President of the Maldives declared Mulee’aage as the Official Residence of the President.
Following the restoration of the monarchy under Sultan Muhammad Fareed Didi, it became the Prime Minister’s Office. The national referendum in 1963 saw the abolishment of the Maldivian Monarch once again. Thus established the Second Republic. Despite a long period of disuse, President Ibrahim Nasir – the first President of the Second Republic, declared Muliaa’ge as the Presidential Palace in 1968. Ever since then, Mulee’aage has served as the Presidential Palace for every President of the Maldives at some point of their term.
Additionally, it also houses Medhu Ziyaarai, which translates to Central Tomb in English. Separate from the main building of Mulee’aage, this is the tomb of Moroccan scholar Abul Barakat Yousef Al-Berberi. He is believed to be the person that introduced Islam to the Maldives in the year 1193.
The Old Friday Mosque –Hukuru Miskiy
Directly opposite Mulee’aage you’ll find one of the oldest mosques in the Maldives and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is the Old Friday Mosque, which translates to Hukuru Miskiy in Dhivehi. Next to its entrance you’ll find a tower called the munnaaru that is the minaret for the mosque from where the Muslim call to prayer is made from.
Previously there used to be another mosque here that was built in 1153 by Mohamed Bin Abdullah – the first Sultan of the Maldives following his conversion to Islam. In 1656, the mosque had become too small to accommodate the increasing number of devotees. Thus, Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar I ordered the construction of a new mosque. Work on this new mosque completed in 1658 and became the Old Friday Mosque.
The Old Friday Mosque was built using coral boulders and had a thatched roof. Coral which is found in abundance across the Maldives was used because when wet it’s easy to cut and when dry it makes for sturdy building blocks. Later in 1904, Sultan Muhammad Shamsuddeen III replaced the thatched roof with corrugated-iron sheeting. Further renovations were made in 1963 to convert the roof supports to teak wood and replacing the corrugated-iron sheeting with aluminum.
The munaaru was built in 1675 following the return of Sultan Ibrahim I from his Hajj pilgrimage and was patterned as those found at the entrance to Mecca. Inside the mosque you’ll also find a cemetery dating back to the 17 th century. Featuring tombstones with intricate carvings and mausoleums, this cemetery is where the Sultans and other important figures in Maldivian history are buried.
As one of the oldest mosques in the Maldives, the Friday Mosque has been one in continuous use. In 2008, this mosque along with the other coral mosques of the Maldives, were added to the tentative UNESCO World Heritage cultural list in 2008 as unique examples of sea-culture architecture. “The architecture, construction and accompanying artistry of the mosque and its other structures represent the creative excellence and achievement of the Maldivian people,” said the UNESCO appraisal.
The November 3rd Memorial
Walk behind Republic Square or head straight from the Grand Friday mosque and you’ll find a group of Maldivian flags and a beautiful sculpture built into a wall. This is the November 3rd Memorial that honors those that lost their lives during the terrorist attacks that took place on November 3rd 1988.
This was an attempted coup d’etat by a group of Maldivians led by Abdullah Luthufi and assisted by armed mercenaries of a Tamil secessionist organization from Sri Lanka, the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE). Initially, the terrorists quickly gained control of many key locations in Male, including the major government buildings, airport, port and television and radio stations.
Yet, they failed to capture President Gayoom who went from house to house, asking for military assistance from India, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi responded by dispatching 1,600 troops by air to restore order in Malé. The Indian troops landed at the airport island of Hulhule and after securing the airfield, they crossed over to Male in commandeered boats. Within hours, they had defeated the terrorists and restored control of the capital to the Maldivian government.
Some of the surviving terrorists from the fighting in Male hijacked a freighter. Their attempt was to make their way to Sri Lanka. However, the Indian Navy frigates Godavari and Betwa thwarted the escape attempt. They intercepted the freighter off the Sri Lankan coast and captured the remaining terrorists. Ultimately, 19 Maldivians lost their lives, injuring 39 were killed and 39 were injured. For its efforts, India won international praise and strengthened Indo-Maldivian relations.
The Original Artificial Beach
Located on the eastern seafront of Male, it’s only a few minutes away from the airport ferry terminal. Surrounded by cafes, a futsal stadium, and an open area for skateboarding is a tiny beach. This is the original artificial beach.
As its name implies, this is a man-made beach created by placing breakwater tetrapod barriers into the small cove. There’s also a second artificial beach towards the western seafront. But with the many cafes and open spaces, the original artificial beach has always been a popular spot amongst the locals to socialize.
If you wish to swim here, there are changing rooms and showers conveniently located at the beach. However, you have to remember that this is a public beach in the Maldives, as such there are restrictions on swimwear, which means no bikinis. Right next to it and on your way to the airport ferry terminal, you’ll find Majeediyya Carnival, featuring carnival attractions, a large outdoor concert hall, and more restaurants.
The Tsunami Monument – Tsunami Binaa Maizaan
Originally located on the eastern seafront of Male, it was moved due to the construction of the bridge between Male and the airport island of Hulhule. As such, you’ll now find it located on towards the western seafront of Male near the Villingili Ferry Terminal and the second artificial beach. This is where you’ll find the Tsunami Binaa Maizaan, which translates to the Tsunami Monument built in dedication to those that lose their lives in the 2004 Tsunami.
You might not be able to see it at first glance but the unique design of the Tsunami Monument tells the story of how the deadly tsunami affected the Maldives. The twenty steel balls represent the twenty atolls of the Maldives. The upward design represents the rising waters of the tsunami. A series of vertically placed iron rods lies at the heart of the monument. Each iron rod signifies a life lost to the tsunami with the engraving of the names of each victim on them.
This is one of the quietest spots in Male. The only sounds around here are usually the boats that are making their way into the harbor next door. It’s best to come here in the evening. So if you need a moment to yourself with some peace and quiet, this is where you’ll find it in the busy city of Male.
There’s still more in Hulhumale and Vilimale
As we mentioned before, Male is the place where you’ll find the history of the Maldives. And you’re likely to finish exploring these locations within a day. If so there’s still two entire islands to explore: Hulhumale and Vilimale.
Both islands are 20 minutes away by ferry and have their own respective ferry terminals at opposite ends of Male. While these two new islands may not have as much history, they’re still a great place to explore. In fact, the beaches in Hulhumale are a perfect place to get some sun in the early hours of the morning and afternoon.