Maldives. Aerial picture by Atlan Mayoom

Measuring 820km North to South and 120 km East to West, Maldivian archipelago is made up 1,190 small tropical coral islands which are further grouped together to form atolls. Maldives is located partly north and partly south of the Equator, between 7 6 30 and 0 41 48 south and between 72 32 30and 73 45 54 east of Greenwich.

The Maldivian atolls have been referred to as one of the finest example of Atolls in the world, which is further strengthened by the fact that the name Atoll is derived from the Maldivian word Atholhu. It is said that the formation of these atolls are due to submergence of a volcanic mountain range- leaving corals reefs encircling a shallow water filled lagoons- and later islands developed with the effect of currents and tides depositing coral debris and eventually colonized by plants and trees.

Maldives does not have mountains, hills or rivers and the highest point in Maldives is barely over 1.5 meter above sea level. Some large island have small fresh water lakes or brackish water lined by mangrove trees.

History

Maldivian history is lost in antiquity, and in the mists of time itself. Very little information is available on the ancient way of the life. However historical and archaeological evidence shows the Maldives has been inhabited for at least 2500 years. Findings show that Buddhism was the prevailing religion before the advent of Islam. Islam was brought to the country by Arabs travellers who plied the Maldivian seas on travel in the Indian Ocean to Malacca and China. In the year 1153-4 AD the king (Dovemi Kalaminja of Themuge) officially accepted Islam and proclaimed it to be the religion through out his domain. Since then, Islam has been sees as the unifying force which has kept the peace in the country and harmony and in the Maldivian society.

The first settlers to the Maldives would have been brought by forces of nature- by drifting currents or storm. The culture and beliefs points that Maldives were settled by people from Arabia, Egypt, Malaysia, Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka

Since the declaration of Islam, a series of dynasties prevailed for over 800 years and Maldives was largely an independent state. During this period many outside forces tried to conquer Maldives. The Portuguese succeeded in conquering and ruled the Maldives for a period of 15 years and 6 months after the death of the heroic Sultan Ali VI, in 1558. The three well-known brothers from Utheem Island in North Thiladhunmathi Atoll defeated them. In there quest for independence the eldest Ali Thakurufaanu was captured and beheaded, but the remaining 2 brothers lead by the elder Mohamed Thakurufaanu managed to defeat the Portuguese governor and their entire regime. Mohamed Thakurufaanu was invited to be the next ruler.

During the 17th century 13 wars have been fought against the South Indian pirates and Malabari opportunists, who tried to conquer Maldives. This ultimately lead to a treaty with the French, who had established a fort at Pondicherry in India, who helped the Maldives to fight against hostile forces.  However, this did not lead to a lasting French connection and in 1887 Maldives became a British protectorate. Under this arrangement Britain control of external affairs and the statehood of Maldives was recognized by Britain. Britain had no role over the internal affairs of the country.

In 1932, the first written constitution was formulated. The constitution was amended several times and the adoption of the 6th constitution resulted in the creation of the 1st Republic with a Presidency replacing the sultanate in 1953. Mohamed Amin Didi, the first President is largely recognised as the founding farther of the modern Maldives. However, his regime didn?t last long and he died following unrest and sultanate was again restored.

Maldives regained full independence in 1965 with the agreement signed between British High Commissioner in Ceylon and then the Prime Minister Ibrahim Nasir. The Maldives became a member of the UN in 1965 and a full member of Common Wealth of Nations in 1985. The formulation of the 10th constitution in 1968 again lead to a creation of the current republic with Ibrahim Nasir as the President

In 1978, a former lecturer in Islamic Studies and Philosophy, who served as the Permanent Representative to the UN and also as a government minister, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, was elected as president. He was returned to office for a fifth term in 1998. Maldives has seen hitherto unimagined development and prosperity during Maumoon’s term in office.

Tourism

The tourist industry in the Maldives is based more on quality rather than quantity, while keeping in mind that the prices are not beyond the ranges of the average holiday-maker. In other words, the aim is to present a taste of quality at a reasonable price. 

Tourism in Maldives started in the year 1972, when 12 Italian visitors arrived Maldives on a Sri Lankan Air Force plane and landed on Hulhule Airport. They were accommodated at residences in Male? and taken to inhabited islands during the day. The untouched white sandy beaches, the crystal clear lagoons and the pristine reefs teaming with colourful tropical fish attracted these guests and resulted in the arrival of over 1,096 guest to the Maldives in the same year. The first Maldivian tourist resort ? Kurumba Village was opened thereafter shortly by Bandos Island resort. Resorts in the early days offered accommodation, however the visitors were charmed by the natural beauty, the friendly service, the traditional touch of accommodation and the lifestyle and food. 

Until 1979, the tourism sector progressed at a slower rate, developed only by the demand and the needs of the visitors. However, in 1979 the first Tourism Master plan was developed which introduced an appropriate legislation for the Maldivian Tourism related activities. From then, with planned efforts by the government and the private sector involvement and investment, the Maldivian tourism industry took flight and there has been no looking back. 

Today, the country boasts over 89 island resorts with over 12,400 beds. A tourist resort by Maldivian standards is an exclusive island, with a private beach which goes all around, the house reef hosting the coral gardens and carefully planned infrastructure to house modern day accommodation and other facilities demanded by the clients, while protecting the natural vegetation and environment.