Male’ is one of the smallest capitals in the world and certainly as crowded since a third of the country’s population, about 103,693 (Census 2006) live in Male’. With modern high-rise buildings housing the government offices, Male’ is the hub of trade and the central seat of the government. The roads are paved and a seawall surrounds this small island where so much takes place every day. A recently landscaped artificial beach more than makes up for the absence of a natural beach.
Even if you decide to sight-see without a tour guide, it would not be difficult to find your way around the two square kilometer island Male’, especially if you carry a map with you. The main street Majeedhee Magu, runs right through the island from east to west. Chaandhanee Magu on the other hand runs across from north to south. The main streets are lined with shops offering from clothes and jewelry to the latest technological items. During the rush hour a lot of motorized vehicles can be seen. However, traffic lights and one-way roads keep the traffic at a smooth flow with the rare interruption of traffic jams.
Male’ offers visitors a wide variety of enjoyment, though it be sight-seeing, relaxing or a shopping spree. The water-front souvenir shops offer a wide variety of art and craft items as well as swimming gear and beach wear. Most souvenir shops line the northern end of Chaandanee Magu, earlier known as the ‘Singapore Bazaar’ for its many imports from Singapore. Guides and vendors who speak English and other foreign languages the visitors, pointing out the best locations and helping them to bargain over prices. The souvenir shops are stocked with an ample supply of gifts and souvenir items you can take away as mementos. Best buys include the Maldivian mats woven with local natural fibers and the beautiful lacquered vases and jewelry boxes. Attractive too are the hand carved wooden miniature ‘dhonis’.
When shopping for souvenirs all visitors to Maldives should keep in mind that export of products made of turtle shell, black coral, pearl oyster shell and red coral is prohibited.
Shopping is the favorite activity for the locals especially in the evenings, when it is cooler. The Majeedhee Magu, which is the main road on the island, has along its sides various shops selling goods from the smallest commodities to virtually everything you could think of. The shops are well stocked with garments, perfumes and cosmetics, jewelry, watches or electronics, to name just a few. Many find it a pleasant experience to join the throngs of shoppers on the main shopping streets in the evenings. All shops are open until 11.00 in the night, except for prayer times, when they are closed for 15 minutes.
The busy local market may also be of interest to visitors. The local market is also at the waterfront, in the old bazaar area which still houses the country’s hub of wholesale and retail trade. In this area, the lanes are so narrow that a single vehicle would find it difficult to navigate through, especially with its throngs of busy people. The local market is just a block away from the Male’ Fish Market on the northern waterfront, is divided into small stalls. Though busy and noisy, the pace is slower and the atmosphere peaceful, compared to the hectic activity in the rest of this neighborhood. Each stall is filled with a variety of local produce mainly from the atolls. You could try different kinds of local vegetables, fruits and yams, packets of sweetmeat, nuts and breadfruit chips, bottles of home made sweets and pickles and bunches of bananas hanging on coir ropes from ceiling beams.
Another building just next door sells smoked and dried fish. But, if it is Maldivian canned fish that you are seeking, you can easily buy it from any number of local shops in Male’. Tuna used for canning are caught by the traditional pole and line method, as are all fish caught in the Maldives, and therefore are ‘dolphin friendly’. The canned tuna are produced at the canning plant in Felivaru, Lhaviyani Atoll. Here vacuum-packed smoked fish and chipped dried fish are also produced which is available in many super markets around Male’. These genuine Maldivian products would make excellent gifts for a friend or just for you to try them out for yourself.
If it’s sight-seeing or relaxation you seek, then a stroll around the residential areas or the shopping district would provide an insight into the life and livelihood of the residents of the capital. A visit to the artificial beach area or just sitting in one of the small parks that are located at several points surrounding Male’ can help you relax.
In the evenings, when it is cooler, a lot of joggers can be seen, jogging down the cobble stone paths or down the quieter lanes and through the parks. A stroll down the still relatively green and pleasant Male’ is also another way to relax. The streets in the residential areas are shaded with trees, at places forming an arch overhead.
Or one may want to enjoy the interesting sites and shoot some pictures to take home. The fish market and the local market at the northern waterfront, the new harbour in the south-west corner and the 400-year old Friday Mosque and the minaret are just a few of the attractive sights Male’ has to offer.
