Coral Stone Mosques of Maldives
Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture
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Ihavandhoo Friday Mosque, N6° 57′ 17.45″, E72° 55′ 38.27″
Meedhoo Friday Mosque, N5° 27′ 27.84″, E72° 57′ 16.41″
Malé Friday Mosque, N4° 10′ 40.79″, E73° 30′ 44.56″
Malé Eid Mosque, N4° 10′ 29.41″, E73° 30′ 15.13″
Fenfushi Friday Mosque, N3° 29′ 21.65″, E72° 47′ 1.61″
Isdhoo Old Mosque, N2° 12′ 96.55″, E73° 58′ 00.74″
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.
Description of the component parts:
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 its use as a mosque till today. The mosque complex consists of the mosque building, a short minaret, an octagonal water well, a mausoleum and the tombstones of the cemetery. A new boundary wall surrounds the mosque with three entrances. The mosque building is a typically small mosque with the prayer hall and ‘Dhaalas’ or verandah like antechambers on three sides except the Mihrab side. There is no Mihrab chamber and the Mimbar (the place to deliver the religious speech during the Friday prayers) is located in the corner of the Mihrab Wall. Typical to the coral mosques it is built on a coral stone platform with coral stonewalls. The roof structure and ceiling is constructed in timber and mainly teak. There are no columns in this mosque. With its fine carvings, entrance steps, carved wooden doors, lacquer calligraphy and decoration, the quality of workmanship is among the best found outside Male’.
The short minaret of the mosque is made from coral stone and lime mortar. It has four simple steps and is believed to be an addition during the 1950s when the mosque was upgraded. In the early days when there were no speakers the Muzzin would go up the steps to call for prayers.
The octagonal coral stone water well inside the complex still serves sweet water for ablution and drinking to the inhabitants.
The cemetery holds a large part of the mosque complex. The cemetery has a number of very old coral stone tombstones and a mausoleum. The tombstones with carvings with rare patterns and Arabic dates are in good condition but the roof of the mausoleum does not exist anymore. The cemetery consists of the tombstones of eminent people such as members from the Utheem Boduthakurufaanu (the Maldivian hero who defeated the Portuguese rule in Maldives) family and Wazirs of Dhiyamigili Dynasty. The expert carpenter who carried out the work for this mosque is also buried in the mosque ground to the eastern side just close to the mosque.
The original mosque is now practically within a modern mosque. The old mosque is not seen from outside though the old original mosque and the new extensions can clearly be distinguished visibly and the condition of the old mosque is still very good.
The beginning of the construction of the mosque is not clear but it was completed in 16 December 1701 CE and the mosque bears the symbol of Sultan Ibrahim Muzhiruddin. During the 1950s roofing was changed from coconut thatch to Indian clay roofing tiles and the “Dhaala” was extended and timber lattice (Jaali) windows were added. In 2005 the roof was changed from clay roofing tiles to metal profile sheets. The “Dhaala” was further extended with a perimeter wall and aluminum windows. The floor was changed to ceramic tiles. The octagonal well was also repaired with stainless steel bands on its mouth to hold the coral stone blocks from getting apart.
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 complex consists of the mosque building, a water well and boundary wall. The mosque complex used to have a cemetery but it has been separated by dividing walls. Both the existing mosque complex and the cemetery with tombstones and mausoleums remain intact and in good condition with large frangipani trees.
The mosque is a typical small mosque with prayer hall, Mihrab Chamber and side "Dhaalas" or verandah like antechambers on three sides. The ground level on the outside floor of the mosque building has embossing. The beams, pillars and doors are decorated with lacquer work. The inner most part (Mihrab house) and other inner parts have Arabic writings. There is a Mimbar (standing place for delivering religious speech "Khutubaa" during Friday Prayer).
Like most of the ancient coral stones mosques in Maldives, Meedhoo Old Friday Mosque is also not ‘Qibla' oriented. Lines are drawn on the thin novilon sheet spread on the floor of Meedho Old Friday Mosque to indicate the direction of the ‘Qibla' for the performers. The mosque has one entrance and is built on a coral stone platform and coral stone walls. This is the only coral stone mosque remaining with early Indian clay tile roofing. The coral stonework does not have the carvings and fineness of other similar mosques but the moldings and form are similar.
The cemetery has a collection of tombstones with high standard of carvings and workmanship.
There are two wells within the complex. One is round and can still be seen today. The well used in the olden days for ablution is now situated in the cemetery as the cemetery has been expanded. This is a square well made of coral stone. This coral well remains intact and in good condition although it is no longer visible due to vegetation. The well that is being used now is a new well, built recently.
A coral masonry boundary wall surrounds the mosque with two entrances. Trees such as Frangipani, coconut palms and other plants are present within the complex.
It is one of the few mosques in the country which has few changes brought to it. It is very well maintained and in good condition and use.
