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  4. Male: All About the Capital of the Maldives

To get to the Maldives from other countries without getting into the capital of Male is almost impossible. After all, all the tourists come here. We will try to introduce you to this city in absentia. We will also tell you about its history and geography, about people living there and things to do and see. You might want to get to know it better. After all, Male really deserves to be not just a transfer point!

Streets of Male
Streets of Male | Asad Photo Maldives

History

The history of Male dates back to the 12th century when this place was inhabited by Dravidian tribes from neighbouring India and Ceylon. At first, their settlement was called Mahal, which means “papaya”. It was this tree that grew on the island faster than the others planted by people under the order of the first king - Koimala.

Maldivian papaya and its fruits
Maldivian papaya and its fruits

Male as the Residence of Rulers

From the beginning, the first settlers on the island lived without rulers and engaged mainly in fishing. Koimala was the king of the northern lands, but the locals accepted him and allowed him to stay and settle down in the Maldives. He planted trees on the island, built a palace and, during his reign, the city was renamed into Male. Since then, Male has become the residence of all rulers and received another name - the Royal Island. By the way, the name of the state itself - the Maldives - comes precisely from the capital and means “the islands of Male”.

Life-changing 20th Century

After a while, the city was surrounded by a fortified wall with gates, mosques were built here, and trading houses began appearing in the 17th century. However, until the 1920s, Male barely developed as a city because forests occupied most of its territory, and the population was only 5,000 inhabitants. The 1930s brought modernization when the first banks, hospitals, educational institutions and administrations emerged. The population began increasing, and the authorities had to demolish the defence walls, clear cemeteries, level and expand roads to increase the area for housing.

In 1968, the monarchy was abolished in the Maldives. The new president, Ibrahim Nasir, rebuilt the city and ordered to demolish the residence of the previous rulers - the Royal Palace. A few years later, tourism came to the Maldives, and Male has changed beyond recognition ever since.

Male today
Male today | Asad Photo Maldives

Geography and Interesting Facts

Location

In fact, Male comprises 4 islands located in the south of the North Male Atoll (Kaafu Atoll) in the Indian Ocean. They are flat coral reefs with a total area of 9.27 square kilometres. By the way, the Maldives is considered one of the lowest countries in the world, which does affect its climate.

Male, capital of the Maldives
Male, capital of the Maldives | Asad Photo Maldives

Climate

The climate of Male is characterized as the tropical monsoon. As throughout the Maldives, Male has two seasons: the rainy season from May to November and the dry season from November to April. The latter one is considered more favourable climate for a trip to the Maldives since it is not so stuffy here at that time. The sun shines 12 hours a day: from 06:00 to 18:00. Besides, from January to April, azure water reaches its peak of transparency, and the bright underwater world of the Indian Ocean is visible in full.

Apparent variations in temperature are not typical for Male. The average maximum temperature here is about 30?C, and the average minimum one is 26.5?C. The lowland of the city is the reason for such a high temperature throughout the year. In the meantime, the relative humidity here is usually in the range of 77-82%.

Population

About 150,000 people live in Male, which makes up one-third of the total population of the Maldives. Approximately 110,000 people of them live on the island of Male itself, and the rest are on other atolls.

  • 95% of the capital’s population are residents of the country, although some statistics say about more than 20,000 unaccounted workers from abroad.
  • In terms of gender, the indicators are almost equal, with a slight predominance of women.
  • The population of Male is growing rapidly. Residents of other atolls move to the capital mainly because of better medicine, education and more job opportunities here.

Today Male makes the ten most densely populated capitals in the world, with an indicator of 27,010 people per square metre.

Residents of Male
Residents of Male | Asad Photo Maldives

City Structure

Administrative Division

Even though Male is located in Kaafu Atoll, it is still a separate administrative unit. The capital of the Maldives consists of the central island of Male, which, in turn, is divided into 4 parts:

  • Maafannu (northwest)
  • Henveiru (northeast)
  • Galolhu (south)
  • Macchangolhi

Another quarter of Male - Vilimale - is located on the nearby atoll of Villingili, which was once a place for prisoners, and later, it became a resort. There is also the Hulhumale quarter located on the eponymous artificial island populated in 2004.

Мале, столица Мальдив
Male, capital of the Maldives | Asad Photo Maldives

City Management

The city is governed by the City Council, which has existed here since 2011. Male is divided into 11 political wards each with one councillor.

Business and Industry

Male is the commercial and economic centre of the Maldives. The main investments are here, and most of the profit is generated here. Male has the main harbour and port of the country, which makes the city the epicentre of trading. In the structure of the Male economy, approximately 30% are occupied by services and trade. Merchant fleet comprises more than 30 ships for cargo transportation.

