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The Maldives has been a fascinating destination for travelers throughout history. The islands stretched across the traditional shipping lanes of the region were a crucial crossroads for early civilizations.

Like his modern counterparts, Ptolemey, the Greek geographer, had difficulty in describing the many islands of the Maldives, and ended up calling it a multitude of islands. Ancient Chinese navigators, referring to the maze of lagoons and reefs that trapped many an unwary mariner, called it the Three Thousand Weak Waters. Marco Polo, the Italian adventurer thought these were the flowers of the Indies. For Ibn Batuta, the Moroccan, the Maldives was one of the wonders of the world.

The name Maldives has been thought to be derived from the Sanskrit word, Maladiv, meaning a garland of islands. The Maldives is in fact an archipelago of some 1,200 islands, formed in 26 natural atolls, and grouped in double rows like a necklace of islands, set vertically across the equator. Over one thousand marine species inhabit the waters of the Maldives.

There is some speculation that the Maldives was settled more than 2,400 years ago. According to the Norwegian explorer, Thor Heyerdahl, it is possible that the islands were inhabited as early as 1900 BC. Despite frequent contact with those who sailed the ocean, the people of the Maldives have always remained uniquely homogenous in terms of language, religion and culture.

The people of the Maldives embraced Islam in 1153. Except for a few brief spells, the country has remained independent throughout its history. A strong community spirit and an ability to rise to the challenges that they have faced have helped the people remain free. Their lifestyle shows an industriousness and ingenuity that makes the most of their limited natural resources, and a remarkable adaptability to changing circumstances. These are traits that have helped Maldivians thrive amidst the changing cultural and political tides that have washed the shores of these islands from time immemorial.

A political rally; Actual size=240 pixels wide

Can you identify this scene? Is this an island in a distant atoll? Clue: This photo is several decades old.

The Roots

"I wanted to visit the Maldives of which I have heard so much."

These were the enigmatic words Ibn Batuta used to open his famous account of the visit to the Maldives. What made this small group of islands so well-known in those early days?

Click to find out...

A political rally; Actual size=240 pixels wide

A fortress in the heart of a peaceful island: "Aa Koattey Buruzu" was built between 1767 - 1773 by Sultan Mohamed Ghiyaasuddeen Siri Kula Sundra Mahaa Radhun. The fort followed the architectural style of contemporary Dutch forts in south India. It was impregnable to enemy attack for two centuries, but succumbed to the demolisher's axe in 1968.