The beginning of the construction of the mosque is not clear but it was constructed using cut coral stone blocks and timber and built around 1705 CE. The original roofing material was assumed to be coconut thatch and the floor finished with woven reed mats. During the 1950's the roofing must have changed from coconut thatch to Indian clay roofing tiles and the "Dhaala" fitted with timber lattice (Jaali) windows.
According to the Muzzin (who was in charge in 2011) of the mosque, there used to be an attachment to the mosque, a cemetery and two coral wells. The mosque complex was divided to separate the cemetery. Although one well is still visible which is round, the other well, which is squared, is no longer visible and hidden due to vegetation.
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. There is neither written record of how and from what this latter mosque was built nor record on its measurements. It is believed that this mosque was renovated by Sultan Ahmed Shihabuddeen in 1338 CE.
The mosque complex has the mosque building, a large minaret, high quality coral stone wells, a sundial and a cemetery with mausoleums and tombs of past kings and dignitaries of the country. The mosque complex is surrounded by a boundary wall. The mosque building has a hypostyle layout with the two prayer halls with “Dhaalas” or verandah like antechambers on three sides. There is a large Mihrab chamber and the Mimbar is located in the corner of the Mihrab chamber. It has three entrances with rising steps. The mosque is built on a highly decorated coral stone platform with coral stonewalls and timber roof structure. The roof is three tired with a modern metal roofing finish. It has a highly decorated coffered ceiling with stepped recesses. The columns are made from coral stone. With its fine carvings, the entrance steps, carved wooden doors, lacquer calligraphy and decoration, the quality of workmanship is among the best in Maldives.
The roofing and all other woodwork in the new Friday Mosque were done by local carpenters. The expert carpenters who carried out the work were “Ali MaavadiKaleyge” and “Mahmud Maavadikaleyge” of Kon’dey Island in Huvadhoo Atoll. The title “Maavadikaleyge” literally means “chief carpenters”. Their graves are to be seen in the eastern section of the mosque grounds.
The mosque complex has a large unique cylindrical minaret made from plastered coral stone and tied with metal bands. It is painted in white with decorative calligraphy and metal bands.
The complex has many coral stone mausoleums and tomb stones carved with unique designs that are the finest and the biggest collection in the country.
Sultan Muhammad Ibn Abdullah built the country’s first Friday Mosque soon after his conversion to Islam in 1153 CE, on the exact spot where the present Friday Mosque is. There is no record of the exact measurements and architectural techniques used in the construction of this first mosque.
Eight years after his ascension to the throne, Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar I ordered the construction of a new Friday Mosque in Male’ in 1656 CE (1066 AH), as the existing one was by then too small to hold the many worshippers who wished to attend the prayers. The earlier mosque was demolished and a new Friday Mosque was built of coral stone on the site of the old mosque.
Building the new mosque took approximately one and a half years and the work was completed in 1658 CE.
In 1668 CE Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar returned from his pilgrimage to Mecca and ordered the construction of the Munnaaru (the minaret) and a southern gateway to the mosque.
The Minaret was completed in 1674 CEand was said to closely resemble the minarets of Mecca of that time.
During the second succession of Sultan Mohammed Shamsuddin III (1903-1934 CE), when for the first time, the thatched roofs of the Mosque and the Southern Gateway were replaced with corrugated iron sheets in 1904 CE. The first Friday Mosque, as well as the new one constructed by Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar I, had thatched roofs as was the custom of the time.
Sultan Mohammed Shamsuddheen III replaces original thatched roof with corrugated iron sheets in 1912 CE.
In the later part of 1963 CE the roofs were carefully dismantled and replaced using teak wood. The old corrugated iron sheets were replaced with aluminium.
Between 1987-1988 CE Conservation work was carried out by a team of Indian experts from the National Research Laboratory for Conservation of Cultural Property, with the assistance of a team from the National Centre for Linguistic and Historical Research in Malé.
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.
The mosque building has the old mosque attached to a modern extension on three sides. The old mosque building is retained well without damage to the old structure. This building has a hypostyle layout with a prayer hall with “Dhaalas” on three sides. There is no Mihrab chamber and the Mimbar is located in the prayer hall. There is only one entrance with rising steps. The mosque is built on a highly decorated coral stone platform with carved coral stone walls and timber roof structure. The roof is two tiered with a modern metal roofing finish. It has highly decorated coffered ceiling with a stepped recess. The columns are made from coral stone. With its fine carvings, entrance steps, carved wooden doors, lacquer calligraphy and decorations, the quality of workmanship is the finest in the country. The beams inside are decorated with lacquer work.
There was a pool called “Kuda Veyo” (small pool) near the mosque.
It is the last of the coral stone mosque and has the best ornamentation and craftsmanship of all the mosques in the country and in good condition. Over the period of time extensions have been added to the mosque but the old mosque building is retained well.
Sultan Mohammed Muinuddin (1799-1835 CE) built the Mosque in 1815 CE. The mosque which was there on was too old and Sultan Mohammed Muinuddin rebuilt the present Eid Mosque at the site.
