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Located at the southern edge of North Malé Atoll, just over two square miles in size, Malé is one of the world’s smallest capitals and is home to almost a third of the country’s population. In stark contrast to the laid-back pace of island life elsewhere in the country, the pint-sized capital city is a throbbing commercial heart, densely compacted and heavily built up, dotted with numerous high rises, narrow paved streets, vibrant markets, a busy harbour and several mosques.

Malé was traditionally where the ancient royal dynasties ruled; once a walled city called Mahal, surrounded by fortifications, housing the Royal Palace, and dotted with picturesque forts and bastions. In 1153 the country was turned into a Sultanate, when the then Buddhist King Dhovemi converted to Islam, and became formally known as Sultan of Land and Sea, Lord of the twelve-thousand islands and Sultan of the Maldives. Before this time, the Maldives was a Buddhist kingdom after it had been a Hindu kingdom, and previous to both empires, it is thought to have been a matriarchal society with each atoll ruled by a chief queen. In 1968 much of the old city was destroyed and remodelled under President Ibrahim Nasir’s rule in the aftermath of the abolition of the monarchy.

Today, the city island is often dismissed as a mere transit destination, but it does have a distinctive character of its own and offers a chance for one to get a real feel for the Maldives, its idiosyncrasies and what makes its people tick. It’s worth spending a bit of time to explore if you can spare it, particularly to visit the fish market and the local produce market at the waterfront, as well as the new harbour in the southwest corner. The 400-year old golden-domed Old Friday Mosque is another key highlight; built in 1656, it is one of the oldest and most ornate mosques in the city and is a unique example of sea-culture architecture. Other recommended sights include the Republic Square, the Islamic Centre and the Sultan Park and National Museum, which was once the Sultan’s royal palace. Or if you are short on time, then to simply sit down and relax at one of the small parks dotted around the capital is a great way to observe the pace of life.

Hulule International Airport is located on the neighbouring island of Hulhule, which is a 10-minute boat ride away from Malé town. Transfers from the airport to the individual resorts will be directly from Hulhule Island.

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