Merchant ships in the Maldives
Merchant ships in the Maldives | Asad Photo Maldives

Transport

Roads

Road transport is generally not very developed in the Maldives, but Male is the exception. The traffic is very intense and almost unregulated here. 77% of vehicles are motorcycles and scooters, and only 9% are cars. Besides, nearly all these cars are on the island of Male itself.

There are only two so-called external roads: the Sinamale Bridge (opened in 2018) linking Male and Hulhule Island and the road between Hulhule and Hulhumale Islands.

There are also several public bus lines that run between the three islands.

In addition, Male is one of the very few places in the country with a taxi service.

Lively streets of Male
Lively streets of Male | Asad Photo Maldives

Flights

The country’s main international airport Velana is located on the island of Hulhule in Male. Its history goes back to the 60s when it was just a runway. And only in 1981, with the development of tourism on the islands, the airport was rebuilt and officially opened as “Male International Airport”. In 2011, it was renamed in honour of the second President of the Maldives and the founder of the airport itself, Ibrahim Nasir. In 2017, the airport received its current name, which means the family name of the dynasty of Nasir.

  • About 23,000 international flights of 50 airlines, which carry more than 3.3 million passengers, pass through the airport per year. Plus, about 2 million more of domestic flights.
  • Most foreign passengers arriving in Male are from China, Germany, the UK, Italy and India.
  • Domestic flights are divided into 2 types. The first type is air taxi (Seaplanes). It flies from Velana to nearby islands. These are mainly charter flights regulated by tour operators or resorts. The second type is regular domestic flights connecting Male with other airports in the country.

Passenger aircraft of FlyMe company
Passenger aircraft of FlyMe company | Asad Photo Maldives

Water Transport

Boats called “water taxis” run between the islands of Male. For example, they depart from the pier of the airport island to the island of Male on average every 10 minutes and cost about 1 USD. Also, boats from Male run to neighbouring islands as per schedule (with an interval of approximately 15 minutes) or after they are filled with passengers.

Passenger ferries in Male
Passenger ferries in Male

What to See and What to Do in Male

Main Attractions

  • Hukuru Miskiiy (Old Friday Mosque) is the country’s oldest mosque. It is more than three and a half centuries old. This shrine was built on the site of an old temple, using coral blocks and valuable tree species (sandalwood, mahogany and others). In general, wood finish is a real art here. One of the most valuable pieces is a 13th-century carved wood panel depicting the Maldivians’ introduction to Islam. Non-Muslims must obtain special permission from the Ministry of Islamic Affairs to get inside the mosque. Most of the Hukuru employees are representatives of this Ministry. Therefore, if you are appropriately dressed and has not come during the service, permission can be obtained right on the spot.

Minaret of the Hukuru Mosque
Minaret of the Hukuru Mosque | Asad Photo Maldives

  • Near the mosque, there is a white-blue minaret and a cemetery, known as the “Sultan’s Cemetery”, with carved coral tombstones. Those with rounded edges are female, sharp ones - male. Some graves have golden inscriptions. It means that a sultan is buried here. The cemetery also has family mausoleums with carved walls. Unlike a mosque, entrance to the cemetery does not require any permissions.
  • The largest mosque in the country is also located in Male and again dedicated to Friday – it’s the Grand Friday Mosque, whose hall can accommodate 5,000 people of faith at the same time. It was built by the joint forces of the Maldivians, Pakistan, Brunei and Malaysia in 1984. Unlike the Old Friday Mosque, the new one is made of white marble and has no decorations at all. A feature of this modern building is a large golden dome, which has become a kind of symbol of the city. In addition to religious functions, the building also has others. For example, various official meetings and events are often held here, including the inauguration of the president. Also, there is the Islamic Centre. Non-Muslims do not need permission to enter the Grand Mosque, but the visit hours are strictly limited - from 09:00 to 17:00, excluding prayer times.

The Grand Friday Mosque and Islamic Center in Male
The Grand Friday Mosque and Islamic Center in Male | Asad Photo Maldives

  • In the historic centre of Male, opposite the Old Mosque, there is another fundamental building - the Muliaage Palace - the residence of the President of the Maldives. The Palace was built at the beginning of the 20th century by the Sultan Shamsuddeen III for his son Hassan Izzuddin. In the days when the prince lived here, the Palace became a famous place for gatherings and entertainment - with vivid shows, music and dancing. In 1938, Hassan was expelled, and the Palace was empty until World War II, during which the Ministry of Internal Affairs occupied it. After the abolition of the monarchy in 1953, the newly proclaimed President Mohamed Amin Didi made Muliaage his residence. In the days of subsequent presidents, this building served as the presidential Palace, office and the building of the Main Court. The Palace returned its status of residence in 2009 with the help of the third president of the Maldives - Mohamed Nasheed.

Дворец Мулиаге
Mulee-aage Palace | Asad Photo Maldives

  • A vital part of the palace is the tomb Medhu Ziyaarath. Previously, it was directly connected to Muliaage, but now it is a separate building. Moroccan theologian Yousef Al-Berberi is buried here. It is believed that it was he who brought Islam to the Maldives in 1153.