Sultan Muhammed Shamsuddin III (1903-1934 CE) when for the first time replaced the thatched roofs of the Mosque with corrugated iron sheets.
During the 1970s the mosque was extended and the mosque compound reduced.
In 2006 CE a conservation Project and scientific restoration work was carried out to protect the old building from deterioration.
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. It is one of the finest examples of a coral stone mosque with a complete set of components within the mosque complex and all elements in good condition. 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.
The small Mosque that existed in Fenfushi is believed to be built by Kalhukamnaafaanu and her husband. The small mosque was built from coral stone but without any carvings. 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. According to the writings of the Maldivian legal deeds (an official document called Faiykolhu) of the small mosque, Mohamed Mathukkalaa, the son of Kalhukamanaa, was buried in the cemetery around Fenfushee Kuda Miskiiy (small mosque). There is a shrine (bisthaan) in the southern side of the cemetery of the Old Friday Mosque which is said to include the tombs of Al-Wazeerul Haajju Hassan and his beloved wife. His wife was believed to be a daughter (princess) of a king.
There was a small mosque in this island that was built from coral stone and lime mortar. Remnants of this small mosque is still there but hidden from vegetation.
The Friday mosque building is preserved well without damage to the structure. This building has a hypostyle layout with a prayer hall with no “Dhaalas”. There is a Mihrab chamber and the Mimbar is located in the prayer hall. There are three entrances with rising steps.
The mosque is built on a highly decorated coral stone platform with coral stone wall and timber roof structure. The roof is two tiered with a modern metal roofing finish. It has a highly decorated coffered ceiling with a stepped recess. The columns are made from timber. With its fine carvings, entrance steps, carved wooden doors, lacquer calligraphy and decoration, the quality of workmanship is among the finest in the country.
Most of the writings in this mosque are Sayings of Prophet Muhammed (S.A.W). The pillars and ceilings are very similar to that of the Male’ Friday Mosque. There is an octagonal symbol (sikka) on both sides of the door. Most probably, this is the symbol (sikka) used by Dhevvadhoo Sultan (Al-Sutan Mohamed Ibn Al-Haajju Ali Thukkalaa). This suggests that the mosque might have been repaired or renovated and it was Dhevvadhoo Sultan that repaired or renovated and made the mosque as it is now.
There is an antique bathing tank (veyo) in the premises of this mosque. Design on the sides of the stairs to the pool depicts that this pool most likely had been built during the Buddhist era. The coral stones that are used as the wall of the pool are now damaged. Inside the pool, there is an old Thaana Akuru (old local scripts) writing. This was written much later than the building of the pool. When the pool was completely covered with sand, it was rediscovered in 2000 A.D. and kept as an antique/historical place. In 2001, a roof was built over it. There is a coral stone well near this mosque.
The only changes to the complex are changes brought to the roofing of the mosque building and protection shelters given to the bathing tank and one well. The mosque and its complex are very well preserved and maintained and in good condition.
The original structure has been well preserved and intact and there are no records of any changes. Nevertheless the roofing must have changed many times but again no record is available of these changes.
Sultan Mohamed Ibn Haji Ali Thukkala (1692-1701 CE) built the Mosque around 1692-1701CE during his reign.
Between 2000-2001 CE conservation of the Mosque was carried out in 2011 by National Centre for Linguistic and Historical Research through expertise of National Research Laboratory for Conservation of Cultural Property (NRLC, Lucknow, India).
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. The tombstones in the cemetery are badly damaged and in poor condition. This mosque is located in a remote part of the island and there are no boundary walls.
It is one of the finest surviving examples of a small coral stone mosque with “Dhaala” and has been maintained with minimal changes and in good condition.
It is believed that the main architect (or the one in-charge of the building process) was Ismail Maavadi thakurufaanu and it was built from excessive materials left over after building Malé Friday Mosque. If this is the case then the mosque must be over 300 years old. The Isdhoo Loamaafaanu of 1195 A.D. found in this mosque was brought to Male’ several years ago and is now kept in National Centre for Linguistic Research. It has been translated. The present Isdhoo Ancient Mosque was built by Dhevvadhoo Sultan, Al-Sultan Mohamed Ibn Haji Ali Thukkalaa.
The mosque building is preserved well without damage to the structure. This building has a hypostyle layout with a prayer hall with “Dhaalas” on three sides and the Mihrab chamber. There is only one entrance with rising steps.
The mosque is built on a decorated coral stone platform with coral stone walls and timber roof structure. The coral stone platform is decorated with moldings and does not have fine carvings. The roof is two tired with a modern metal roofing finish. It has a decorated coffered ceiling with a stepped recess. The columns are made from coral stone. With its fine carvings, entrance steps, carved wooden doors, lacquer calligraphy and decoration, the quality of workmanship is the finest in the country.
It is said that this mosque was built around 1657-1658 CE by a carpenter named Ismail Maavadi Thakurufaanu and the materials used were those of extra items from those used to build the Malé Friday Mosque.
