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Small, quaint, and densely settled, Malé (pronounced 'Mar-lay') is not spectacular, but quite unique as a capital city. It's clean and tidy, with mosques, markets, a maze of small streets and a certain charm all its own. While it sometimes gives the impression of a sleepy country town, there is new building work everywhere, and the place feels like it will soon burst at the seams.

The island of Malé is about 2km (1.2mi) long and 1km (0.62mi) wide, and packed to the edges with buildings, roads and a few well-used open spaces. Officially, the population is around 65,000, but with foreign workers and short-term visitors from other islands, there may be as many as 100,000 people in town - it certainly feels like it. The size of the island has been more than doubled through land reclamation projects and nearby islands are used for the airport and other purposes. There are plans to develop other islands to reduce the pressure on Malé.

Among the city's modest attractions is the National Museum, which houses untidy exhibits of the sultans' belongings and a smattering of Thor Heyerdahl's archaeological discoveries - many of the ancient stone carvings and figurines are featured in his book The Maldive Mystery. Near the museum is the pleasant Sultan Park, and the imposing white Islamic Centre & Grand Friday Mosque which dominates the city's skyline.

There are over 20 other mosques scatttered around Malé, some little more than a coral room with an iron roof. The oldest is the Hukuru Miski, famed for its intricate stone carvings. One long panel, carved in the 13th century, commemorates the introduction of Islam to the Maldives, while outside a graveyard holds the tomb of Abu Al Barakat and the tombstones of former sultans.

Other sights include the Singapore Bazaar, a conglomeration of stores selling some quality local handicrafts and an assortment of Maldivian and imported tourist knick-knackery. Also interesting are the shops selling home hardware, marine equipment, fishing gear and general merchandise for local villages. In the many small teahouses Maldivian men enjoy 'short eats' (small snack meals), smoking, chewing and talking.

Malé has inexpensive food and accommodation, but nightlife is confined to teahouses and a few western style restaurants. A couple cinemas show Hindi epics and Hollywood blockbusters. Malé's expatriates head to a nearby resort on their day off.
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