Male’ would certainly count as one of the smallest capitals in the world in terms of its physical size. A third of the country’s population, about 75,000 live in Male’.
Different from any other island in the country, Male’ is a city of high-rise buildings and paved roads. While the government offices are located in one area, the main streets are lined with shops and offices. In the old bazaar area which still houses the country’s hub of wholesale and retail trade, the lanes are so narrow that a single vehicle would find it difficult to navigate through, especially with its throngs of busy people.There are no beaches on Male’; instead seawalls surround all its sides. However, a newly landscaped artificial beach area and adjoining breakwater stretching 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. Male’ is still relatively green and pleasant.
The streets in the residential areas are 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. Even a stroll around it would offer interesting sites and shots for the memories; 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, to name a few. A stroll around the residential areas or shopping streets would provide an insight into the life and livelihood of the residents of the capital. Or simply sit down and relax at one of the small parks dotted around the capital and just observe the pace of life. You may be surprised at the large number of motorized vehicles in Male’.
If you prefer, you could make a 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 MRf20, luggage carried in the trunk is charged at the rate of MRf.5.00 per item, the basic charge increases to MRf 30, from 12.00 midnight to 06.00 in the morning and charters cost MRf.85.00 per hour.
Garments to Electronics
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.
Canned fish produced at the canning plant in Felivaru, Lhaviyani Atoll 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 super markets around Male’. These genuine Maldivian products would make excellent gifts for a friend. Or just take some home and try them out yourself.
The Local Market
The Local Market, just a block away from the Male’ Fish Market on the northern waterfront, is divided into small stalls. Here 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. 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
It is not difficult to find your way around Male’, especially if you carry a map with you. After all it is only two square kilometers. The main street Majeedhee Magu, runs right across the island from east to west. Chaandhanee Magu on the other hand runs from north to south. 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 speaking in English and other foreign languages patiently wait to serve the visitors. These shops are stocked with an ample supply of gifts and souvenir items. Best buys include the ‘thudu kuna’ the Maldivian mat woven with local natural fibers. Attractive too are the wooden miniature ‘dhonis’. When shopping for souvenirs, do keep in mind that export of products made of turtle shell, black coral, pearl oyster shell and red coral is prohibited.
Male' Fish Market
The main commercial area of Male’ is located on the northern waterfront of Male’. This area is 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. Also in the area are the Male’ Fish Market and the Local Market selling a range of local produce. While some ‘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 are 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.
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.
The Local Market
The Local Market, just a block away from the Male’ Fish Market on the northern waterfront, is divided into small stalls. Here 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. 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.
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. 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 walls of the mosque are hewn together with blocks of filigree-curved coral blocks. Heavy wooden doors slide open to the inner sanctums with lamp hangings of wood and panels intricately curved with Arabic writings. 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
The National Museum is housed in the only remaining building of the former Sultan’s Palace, which is now the Sultan’s Park. It is an Edwardian colonial-style building of three storey, fairly low key from the outside compared to the amazing collection inside. The articles on display range from 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 charges for admission.