When one imagines the Maldives, it is easy to go to crisp white sands, glimmering cyan waters and swaying palm trees. However, a trip to ‘paradise on Earth’ does not have to mean topping up a tan on beaches – there are some great cultural places to visit – here are five of our favourites.
Hukuru Miskiiy this magnificent structure is the oldest mosque in the country, dating back to 1656. Constructed purely from coral stone, with scriptures from the Qur’an carved intricately, there may be an unpleasant corrugated iron sheet as a roof but this place is still extremely interesting. As you make your way round, look out for the stunning wood carvings and the lacquer work, while a long panel that was carved in the 13th century highlights the introduction of Islam to the island nation. Do note however that if you want to visit you will need to seek permission from an official at the Ministry of Islamic Affairs – sometimes, if you are well dressed and are respectful, you may be allowed on the spot as many of the staff members at the mosque are ministry officials. Just try to hang around outside and grab someone’s attention.
National Museum having opened in 1952 to mark the National Day of the Maldives, the National Museum is a great day out for the whole family. There is an extensive collection of historical and cultural artefacts, such as stone objects, royal antiquities from the Buddhist era, furniture, costumes, ornaments and armour. Highlights to look out for include an 11th-century coral stone head of Lord Buddha, the feyli kolhu robes worn by Sultan Ghaazee Mohammed Thakurufaanu, and a 13th-century engraved wooden plank. The museum, which looks to preserve history in the region, is interesting to look at as a building itself. The three-storied site is part of the Royal Palace built in the 17th century, and what is remaining has been retained from the days of the Sultanate – you can even see the handwritten Qur’an scriptures on the interior walls. The museum is open from 9am to 5pm, but closed on Fridays and Saturdays.
Muliaage Palace situated in the old centre of Male, the official residence of the President stands proudly, and it sure is a worthy stop-off. The site was originally constructed in 1919, commissioned by Sultan Muhammad Shamsuddeen III for his son in colonial style. Muliaage itself means ‘the new house of Muli’ and therefore it is hardly a surprise that it stayed with the Huraa Dynasty, but it is worthy to note that it never served as a royal palace. Instead, it served as a place of celebration, parties and entertainment, especially for Prince Hassan Izzuddin between 1920 and 1934. Unfortunately for the prince, he was banished from the island in 1934 and died four years later. After the prince’s arrest, the palace fell into disrepair and was used as a ministry during World War II. It was eventually declared as a presidential palace in 1968.
Islamic CentreNearby is also the Islamic Centre, opened by the president of the time in November 1984. The centre is home to the Grand Friday Mosque, the place to go to for Friday prayers. Standing as one of the largest of its kind in South Asia, the mosque admits over 5,000 people, while the centre also boasts a library, various offices and a conference hall where official ceremonies are held. The centre itself is a major attraction for many purely because of its stunning architecture, with its huge golden dome, Arabic calligraphy and extensive wood carvings.
The Whale Submarine while it’s not officially a sight, it’s a very popular excursion because you get up-close to life on the reef. You won’t see whales themselves, but it’s your chance to see wildlife in its own habitat without having to dive. After a few minutes, the sub will get to the dive point and then descend to around 35 metres – you will immediately be able to see the likes of unicorn fish, surgeonfish and blue-striped snappers. The trip underwater is 45 minutes, but do note that you should ring well in advance to book a place. Markets on a side note, you should try and make time for the busy central market that really will immerse you in local culture. Whether it is home-grown vegetables, bananas, coconuts or betal leaf, this really is the true Maldivian experience and should not be missed.
Not too far away is also the fish market, an explosion of entrails and gutting. Watch the catch of the day come from the adjacent harbour, especially the vast octopus, grouper and tuna. While you won’t catch local women here, female travellers should not worry about exploring the area. Water sports and if you want to stick to the coastal areas, but find it boring to just sit around on white sands, you may want to get a bit active – and trust us when we say the Maldives definitely caters to this audience. Whether it is windsurfing, jet-skiing, surfing or diving into the deep depths of the sea, you have a wide choice. There are also many lessons available for all ability levels if you have never tried any of the above. Whatever you choose to do in the Maldives, this small island nation sure knows how to pack in the attractions to make sure you have an equally cultured and relaxing holiday that you are sure to never forget.