Maldives unique coral stone mosques, long an attraction to millions of tourists and an embodiment of the country's rich cultural heritage, may be picked as a World Heritage Site.
A team of experts from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has arrived in the Maldives to assess the nomination of the coral stone mosques to the World Heritage sites list.
According to the Ministry of Education, six coral stone mosques were included in a tentative list last year, according to local newspaper Minivan.
"Since then the Maldives has started working on preparing the dossier up to their criteria to inscribe the stone mosques of the Maldives in the final list of the World Heritage list," the ministry explained.
"First draft of the nomination dossier needs to be sent to UNESCO by September of this year to be inscribed in the year 2016. This team of experts will be guiding through the documents that are being prepared and they will be verifying whether the dossiers are up to the criteria of UNESCO."
Prior to departing on Aug. 29, the team of experts are due to visit the six coral mosques, two of which are in the capital, with the rest located in Alif Dhaal Fenfushi, Raa Meedhoo, Haa Alif Ihavandhoo and Laamu Isdhoo.
In April, the Department of Heritage announced an exhibition to raise public awareness about the six coral mosques.
The Maldives was historically 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, notes the UNESCO website explaining the reasons behind the mosques being nominated for the World Heritage Site list.
The local people practiced Buddhism until the conversion of 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," it said.
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 are 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 the 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 the Maldives," says the report officially submitted by the Maldives government to UNESCO for consideration.
The Friday Mosque in Male 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 Male's Friday Mosque and its complex in their Tentative World Heritage List.
Located in the capital island Male, the Friday Mosque was built in 1658 during the reign of Sultan Ibrahim Iskandhar I (1648-1687), replacing the original mosque built in 1153 by the first Muslim Sultan of THE Maldives, Sultan Mohamed Bin Abdullah.
The Maldives government insists the coral stone mosques of the Maldives represent a unique example in the Indian Ocean of an outstanding form of fusion of 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 report added.
Chinese tourists, who make up the largest contingent of arrivals to this idyllic group of islands, also sightsee at these remarkable locations. Enditem