My first glimpse of the capital of the Maldives was from the airplane window. After we had landed in a northerly direction, and the plane turned around to taxi back to the terminal building, the skyline of the city appeared on my side, and I was surprised at how close it was. Later that day, after I had installed myself on Hulhumalé, I took a dhoni ferry across to Malé. The closer we got, the more I realized that the island is full. I could see buildings from east to west, until very close to the coastline. Indeed, what used to be a regular atoll island, its shoreline has been expanded to where the reef once was. With the original, natural protection gone, the island is now heavily fortified with a seawall and tetrapods, concrete structures donated by the Japanese.
It was already a little late in the afternoon, and I knew I would be back, so I walked along the coastline to the west, passing some of the landmarks of the city: the main square with a tall flagpole, the market, the harbour, and, tucked away behind the square, the Grand Friday Mosque. I was surprised to find a nice boulevard on the west, where I walked on top of the seawall, and reached one of several viewing platforms where people were sitting down, looking west where the sun was about to set. I would be back again to the city, that is actually not much more than a town with only some 100,000 inhabitants. The most remarkable attraction is the Old Friday Mosque, which I covered separately; but apart from ticking off sights, the best you can do in Malé is to stroll around through the narrow streets, and soak up local life.
Behind the facade of modern buildings on the coastline, there is a maze of narrow streets, small shops, gardens, courtyards, small mosques. Wherever you go, you have to be careful: local motorbike drivers do not seem to care much about pedestrians. The last day of my visit to the Maldives, I spent walking from early morning to sunset. I saw the local beach on the eastern coast, the tsunami monument on the southeast, the tetrapod monument for the tetrapods that protect Malé and probably prevented disaster in the 2004 tsunami, several mosques, one with the liberator of Maldives - who expelled the Portuguese back in the 16th century. There are more small monuments, some remarkable buildings, and the rather oversized National Museum with some quirky objects; but I ended up liking my aimless walks the best. When you enter a street, you never know what to expect: they are so narrow, it is impossible to see far ahead even if the streets are straight. Plenty of local charm here. While most Maldivians I met complained about the noise and the stresses of Malé, to me, this economic and political centre of the country is still very modest compared to most other capital cities.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Malé (). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Malé.
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