The bright and colourful city of Male’ is one of the smallest capitals in the world in terms of its physical size with a third of the country’s population. So much life can be found in these streets, with their brightly coloured houses set out against the azure lagoon of Male’ port.
Generally, this concrete, graffiti-clad city is different from any other island in the country with all of its high-rise buildings and paved roads, a warren-like maze of streets where one can get happily lost. The adventure begins at the ferry port from here you can walk around the island perimeter, taking in local government offices, shops, cafes and offices facing the sea port and cargo areas.
As the entire island is only two square kilometres you can get anywhere on foot quickly with two main routes through the island. These are the main street of Majeedhee Magu that runs right across the island from east to west and Chaandhanee Magu on the other hand that runs from north to south. Souvenir shops line the northern end of Chaandanee Magu, known as the Singapore Bazaar – a treasure trove of souvenirs. The old bazaar area still houses the country’s hub of wholesale and retail trade with lanes so narrow that the only traffic that can pass is the moped.
On the northern waterfront, close to the busy port, you’ll find Male’ fish market where you can choose one of the huge tuna lined up on the floor and watch as it is flipped onto a counter and then sliced and diced into portions by energetic ‘muscle men’ who attack each carcass with fervour.
Just a block away is the local market, divided into stalls each filled with a variety of local produce mainly from the atolls. Here you will find 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. Along with the fruit and vegetable stores that sell the freshest fruit. As this is an island that is purely reliant on exports for wares, so not only is this the freshest, they are also among the cheapest goods you will find on the island.
Dhonis’ from all corners of the country unload dried fish, fresh fruits and vegetables from the atolls others are seen loading everything from foodstuffs to construction materials. The pace increases in mid-afternoon as fishing ‘dhonis’ start returning with their day’s catch. The catch, mainly tuna is carried across the road into the open-sided market and laid out on the tiled floors. As fast 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, washed down each day and disinfected.
Canned fish is the national diet and is produced at the canning plant in Felivaru, Lhaviyani Atoll. It is available in a number of 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’. Vacuum packed smoked fish and chipped dried fish are also available in many supermarkets around Male’.
There are no beaches on Male’; just seawalls surround all its sides. However,a landscaped artificial beach area and adjoining breakwater stretch all the way round to the harbour in the southwest of the island provide a pleasant jogging route, especially popular in the evenings when it is cooler. This is a popular meeting spot for surfers.
The streets in the residential areas and parks are also shaded with trees, at places forming an arch overhead. A fair number of main streets are lined with big trees providing shade on both sides, including the main square.
The Islamic Centre
The Islamic Centre is the most vivid architectural landmark of Male’. You would see the spectacular golden dome in all its majesty dominating the skyline, as you approach Male’, from any direction. The building symbolizes the importance of Islamic religion, which had ruled all aspects of life in the country for centuries. Completed in 1984, the Centre consists of a mosque big enough for 5000 people, an Islamic library, conference hall, classrooms and offices.
Built in the 17th century the Huskuru 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. The 400-year old Friday Mosque, is a particularly interesting place to admire locals and observe the pace of life as dutiful muslims file in and out. Built by Sultan Ibrahim Iskandhar in 1656 the mosque is a masterpiece of coral curving and traditional workmanship – probably the best display of coral curving anywhere in the world. The area surrounding the mosque is a cemetery with a legion of intricately curved coral headstones. The Munnaaru or minaret in front of the mosque, 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. At present Mulee-aage houses the President’s Office.
The National Museum is housed in the only remaining building of the former Sultan’s Palace, which is now the Sultan’s Park. The colonial-style building is home to thrones and palanquins used by former sultans to the first printing press used in the country, the rifle used by Mohamed Thakurufaanu in his fight against the Portuguese in the 16th century, ceremonial robes, headgear and umbrellas used by Sultans to statues and other figures dating from 11th century, excavated from former temples. A variety of artifacts from times past would give an idea of the unique and rich culture and history of this island nation. 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 charged for admission.
Locals spend their time shopping in the evenings along Majeedhee Magu – the main road on the island is lined with various shops selling anything you can think of, from shoes, clothes, electronic gadgets, souvenirs and more and this is open until 11pm with 15 minute breaks for prayer. Occasionally there are night street markets.