Between 1692-1701 CE present Mosque was built by Sultan Mohamed Ibn Haji Ali Thukkala (1692-1701 CE).
Renovations were carried out in 2005 CE.
Justification de la Valeur Universelle Exceptionelle
The Coral Stone Mosques of the Maldives represents a unique example in the Indian Ocean of an outstanding form of fusion coral stone architecture. They have Outstanding Universal Value as an example of a type of coral stone architecture with coral carvings and detailed lacquer work quality not seen in any part of the world. The architecture, construction and accompanying artistry are in themselves a work of human creative achievement.
The Coral Stone Mosques of Maldives also exhibit an interaction of elements of architectural form and design which come from the maritime cultures of the Indian Ocean, providing testimony to a coming together of cultures due to travel in the Indian Ocean in a mode that no longer exists. They are an outstanding example of a fusion of Indian Ocean seaborne cultures witnessed never before in one place, giving profound weight to the idea that these cultures commingled to an unprecedented extent.
Entirely unique are the way the material have been used in construction and the methods of shaping the material - all part of a way of life that has now disappeared. The practice of coral stone carpentry and the construction of buildings using material provided by these methods have long concluded.
These mosques as living mosques also embody the intangible and spiritual values of the communities and bear witness to the spread of Islam in the Indian Ocean region.
These mosques together fully represents the coral stone mosques in terms of its typology, size and period of construction.
Friday Mosque, Ihavandhoo, Haa Alifu Atoll
This old mosque represents the skills and craftsmanship of the people of the period. It also represents the design and technology that developed during the early 18th century. Among the coral stone mosques in Maldives the significance of Ihavandhoo Friday Mosque is that this is the finest surviving example of a small coral stone mosque with ‘Dhaala'. It is also the best mosque in the northern atolls of Maldives in terms of quality of construction, fine carvings, calligraphy and workmanship. The ancient coral stone tombstones in the mosque complex have got some of the finest designs including rare patters and carvings in the country. The mosque has got great potential to be restored to its original state and regain its position and the best coral stone mosque in the north of Maldives. It is a living heritage and locals, especially elders still prefer performing their prayers at this mosque despite other mosques built in this island. The fact that the mosque is still being used by communities far away from the mosque proves the high ancestral values placed to this mosque by local communities.
Friday Mosque, Meedhoo, Raa Atoll
This mosque represents the skills and craftsmanship of the people of the period. It also represents the design and technology that developed during the early 18th century and 1950s. It is among the very few structures where ancient skills and craftsmanship of Maldives are represented. Among the coral stone mosques of Maldives, the significance of Meedhoo Mosque is that this is the only surviving example with clay tile roofing. The ancient coral stone tombstones also display the high standard of workmanship and carvings they have got in the country. The mosque and its complex is a very well maintained and well used mosque. This is one of the few mosques with few changes brought to it in the country. It is a living heritage and locals, especially elders still prefer performing their prayers at this mosque despite other mosques built in this island. The fact that the mosque is still being used by communities far away from the mosque proves the high ancestral values placed to this mosque by local communities.
Friday Mosque, Malé, Kaafu Atoll
This mosque is the most important heritage site of the country with continuous use from the time of construction. It is built on the site of the first mosque in the country and continues its use as one of the most important places of worship in the country. The mosque building is the biggest and one of the finest examples of coral stone architecture with coral carvings and detailed lacquer work quality not seen in any part of the world. The architecture, construction and accompanying artistry of the mosque and its other structures represent the creative excellence and achievement of the Maldivian people. This mosque and its complex are included in the UNESCO Tentative World Heritage List. The mosque building and the existing structures in the complex have been maintained well and are in very good condition with few changes.
Eid Mosque, Malé, Kaafu Atoll
Malé Eid Mosque is significant as the best example of coral stone architecture in terms of detailing and quality of workmanship with coral carvings and detailed lacquer work quality not seen in any part of the world. The architecture, construction and accompanying artistry of the mosque and its other structures represent the creative excellence and achievements of the Maldivian people. The mosque building is in good condition of preservation and is maintained well. It is a living heritage and locals, especially elders still prefer performing their prayers at this mosque despite other mosques built in this island. The fact that the mosque is still being used by communities far away from the mosque proves the high ancestral values placed to this mosque by local communities.
Friday Mosque, Fenfushi, Alifu Dhaalu Atoll
Fenfushi Friday mosque is significant as it is the only mosque with a complete set of structures within the complex which includes the mosque building, bathing tank, sundial, coral wells and cemetery with tombstones. This is significant as one of the well preserved coral stone mosques and as great examples of coral stone architecture in terms of detailing and quality workmanship with coral carvings and detailed lacquer work quality. It is also one of the few buildings that represent the coral stone mosques of Maldives. The architecture, construction and accompanying artistry of this mosque represent the creative excellence and achievement of the Maldivian people. It is a well preserved and maintained coral stone mosque complex and is one of the best and complete mosque complexes in the country. It is a living heritage and locals, especially elders still prefer performing their prayers at this mosque despite other mosques built in this island. The fact that the mosque is still being used by communities far away from the mosque proves the high ancestral values placed to this mosque by local communities.
