The Maldives, a sparkling, crystallized image in blue, is a beautiful island nation in the Indian Ocean. When you first hear about it, you conjure images of clear blue waters, pristine beaches, and luxury resorts- but that is far from the picture. The Maldives has a rich and diverse cultural heritage waiting to be explored. Furthermore, preserving this national treasure is paramount for identity building and historic preservation. It provides a window into the past and helps us understand the evolution of a culture over time. Preserving cultural heritage also helps to promote diversity, creativity, and innovation.

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Crystal clear waters at a Maldives resort_©Joali Maldives
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18th century map showing India, the Maldives, Ceylon and Arabia _©

History of Maldives

Maldives has a history of over 2,500 years that has greatly shaped and molded its culture. Its ports were key stops on the ancient maritime trade routes, which brought many cultures and influences to the islands and allowed for the dissemination of knowledge and ideas. Over the centuries, the Maldivian culture has evolved through a mix of Indian, Arab, African, and European influences and the country’s unique geography and climate. The previously mentioned evolution could be tracked over a multitude of key events including, but not limited to, the arrival of Buddhism and the construction of ancient temples and monasteries, the Islamic conversion of the Maldives in the 12th century, the impact of Portuguese and Dutch colonialism, and the development of the modern tourism industry.

Cultural Heritage of Maldives

Maldivian culture is a blend of various influences, which has resulted in a unique identity. It is multifaceted and diverse, with influences that can be traced back to South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Some key aspects of Maldivian culture include music, dance, art, architecture, craft, clothing, and cuisine.

It is very important in this context to highlight key examples from the traditional arts, crafts, and music of the Maldives. The Maldives has a rich tradition of handicrafts, such as mat weaving, coir rope making, and lacquer work. Additionally, traditional Maldivian music is heavily influenced by Islamic and African rhythms and is often accompanied by dances that tell stories of the islands’ history and folklore.

Similarly, noteworthy examples of traditional clothing and cuisine must also be highlighted. Traditional Maldivian clothing is colorful, lightweight, and well-suited for the tropical climate. The country’s cuisine is also heavily influenced by its geography and climate, with seafood being a diet staple. Popular dishes include mas huni (a combination of smoked tuna, coconut, and chili), garudhiya (a fish broth), and saagu bondibai (a sweet coconut milk pudding).

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Lacquer works_©Maldives-Magazine
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Mat weaving_©Aishath Naj

Architecture of Maldives

Considering its significance, the architecture of the Maldives deserves to be highlighted extensively on its own. Traditional Maldivian architecture is characterized by its use of coral stone, timber, and thatch. The buildings use unique typologies designed to withstand the strong winds and rain common in the region. The architecture is also closely linked to the country’s Islamic heritage, with many buildings featuring elements of Islamic architectural decoration, such as intricate geometric patterns and calligraphy.

The pillar of Maldivian architecture and the quality that sets it apart is its ingenious use of local materials. Coral stone is a key building material in the Maldives due to its abundance and durability. It is also environmentally sustainable, as it is sourced from the islands’ coral reefs. A variety of materials and building techniques are used in building construction. Traditional Maldivian buildings are constructed using a mix of coral stone, lime mortar, and timber. The roofs are typically thatched using coconut palm fronds, which are woven together to create a waterproof layer. However, the extraction of coral stone can negatively impact the fragile marine ecosystem as the reefs are already experiencing a fast decline. This creates a dilemma that necessitates finding alternative building materials and construction techniques that minimise harm to the marine ecosystem and promote sustainable development in the Maldives.

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Coral stone mosque in Maldives_©
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Geometric and vegetal patterns on carved coral stone panels _©coralstonemosques

Preservation Efforts

Several ongoing efforts to preserve Maldives’ cultural heritage include restoring historical buildings, promoting traditional art and crafts, and documenting the country’s cultural heritage. The Maldives National Museum, which opened in 1952, showcases the country’s history and culture.

One of the biggest challenges facing preservation efforts in the Maldives is the impact of climate change. Rising sea levels and increasingly severe weather patterns threaten to erode and damage the country’s fragile coral stone buildings. Additionally, the rapid pace of development and modernisation in the country has destroyed some traditional buildings and practices. With these concerns, one question becomes direly prominent: What tools ensure that the preservation process takes place?

The responsibility for these preservation efforts falls on the government and non-governmental organizations in various roles. The government of Maldives has made efforts to protect the country’s cultural heritage by creating the Maldives Heritage Act, which regulates the protection and management of heritage sites. Non-governmental organizations, such as the Maldives Heritage Survey and the Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators, also play a key role in promoting and protecting the country’s cultural heritage.

Future of Maldivian Cultural Heritage

In addition to the impact of climate change and modernisation, the country’s cultural heritage is threatened by over-tourism and the influx of foreign influences. As more and more tourists flock to the Maldives, there is a risk that traditional practices and crafts could be overlooked or devalued in favor of commercialized tourist attractions. Another challenge to preserving Maldives’ cultural heritage is the influence of foreign cultures and ideas. With the increasing globalization of society, younger generations in the Maldives are being exposed to a broader range of ideas and lifestyles than ever before. Traditional practices and crafts could be lost as younger generations become less interested in these activities. With a renewed focus on preserving and promoting cultural traditions, there is a chance that they will be recovered over time.

Thus, it becomes apparent that there is a need for continued efforts to preserve Maldives’ cultural heritage to maintain the country’s unique identity and history. This can also help attract tourists interested in experiencing traditional Maldivian culture. There are various suggestions for ways to promote and raise awareness about the cultural heritage of Maldives. This could include the creation of cultural festivals and events, the development of cultural tourism packages, and the incorporation of traditional practices into the school curriculum.


In conclusion, this exploration has only proved that preserving cultural heritage is vital for maintaining a sense of identity and history and promoting diversity and creativity in the Maldives. The cultural heritage of Maldives is a valuable and unique aspect of the country’s identity, and it is essential to take steps to protect it for future generations to enjoy. By doing so, we can help to ensure that Maldives remains a vibrant and culturally rich destination for years to come.

Reference List:

  1. Centre, U.N.E.S.C.O.W.H. (no date) Maldives, UNESCO World Heritage Convention. Available at: (Accessed: March 24, 2023). 
  2. An ecological assessment of coral reefs in the South Ari Marine Protected Area (no date) Ministry of Environment, Climate Change and Technology. Available at: (Accessed: March 24, 2023). 
  3. Government of maldives and UNDP sign ‘re-imagining tourism’ project: United nations development programme (2021) UNDP. Available at: (Accessed: March 24, 2023). 
  4. Maldives (2021) Maritime Asia Heritage Survey. Available at: (Accessed: March 24, 2023). 

Jana Haj Ali is an aspiring architectural writer and designer based in Beirut. Throughout her undergraduate years, she has sought to experiment with storytelling through design. Jana’s research interests span the intersection of architecture, identity, and history in the Middle East. In her free time, she enjoys visiting museums and hiking.