National Museum

A special place among the attractions of the Maldives belongs to the National Museum located in two buildings in Sultan Park, which used to be part of the Royal Palace. The three floors of the museum, built in the early 1950s (the so-called “Old Museum”), have many exhibits of the historical and cultural heritage of the Maldives, from ancient times to the present.

The interesting exhibits include:

  • Collection of lacquered caskets for which the Maldivians are famous
  • Minutes of the famous underwater cabinet meeting organized by President Nasheed in 2009
  • Marine collection, which features a 6-metre skeleton of the rarest whale breed

The building of the New Museum was donated to the Maldivians by the Chinese Parliament. It has interiors and exhibits from the Sultanate times, as well as a collection of official documents from 1600 to 1930.

Fish Market

Fishing is one of the main activities of the Maldives. The fish market is a cult place where you can both taste or buy the most varied, fresh, unusual goodies from ocean waters and watch how this whole sphere functions. Unlike many European markets, the buoyancy at the fish market in Male begins in the afternoon. Fishers come right here and lay out their catch. They carve the giant carcasses of tuna, barracuda, sea bass and other inhabitants of the Indian Ocean.

Fishmongers
Fishmongers | Asad Photo Maldives

Activities

In addition to visiting the attractions described above, there are many more options for how to spend time in Male. A few of them are:

  • Walking tours
  • 2-hour tour on the largest passenger submarine in the world, with a dive to a depth of 150 metres
  • Reef snorkelling
  • Workshops on national crafts and culinary master classes
  • Cruises to neighbouring islands and more

Сноркелинг на Мальдивах
Snorkeling in the Maldives

Best Hotels in Male

There are enough hotels of various levels and prices in Male. Most of them are located on the airport island of Hulhule and in the northern part of the island of Male. The list of hotels with the highest guest ratings includes:

  • Hotel Jen Mal?, Maldives by Shangri- La. It’s a four-star hotel on the island of Male, in a commercial quarter near the ocean. It offers chic rooms with panoramic floor-to-ceiling windows, Spas, bars and rooftop pools. The absence of alcohol can be a disadvantage.
  • Nearby, there is another hotel - Samann Grand. It has 4 stars too, but a bit simpler compared to Jen Mal?.
  • Another good hotel on Male near the beach and 5 minutes from the National Museum - Sala Boutique Hotel.
  • Hotel Maagiri 4* opened in Male less than 2 years ago and managed to gain popularity. Guests really love breakfasts here!
  • One of the best hotels on the island of Hulhumale is considered Rivethi Beach Hotel 4* opened in 2014. Here, guests can engage in many activities, for example, snorkelling, fishing, diving or windsurfing.

There are almost no chain hotels in Male. However, the hotel business is developing rapidly here, so that it can still change soon.

The closest hotel resort to Male is Kurumba Maldives, and it is where it all started in 1974. It is the first resort in the Maldives, but it has undergone many renovations and is still very popular.

Resort apartments near Male
Resort apartments near Male | Kurumba Maldives

Best Restaurants in Male

In general, restaurants in Male do not specialize in any cuisine but prepare dishes of different nationalities. The most popular are Thai, Indian, Italian and American dishes.

The most common format for establishments in Male is a teashop. It serves hedhikaa (short snacks) and tea. During lunch or dinner, it can offer something more serious. Such teashops work mainly from 17:00 to 01:00.

Recommended restaurants:

  • Belle Amie Bistro (Chinese, Indian)
  • Sala Thai Restaurant (Thai, Asian)
  • The Sea House - Maldives (seafood)
  • Maldivian establishments chain Lemongrass (Asian, seafood)
  • Seagull Cafe House (Italian)
  • The Manhattan Fish Market Maldives (seafood)

Beach restaurant
Beach restaurant

Shopping in Male

The main shopping street in Male is called Majeedee Magu. It features plenty of malls and various shops with clothes, cosmetics, accessories, household goods and so on. It is also the best place to buy something from the Maldives souvenirs, such as wooden measuring cups, coconut shredders, traditional lacquered caskets, knives or finely woven grass rugs.

Streets of Male
Streets of Male | Asad Photo Maldives

Interesting Facts

  • People of the Maldives rarely use house numbering. Instead, they give each house a name (often associated with plants, exotic or even eccentric name). For example, “Oasis”, “Sweet Rose”, “Nile River”, “Morning Freshness”, “Hot Lips” and others.
  • Male restaurants do not serve alcohol. But some may have non-alcoholic beer.
  • The Maldives has no theatres, concert halls or noisy clubs. Locals prefer to spend leisure time with family at home or on the beach.

Beach leisure of maldivian residents
Beach leisure of maldivian residents | Asad Photo Maldives

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