Isdhoo Old Mosque, Isdhoo, Laamu Atoll
This mosque has been selected for reasons other than that of the previous mosques mentioned above. The mosque is one of the finest surviving examples of a small coral stone mosque with Dhaalas and has been maintained with minimal changes and in good condition. In addition to this mosque being an excellent representation of the skills and craftsmanship of Maldivians of this period and other architectural significance, it bares historic significance as well. The existence of Isdhoo Copper plate with much important historical written information, serves as a support for the authenticity of this mosque. Due to this historical significance for this mosque, the mosque is highly protected and valued. The locals of the island give a greater significance and importance to this mosque due to the very existence of the oldest written inscription inside the mosque. This inscription gives much records of this period including the rulers of the period and other royal policies and laws. It is a living heritage and locals, especially elders still prefer performing their prayers at this mosque despite other mosques built in this island. The fact that the mosque is still being used by communities far away from the mosque proves the high ancestral values placed to this mosque by local communities.
Criterion (ii): The coral stone mosques of the Maldives are outstanding examples of the successful fusion of Indian Ocean seaborne cultures to produce a unique form of architecture and accompanying artistry. Not only is the resultant fusion in itself remarkable but lends exceptional credibility to the theory that the entirety of the Indian Ocean cultures weren't separate. The ensemble is an outstanding material manifestation of cultural fusion and harmonization.
The unique blend of artistic sensibilities clearly indicates an interaction of cultures. The iconography brings together and homogenizes heavy influences from Indian subcontinent, Swahili Africa, Arabia, and the Malay Archipelago. The resulting style is a distinct fusion.
The building method comes directly from the Indian subcontinent but is applied to coral stone - the only example in the world of this particular material being used in this manner.
The marriage of process, materials and techniques from other Indian Ocean cultures into a homogenous, consistent form in itself represents a masterpiece of creative genius in the coral stone mosques. The ensemble illustrates how the ideas were incorporated and blended, evolving into a sophisticated whole over several distinct stages.
The skill of craftsmanship on its own is outstanding. The elaborateness and the smoothness show a consistent amount of meticulousness, and exhibit a greater amount of variations not observed anywhere else.
The marriage of different crafts and traditions, namely the lacquer skills and traditions in India and Myanmar; boatbuilding, and stone carving skills parallel to those in India and Swahili Africa; calligraphy from Persia and Arabia; architectural ideas from the Indian subcontinent, Sri Lanka, and the western shores of the Malay archipelago.
Criterion (iii): The interactions of the intense seaborne trading activity in the entirety of the Indian Ocean are illustrated in an exceptional manner by the architecture of the ensemble. This activity no longer exists in the form it did then and marks a significant chapter in human history.
The ensemble further provides a testimony and memorial to unique complementary traditions of coral stone carpentry techniques. The latter comprises techniques that shape coral stone, treating the material like one would timber.
Exceptional testimony is provided on the cultural tradition of cutting coral stone boulders from the reef, shaping them while they're wet and soft, and then air-drying them into the hard material. In addition to the process itself, the craftsmanship is derived from a unique boatbuilding skill and a maritime culture which has parallels in Swahili Africa. There is no evidence that this process has existed anywhere else in the world, and it is a cultural tradition that has long since died out. The testimony also defines the way of life of the period when Maldives relied on the islands for every aspect of their lives. Technology, exposure, and environmental changes have dispensed with this way of life.
Criterion (iv): The coral stone mosques are an outstanding example of the types of building and architecture which illustrates a significant stage in human history in Maldives. The use of coral stone, the methods and techniques used in building these mosques display significant stage in building and construction techniques used by Maldivians during ancient periods. During the 18th Century till 20th Century, Maldivians used to build outstanding buildings with excellent artistry and architecture. The detail and fine carvings done on the coral stones, beautiful calligraphy and lacquer work done on the wooden plates of these mosques represents an important stage in the human history of which no other coral stone structure elsewhere is comparable or similar to them. The method of construction using coral stone blocks (tongue and groove method) is an excellent building skill that was used in the history of Maldives.
Criterion (vi): Apart from these ancient structures serving as important places for worship, they also serve as important social events and traditions related to the community living around these sites. These buildings have important tangible aspects that are associated with the islanders. Not only were these buildings used as places for worship, they were also directly associated with the rituals and other traditional events that are still practiced today. These buildings are still closely associated with the activities that are done during the Ramadan period and the Muslim festival of Eid. Moreover, considering the fact that all of these mosques were Friday mosques, they are still used for Friday prayers and some of the elders in the islands still prefer using these mosques for Friday prayers. Locals visit these mosques and after the prayer, the mosque becomes a place for socializing and gathering. The mosque is used as a place, for especially the elders, to get together and discuss different matters and such. The mosques also serve as places for religious teaching of the Holy Quran and other important religious lectures and speeches. It is s tradition that has been done during the past that are still done today which is directly associated with the mosque. Due to the cemetery being one component of these mosques, they are also an important emotional place for burials and other related ceremonies and rituals.
