The Magnificent Tetrapod

The installation of tetrapod walls around much of Male' saved it from the huge potential devastation of the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. Tetrapods are concrete blocks with four fat legs, each approximately 1m long, sticking out like the four corners of a tetrahedron. These blocks can be stacked together in rows and layers so they interlock together to form a wall several metres high, looking like a giant version of a child's construction toy. A tetrapod breakwater has gaps that allow sea water to pass through, but collectively the structure is so massive and its surface so irregular that it absorbs and dissipates the force of the waves and protects the shoreline from the physical impact of a storm. As Male' has expanded through land reclamation to cover its entire natural coral reef, its natural buffer from the force of strong waves has disappeared.

A severe storm in 1988 flooded Male's streets, but the worst damage was on the southern and eastern edges of the island. Huge waves broke up tons of landfill that was part of a land-reclamation scheme, and much of this land was re-reclaimed by the sea.

The solution was to protect the whole island with a rim of tetrapod breakwaters, constructed as part of a Japanese foreign-aid project. In some places the tetrapod walls are used to retain landfill, and have a path on top forming an attractive seaside promenade. In other places, tetrapod walls enclose an artificial harbour that provides a sheltered anchorage for small boats, and a safe spot for kids to swim.

Start from the waterfront near Jumhooree Maidan (1), the main square, conspicuous for the huge Maldivian flag flying on its eastern side. It seems a pleasant and relaxed place, with friends and families relaxing around the square, but this was the setting for previously unthinkable antigovernment demonstrations in August 2004, and you'll notice that it remains a well-guarded place, with the police station on one side and the sinister white National Security Services Headquarters (2) to the south, strewn with orders not to take photographs.

To the right of the NSS is the Grand Friday Mosque (3; p93), walk down the sandy street past its main entrance and you'll arrive at the Republican Monument (4), a modern style centrepiece to a roundabout unveiled in 1999 to commemorate 30 years of Maldivian independence. Avoiding the traffic, cross over to the Sultan's Park (5; p93) and walk through its well-laid-out flowerbeds and plantings to Tily Magu. Exit the park and turn left, where you'll see a charming coral stone mosque (6) in the corner of the park, typical of the intricate 17th-century

Maldivian design. Continue south from here through streets far more typical of the crowded capital until you reach the Tomb of Mohammed Thakurufaanu (7), a much loved shrine honouring the man who liberated the Maldives from the Portuguese in the 16th century. Cut down to Majeedee Magu, the city's main thoroughfare and absorb the shops, noise and busde of the town's commercial heart as you walk west. Cut up through the good shopping streets of Fareedhee Magu and Orchid Magu, passing the striking Theemuge (Presidential Palace; 8), official residence of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. The charming mosque (9) next door is also worth a peek at from the street.

From here head north towards the sea-front and turn left for the wonderful produce


Start Jumhooree Maidan Finish Bistro Jade Distance 3km Duration One hour

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market (10; p95). Continue for a few more blocks along the waterfront, a bustling area with hardware shops and hangouts for sailors and fishermen. Go back along the seafront to the fish market (11), which, along with the adjacent fishing harbour (12), is a must-see for anyone in Male'. Wander along the seafront, which is always fascinating as people crowd on and off boats, and you can see more and more obscure cargo being brought ashore. Finish up at Bistro Jade (13; p89) for a drink out of the heat.

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