If you prefer, you could also make your tour of the capital by taxi. Many taxi centers operate a number of comfortable, well-maintained taxis. The maximum rates that can be charged are set by the government; the basic fare for a single journey for four persons or less, from one point to another is MRf.20.00, luggage carried in the trunk is charged about MRf.25.00 , the basic charge increases to MRf.40.00, from 12.00 midnight to 06.00 in the morning while hourly renting costs between MRf.85.00 and MRf.85.00 per hour.
PLACES TO VISIT
Male’ fish market & local market
The northern waterfront has always been the main commercial area of Male’. This area acts as the main hub of trade and is a hive of activity through out the day. The waterfront and the by-lanes in the area are crowded with shops stocked with a variety of goods and vehicles used in loading and transportation of goods to the local shops. Also in the area are the Male’ Fish Market and the Local Market where a range of local produce are available.
In any given day, dhoni’s and other larger vessels from other islands can be seen unloading dried fish, fresh fruits and vegetables from the atolls while others are observed loading everything from foodstuffs to construction materials to take back to their islands. The pace increases towards mid-afternoon as fishing vessels returns to Male’ with their day’s catch. The catch, mainly tuna are carried across the road into the open-sided market and laid out on the tiled floors. As soon as the fish are brought in, they are bought and taken away by men from all walks of life. The market is kept scrupulously clean with disinfectant.
The Islamic Centre
The golden dome of The Islamic Centre is the most vivid architectural landmark of Male’ that you would notice while approaching Male’ from afar. The spectacular golden dome in all its majesty dominates the skyline, as you approach Male’, from any direction. The building symbolizes the religion of Islam, which is practiced by the entire population of the Maldives. Completed in 1984, the Islamic Centre consists of a mosque large enough to accommodate 5000 worshipers, a library of Islamic literature, a conference hall and numerous classrooms and offices.
‘Hukuru Miskiiy’- The old Friday Mosque
Built in the 17th century the Hukuru Miskiiy or Friday Mosque served the population of Male’ as their main mosque for almost four centuries, until the Islamic Centre and Grand Friday Mosque took over the function in 1984. Built by Sultan Ibrahim Iskandhar in 1656 the mosque is a masterpiece of coral carvings and traditional workmanship – probably the best display of coral carvings to be found throughout Maldives. The walls of the mosque are hewn together with blocks of filigree-carved coral blocks. Heavy wooden doors slide open to the inner sanctums with lamp hangings of wood and panels etched with Arabic writings. The area surrounding the mosque is a cemetery with a legion of intricately carved coral headstones. The Munnaaru or minaret in front of the mosque, which was used to call the faithful to prayer, was built in 1675 by the same Sultan.
Right in front of the Hukuru Miskiiy is Mulee-aage, a palace built in 1906 by Sultan Mohamed Shamsuddeen III, replacing a house dating back to the mid-17th century. The palace with its wrought iron gates and fretwork friezes on its roof edges and well-kept garden was intended for his son, but the Sultan was deposed. During World War II vegetables were grown in its garden to help relieve food shortages. It became the President’s Official Residence when Maldives became a republic in 1953 and remained so until 1994, when the new Presidential Palace was built.
The National Museum
National museum in Maldives is one of the main tourist attraction destinations of the country. The three-storied museum (old Building) is located in the Sultan Park in Malé, which is part of the site of the Maldivian Royal Palace compound dating back to the 17th century. The two-storey Us-gēkolhu is also the only remaining structure of the palace demolished by fire in 1968. The interior of the Us-gēkolhu has been retained from the days of the Sultanate, including the handwritten Qur’an engraved on the walls of the building.
The new building of the museum is also located in Sultan Park. The Building was designed, built and financed by the Chinese government. The building was presented to the Maldives by the Chinese government on 10th July 2010, but was officially opened and declared as the national museum two weeks later on Maldives’ Independence Day, 26th July 2010.
The museum houses a number of fabulous objects belonging to the Sultans. It consists of the ornaments and costumes worn by various kings and queens, stone items of the Maldives’ pre-Islamic period, paper and cloth manuscripts, arms and armor, photographs of important personalities, anthropological objects and other such items that exhibit the past Maldivian way of life.
A visit to the museum gives an instant insight to the wealth of history most visitors never suspect existed. No longer will you think of the Maldives solely in terms of a tourist destination. The museum is open daily except Friday and public holidays from 9.00 to 11.40 and 3.00 to 5.40. A small fee is charges for admission.