Several aspects of the mosques are still believed to hold important traditional beliefs in Maldives. Some of the knowledge systems attached to these mosques include the use of well water in the past and in the present and the sundial in the mosque vicinity. It is still believed that the water from the wells inside the mosque vicinity is the sweetest water in the island. The use of telling time by observing the movement of the sundial is also a traditional activity that is still practiced today. These buildings also hold belief systems and manifestations in the architecture. The architectural style/ vocabulary and the construction systems of these buildings (i.e. the dome, the Mihraab house etc.) have meanings behind them. The locals still hold certain beliefs as to why the dome or the Mihraab house was built inside the mosque. The iconography of these buildings are also important beliefs that are directly associated with the mosque. For instance, there are many symbols carved as designs in the coral stone walls of these buildings that relates to the Islamic philosophy. The often found seal of a door and key is believed to be the symbol for entering heaven. There are several other similar symbols in and outside the mosque.
Déclarations d’authenticité et/ou d’intégrité
Friday Mosque, Ihavandhoo, Haa Alifu Atoll
This mosque was selected in terms of its high quality artistic and architectural excellence. This is the best mosque that represents a small mosque without the Mihrab chamber. In terms of authenticity the mosque retains all the attributes but in terms of integrity the mosque is being compromised with many changes. However, all of these changes are reversible. It is noted that a serial of the coral stone mosques of Maldives cannot be completed without such a mosque and that this mosque will be fully restored and nominated at a later date.
Friday Mosque, Meedhoo, Raa Atoll
This mosque was selected due to its artistic and architectural excellence. It is also among the mosques built in Maldives of its kind and represent the mosque with Dhaalas and Mihrab chamber. This is one of the few mosques in the country with few changes brought to it. The existing mosque complex, the coral well and the cemetery with tombstones and mausoleum remain intact and in good condition. In terms of authenticity the mosque has no big issues as the mosque has not been modified much except that the original roofing material of coconut thatch has been replaced by Indian clay tiles, making this mosque the only surviving example of coral stone mosque with clay tile roofing. This is significant as clay tiles also play an important role in the Maldivian construction history. The "Dhaalas" has been fitted with timber lattice (Jaali) windows. Other than these minor changes the mosque retains all its attributes. In terms of the integrity, the mosque has no issues in the mosque complex as well and it can be found that the only issue in the mosque building is the change in the roofing material. The mosque can be nominated immediately without much change.
Hukuru Miskiy, Malé, Kaafu Atoll
This mosque was selected to represent one of the best in terms of artistic and architectural excellence. It is also among the earliest of the mosques and represent a large mosque with two prayer halls and a large Mihrab chamber. In terms of authenticity the mosque has no issues as the mosque has not been modified. In terms of the integrity, the mosque has no issues in the mosque complex as well and it can be found that the only issue in the mosque building is the change in the roofing material. The mosque can be nominated immediately without much change.
Eid Mosque, Malé, Kaafu Atoll
This mosque was selected because of the artistic and architectural excellence it holds. It is also the last of the mosques built in Maldives of its kind and represent a large mosque with Dhaalas and no Mihrab chamber. In terms of authenticity the mosque has no issues as the mosque has not been modified at all and retains all its attributes. In terms of the integrity, the mosque has issues in the mosque complex as it has been reduced due to the scarcity of land. But a serial nomination cannot be completed without the best and the last of the mosques included.
Therefore it is recommended that the mosque be studied to find solutions to deal with the issues of the mosque complex and buffer zones and nominated as a World Heritage Property.
Friday Mosque, Fenfushi, Alifu Dhaalu Atoll
This mosque was selected because it holds artistic and architectural excellence. The mosque complex has a unique bathing tank not found in many other mosques. It is a mosque with no Dhaalas but has a Mihrab chamber. It is a mosque which has the mosque complete structures within the complex with the mosque, wells, bathing tank and sundial. In terms of authenticity the mosque has no issues as the mosque has not been modified. In terms of the integrity, the mosque has no issues in the mosque complex as well and it can be found that the only issue in the mosque building is the change in the roofing material. The mosque can be nominated immediately without much change.
Old Mosque, Isdhoo, Laamu Atoll
This mosque was selected to represent the best in terms of artistic and architectural excellence. The mosque has historic significance and is one of the finest surviving examples of a small coral stone mosque with "Dhaala" and Mihrab Chamber and has been maintained with minimal changes and in good condition. In terms of authenticity the mosque has few issues as the roof structure has been changed from coconut thatching to Asbestos roofing sheet to modern metal sheet over the period. It has been restored many times replacing the deteriorating timber works. In terms of the integrity, the mosque has no issues in the mosque complex. It has got potential to be restored and so highly recommended that this mosque be restored to its original state and be nominated as a World Heritage Property.
