Seen from the sky, the island capital, Male’ seems like a modern metropolis rising out of the tropical waters. Male’ is a modern bustling city and stand as the seat of the government, the legislature and the judiciary as well. The city holds all the government ministries, departments and all the major business headquarters too. Today, modern concrete and glass buildings dominate the skyline replacing the single storey bungalows and the lush green fruit trees, which were there a few decades before.
Male’ is home for over 70,000 of the total population of the country and is the central clearinghouse for all the major businesses with its international airport and the modern container handling seaport. It has grown to one-third its original size with land reclamation from the house lagoon and this space has added more dynamics to the life in the city. The well-paved streets and roads are lined with shops, boutiques, cafe’s and teashops, behind which stand the residences and apartments. Male’ used to be a sleepy town with low boundary walls bordering the small single story bungalows of the residents amidst well-kept tropical gardens. Today, the increase in the country’s population (which stood at 6,127 in 1927) and the scarcity of land has given no alternative other than to build skywards and this has resulted in the high rise buildings that crowd the 2 sq km of available land. Furthermore, new suburbs are starting to spring up in the nearby islands. Villingili which is a kilometer away is now an administrative ward of Male’ and a new housing development project called Hulhumale’ is underway on reclaimed land next to the airport which will provide housing for 5,000 people.
The shops that used to sell local produce from the islands are now stocked with luxury-imported goods and stand witness to the affluence that tourism has brought to the country. At the same time, this new wealth has created more schools and health care facilities in Male’ as well as in all the other islands of the country. The once sleepy garden town is now bustling with modern cars, motorcycles and bicycles and the pedestrian who once used to enjoy the wide expanse of the street to their own are now edged to the pavements that line the paved streets.
The modern developments have grown around some interesting historical buildings and sites that are now listed and they stand tribute to a historically rich past. The most important of these is the Old Friday Mosque, which is a testament to the fine craftsmanship and design sense of the artisans of old. The entire base structure and walls are carved from blocks of coral stone and no surface is devoid of finely carved designs, Quruanic calligraphy and inscriptions that give vistas in to the historical moments of a bygone era. The entire roof structure is of lacquered wood finely cut and fit without the use of nails or bolts. This splendid mosque stood as the center for the Islamic faith for many hundreds of years and its courtyard is dotted with the crypts, tombs and graves of former sultans. Today its place as the religious centerpiece is taken by the landmark Islamic Center with its mosque, Islamic library, classrooms, conference hall and administrative offices.
The international airport that is the gateway to the country lies on the entire island of Hulhule’, adjacent to the capital. The opening of this international airport in 1981 saw the rapid development of the country with the increase in arrivals of tourists and the opening of the country to the international markets. Today the airport is busy with international scheduled and chartered flights operating round the clock. There are four other regional airports on the islands of Gan in Addu Atoll, Kaadedhdhoo in Huvadhu Atoll, Kadhdhu in Hadhdhunmathi and Hanimaadhoo in Thiladhummathi South.