The earliest inhabitants of the Maldives did not leave many archaeological remains. It is believed that their houses and tools were most likely made of wood and therefore quickly decayed from salt and wind in the tropical climate. Any remains that have been found suggest that the islands were inhabited as early as 1500BC. The majority of historians agree that the first settlers were probably from southern India. These people brought the Buddhist faith with them and it lasted in the Maldives for around 1,400 years. This initial group of settlers was followed by people from Sri Lanka in the 5th and 4th centuries BC.
The first recorded contact with the outside world came in the form of Arab sailors in the 10th century AD. These sailors recognized the trading potential that existed in the Maldives as the islands offered pearls, spices and coconuts and dried fish. There was also an excess of cowry shells - the currency that was used from Africa to China into the 16th century. The explorers who came to the Maldives brought Islam with them and converted the country from Buddhism in 1153 AD. After the Buddhist king converted to Islam he assumed the title Sultan Muhammad al Adil and began the first of six Islamic dynasties that ruled the islands until 1934.
After Marco Polo, the Venetian merchant traveller, described the Maldives as “the flower of the Indies”, European interest in the islands began to peak. Explorers from Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands set their sights on the Maldives. In 1558 the Portuguese established a small garrison and administered it from their outpost in Goa, some 300 miles away. The Portuguese were driven out of the country by a local leader, Muhammad Thakurufaanu al Azam in 1573. The Dutch replaced the Portuguese and while they took control, they did not directly get involved with local matters.
The late 16th century and into the 17th century saw the Dutch and the British vying for control over the islands. The British were the ultimate winners expelling the Dutch in 1796, however, the Maldives did not become an official British protectorate until 1886. Despite being under British control, the Maldivian people enacted their first constitution in 1932 where they relegated the sultan to the role of a constitutional monarch. In 1953 the sultanate was suspended altogether but was reinstated again in 1954. The islands gained independence from Britain in 1965 and the sultanate was abolished for the final time three years later after a national referendum.
In 1968, Ibrahim Nasir was elected president. Nasir was forced to flee under a cloud of corruption, however, he was the first leader to see the economic potential of tourism in the Maldives. The first Maldivian Resort opened in 1973 and tourism quickly became a major player in the country’s economy. Despite a somewhat tumultuous political history characterised by coups, tourism on the islands has remained the country’s biggest resource as people from all over the world come to experience a true tropical paradise.
Maldives Travel Information
At Goway we believe that a well-informed traveller is a safer traveller. With this in mind, we have compiled an easy-to-navigate travel information section dedicated to the Maldives.
Learn about the history and culture of the Maldives, the must-try food and drink, and what to pack in your suitcase. Read about Maldives's nature and wildlife, weather and geography, along with 'Country Quickfacts' compiled by our travel experts. Our globetrotting tips, as well as our visa and health information will help ensure you're properly prepared for a safe and enjoyable trip. The only way you could possibly learn more is by embarking on your journey and discovering the Maldives for yourself. Start exploring… book one of our Maldives vacations today!
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