Comparaison avec d’autres biens similaires
Properties comparable or similar to the coral stone mosques of Maldives are hard to find. Vaguely comparable sites aren't difficult to find but the nuances quickly separate the ensemble into something far apart. The product of coral stone architecture and the fusion of maritime cultures of Indian Ocean are altogether unique.
Comparison with other coral stone mosques in Maldives
Despite the number of coral stone mosques in Maldives, few of them survive well today. There are several factors as to why the above listed six mosques have been selected. These factors include:
1. The current condition/status of the mosque: Many of the coral stone mosques in Maldives are in a very bad condition and their damages are immense. The above listed mosques were the best surviving mosques with the least damages and the most completeness of the mosque and its components.
2. The architectural and artistic excellence of the mosque: Although there are several coral stone mosques in Maldives, not every mosque has stone carvings and designs and lacquer work done on them. Therefore, the above listed mosques were selected on the basis that they had the best stone and wood working on them.
3. The authenticity and integrity of the mosque: Due to the damages and changes brought to the mosques, some of the coral stone mosques of Maldives have lost their authenticity and integrity. For instance, Malé Kalhuvakaru Miskiiy, is an exemplary mosque with its beautiful carvings and designs however, the authenticity of this mosque has been compromised because it has been relocated. Such is the case for many other mosques therefore; the above listed mosques were selected on the basis that they are the most authentic and hold the most integrity of all the coral stone mosques in Maldives.
4. Historical value: Some of the mosques have a lot of history behind them and are given a great deal of respect and value by the locals. Laamu Isdhoo Mosque, for instance, is such an example. In addition to its artistic and architectural excellence and being a well preserved mosque, this mosque holds a high historical value among the Maldivians because this mosque is directly associated with the oldest historical writing found in Maldives, the "Isdhoo Copperplate".
Comparison with coral stone structures
Coral has been used as a building material throughout the coastal settlements of the tropical belt in the Indian Ocean region, in Arabian/Persian Gulf, in the Red Sea and in the Central American region.
Today some of the finest examples of coral stone architecture are seen in the Swahili coast of East Africa. The ancient trading towns of Lamu, Gedi and Jumba of Kenya are built of porite corals. They are the same materials used for construction in Maldives. Lamu old town, a World Heritage site is one of the best, preserved Swahili settlements in East Africa. Horton points out that the first stone mosques excavated in Shanga in Lamu region were constructed of neatly shaped porites coral bonded with mud with a white plaster face and suggest that the technique was of Red Sea origin pointing to Yemeni connections. The technique used in Maldives is assembly of neatly cut porite coral stone using tongue, grove and pins and are totally from that of this area. The stone town of Zanzibar, ruins of Kilwa Kisiwan and ruins of Songo Mnara shows fine examples of coral stone construction of 12th century. The principal construction material is coralline rag stone set in thick lime mortar and then plastered and lime washed which is again a totally different technique from Maldives.
It is interesting to note that the designs from boatbuilding skills and certain maritime cultures have clear parallels in the Swahili coast of Africa, which can be observed in Lamu in the coast of Tanzania. Coral construction is common there, and the stone carvings- such as those of the tombstones that stand in every accompanying graveyard of the Maldivian coral stone mosques- are clearly related. The African analogue can be observed in the tombstones of the mosque complex in Kilifi, Kenya (Kirkman, 1959).
The immediate difference is that the Maldivian tombstones designs are smaller in size but the designs are far more elaborate and varied. It is clearly observed that coral stone construction of Maldives is different to other coral stone structures in the world in terms of construction techniques and the level of ornamentation. In most regions coral construction is found with coral stone blocks or rubble set in thick lime mortar.
There are elements such as doorways set into the coral masonry that have fine carvings. But whole structures built in finely shaped coral stone blocks, assembled using tongue, grove and pins in such a level of perfection is not found in any part of the world.
Discussions with experts on Indian Ocean cultures from Tanzania, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, India, South Africa, Comores, ReUnion, USA, Australia and France in a recent conference on Indian Ocean Heritage in La Reunion confirmed that full buildings using neatly cut coral block assembly in tongue, grove and pin method with carvings such as that of Maldives are not found in any part of the world.
Comparision with mosques and other structures of the geo-cultural region
Pre- Islamic structures of the Indian Subcontinent:
The closest architectural examples are of sites in India and Sri Lanka, which illustrate the existence of pre Islamic cultures in the Maldives. The coral stone construction culture has clearly been inherited from pre Islamic Buddhist culture arrived from the subcontinent and Sri Lanka. In 1940 H.C.P. Bell traces some of the form and ornamentations of the mosques to Buddhist origins (Bell, 1940). The mosque compound, use of wells, bathing tanks and the concepts of raised plinths have pre Islamic Buddhist origin. The decorations are refined later by the replacement of animal symbols with floral and geometric symbols but the origin of the mouldings could be traced to the Buddhist structures (Bell, 1940).
