The Maldives lies in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Historically, it was famous for the cowry trade and as a transit point for seafarers crossing from East to West and vice versa. The initial settlers were from India, Sri Lanka, East Africa, Arabia, Persia and the western parts of the Malay Archipelago. The Maldives boasts a cultural fusion with a history that extends to 300 BCE, and an interesting interaction between different religions and importantly between Buddhism and Islam. The local people practiced Buddhism until the conversion Islam in 1153 CE.
Construction in ancient Maldives was mainly dependent on the local availability of materials. Coral stone and timber were the only long lasting materials available and coral stone became the primary building material for monumental buildings. Live reef coral boulders or Porite corals are removed from the seabed, cut to stone blocks while they are soft and air-dried-before it gets used for construction. They were highly suitable for architectural and sculptural works. Coral stone construction methods or coral carpentry existed as early as the Buddhist period and continued until the introduction of masonry in the late 18th century.
Coral stone mosques were most outstanding in their design, decoration and grandness. The walls of the mosques are built of finely shaped interlocking coral blocks. The amount of detail and decoration that goes into these buildings simply displays the extent of the skill of the local people. It can be concluded that stone construction in Maldives became more refined during the Islamic period and the stone building and especially stone carving techniques of the east African Swahili region influenced the already developed techniques of the Buddhist period. It is the fusion of these cultures that led to the emergence of new techniques which is seen in the coral stone mosques in Maldives.
Maldives has proposed the following properties to the UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.
Friday Mosque, Ihavandhoo, Haa Alifu Atoll
The Friday Mosque in the island of Ihavandhoo was built in 16 December 1701 CE (15 Rajab 1113 A. H.) during the reign of Sultan Ibrahim Muzhiruddin (1701- 1705 CE) and continues to be used as a mosque. The complex consists of the mosque building, a short minaret, an octagonal water well, a mausoleum and the tombstones of the cemetery.
Friday Mosque, Meedhoo, Raa Atoll
The Friday mosque in the island of Meedhoo is believed to be 300 years old and estimated that it was built around 1705 CE during the reign of the first Sultan from Dhiyamigili Dynasty, Sultan Muzaffar Mohamed Imaduddin II (1704- 1721 CE) and continues its use as a mosque till today. It is an example of a coral stone mosque with Dhaalas and Mihrab chamber. The quality of coral workmanship and interior calligraphy is as high as many other mosques and very well maintained. The mosque is a typical small mosque with prayer hall, Mihrab Chamber and side “Dhaalas” or verandah like antechambers on three sides.
Friday Mosque, Malé, Kaafu Atoll
The Friday Mosque in Malé is the most important heritage site of the country with continuous use from the time of construction. The mosque building is the biggest and one of the finest coral stone buildings in the world. In 2008 UNESCO included Malé Friday Mosque and its complex in their Tentative World Heritage List. Malé Friday Mosque is located in the capital island Malé, and was built in 1658 CE during the reign of Sultan Ibrahim Iskandhar I (1648- 1687 CE), replacing the original mosque built in 1153 by the first Muslim Sultan of Maldives, Sultan Mohamed Bin Abdullah.
Eid Mosque, Malé, Kaafu Atoll
The Eid Mosque located in a congested area of the capital island Malé was built in 1815 during the reign of Al-Sultan Mohamed Muinuddin (1799- 1835 CE) replacing an older mosque built during the reign of Sultan Imaduddin (1620-1648 CE) and continues its use as a mosque till today. The historical writings of Hassan Thajuddeen indicate that in about 1815 CE (1230 A.H.), the old Eid Mosque was demolished and a new Eid Mosque was built. The present mosque complex has been reduced to the mosque building and a coral stone well.
Friday Mosque, Fenfushi, Alifu Dhaalu Atoll
The Friday mosque in the island of Fenfushi was built between 1692-1701 CE during the reign of Sultan Mohamed of Dhevvadhu (1692-1701 CE) on the site of an earlier mosque built by Kallhukamanaa continues its use as a mosque till today. The mosque complex has a complete set of components including the mosque building, a unique coral stone bathing tank, coral stone wells, a sun dial, a large cemetery with tombstones of fine quality and a coral masonry boundary wall surrounding the mosque with two entrances. In front of the door there is a shrine that encloses a tomb which is said to be the tomb of this couple’s (the husband was Dhidhdhoo Kakuravathi Thakurufaanu) son Mathukkalaa.
Old Mosque, Isdhoo, Laamu Atoll
The Old mosque in the island of Isdhoo was built in 1701 CE during the reign of Sultan Ali VII and continues its use as a mosque till today. This is the mosque where the copper chronicles ‘Isdhoo Loamaafaanu’ (oldest historical writings found in Maldives) was kept. The mosque complex has the mosque building, old well and a cemetery with tombstones. This mosque is one of the finest surviving examples of a small coral stone mosque with “Dhaala