Male’ has been the seat of the Maldives’ ruling dynasties since before the 12th century, though none left any grand palaces. Some trading houses appeared in the 17th century, along with a ring of defensive bastions, but Male’ did not acquire the trappings of a city and had a very limited range of economic and cultural activities. Visitors in the 1920s estimated the population at only 5000.
Growth began with the 1930s modernisation, and the first banks, hospitals, high schools and government offices appeared in the following decades. Only since the 1970s, with wealth from tourism and an expanding economy, hast the city really burgeoned and growth emerged as a problem.
But a problem it has very definitely become; despite extending the area of the city through land reclamation over the island’s reef, Male’ is unable to extend any further and so the government is looking to projects such as nearby Hulhumale’ to accommodate the future overspill of the city.