The architectural form and construction techniques descend from Sri Lanka and India, as can be evidenced by sites such as the Polunnaruwa temple in Sri Lanka, and the temple of Ladkhan in Karnataka, India of which the former is a World Heritge Site.
While there are obvious parallels in form such as the platform base and mouldings, the Maldivian coral stone mosques stand apart with their floral motifs, coral stone building material and finnese, whereas Sri Lankan and Indian counterparts are not made of coral stone and have animal and tantric motifs respectively. Combined with vernacular architecture, and the boatbuilding skills already incorporated into the Maldivian coral stone mosque, the form of the mosque becomes something other entirely.
Mosques of Laccadives group of Island:
Of the mosques in the Laccadives, Minicoy and Amindivi group of Islands, the Ujra mosque is the most famous, the Mohiddeen mosque is the oldest- both on Karavatti Island. The Ubaidullah mosque in Karavatti and Maa mosque in Minicoy are also notable for similarities. Many of them have tombstones of carved coral in the graveyards that almost invariably accompany the mosques but the artistry is significantly less elaborate than that of the Maldivian counterpart. None of the mosque was made with meticulous cutting and shaping techniques of coral stone that were used in the Maldives. The timber ceiling decorations are entirely different, and they lack the variety of the Maldivian mosques. There are 52 mosques in the region but none of them unite the elements of architectural form, design, or the craftsmanship and artistry that accompany the coral stone mosques of the Maldives.
Mosques of the Malabar Coast:
The mosques of Malabar Coast of mainland India such as the Jami Masjid, Muchchandipalli, Hadrapalli mosques in Calicut, and Chembattapalhi in Cochinall have tiered roof forms similar to the ones in Maldives, as well as the prayer halls with columns, antechambers, verandas and coffered ceilings. However, they all lack the coral stone platform of which the entire structure in built in the Maldives, they have a Mihrab niche in lieu of a Mihrab chamber, are not assembled structures from coral stone, and the intricacy of decorations, of the carving, calligraphy and timber is very much less sophisticated that of the Maldivian counterparts. Even though there are similarities these mosques are very different from the Maldivian mosques.
Mosques of Swahili coast of Africa:
Comparable examples can be found in the Swahili Coasts of Africa. For example, the Kizmikazi mosque in Zanzibar. While there are similarities in form and layout, there are major differences such as the absence of the coral stone platforms on which the mosques of Maldives are built. The fundamental difference is the way coral stone is used. Coral stone used in Swahili Africa is set in plaster or with masonry techniques, whereas Maldivian coral stone ‘carpenters' shaped blocks to fit, and assembled the building. The carvings are different and used very sparingly in Kizmikazi. The Kismikazi mosque also displays a Mihrab niche whereas the coral stone mosques of Maldives have Mihrab chambers and intricate carvings. The mosque in this region does not display all the architectural features or the level of craftsmanship that accompany the coral stone mosques of the Maldives.
Mosques of Malay Archipelago:
Comparing the architectural form specially roof forms, there are sites which can be compared in the western shores of the Malay Archipelago. Masjid Kampung Laut in Malaysia and Masjid Agung Demak in Indonesia are prime examples appropriate for comparison. However there are fundamental differences when compared in detail. The roof forms of the Malay mosques are mostly pyramidal while the Maldivian roof forms have elongated forms. The Malay mosques are totally timber structures with no coral stone or lacquer work. These mosques do not display most of the architecture of the coral stone mosques of Maldives.
Comparisons to other properties that represent the fusion of maritime cultures of the Indian Ocean:
The World Heritage properties that represent the fusion of maritime cultures of the Indian Ocean geo-cultural region are:
1. Melaka and Georgetown, Historic cities of Straits of Malacca
2. Lamu Old Town, Tanzania
3. Stone Town of Zanzibar
4. Island of Mozambique
Unlike the examples that represent the fusion of maritime cultures of Indian Ocean the only building typology or series of buildings that represent the cultural fusion are the coral stone mosques of Maldives. These mosques display a fusion of four major cultures of the region, namely, the Indian Sub-continental culture, the Swahili culture, the Malayan culture and the Arab cultures.
The only parallels that could be drawn to a serial with fusion of cultures, but very different are the series of churches in Chile and the Philippines.
In conclusion, the ensemble of coral stone architecture and a building typology of such a representation of many maritime cultures of Indian Ocean are altogether unique, rare and cannot be found in any other part of the world. It is difficult to compare as a whole to other sites because they depict the development of a paradigm as well as the unique elements of the fusion that created it. Coral stone architecture itself is rare, and the elements that comprise the artistry and craft could be considered entirely disparate had they not been brought together by the coral stone mosques of Maldives.