Maldives, officially the Republic of the Maldives and also referred to as the Maldive Islands, is an island nation in the Indian Ocean consisting of a double chain of twenty-six atolls, orientated north-south, that lie between Minicoy Island (the southernmost part of Lakshadweep, India) and the Chagos Archipelago. The chains stand in the Laccadive Sea, about 700 kilometres (430 mi) south-west of Sri Lanka and 400 kilometres (250 mi) south-west of India.
For the majority of its history, the Maldives has been a free nation, despite three instances during which it was ruled by outside forces. In the mid-fifteenth century, for fifteen years, the Maldives was dominated by the Portuguese Empire. In the mid-seventeenth century, the Dutch Empire (Malabar) dominated Maldives for four months. Finally, in the late eighteenth century, on the brink of war, the Maldives became a British protectorate from 1887 until 1965. The Dutch referred to the islands as the "Maldivische Eilanden" , while the British anglicised the local name for the islands first to the "Maldive Islands" and later to the "Maldives". The islands gained independence from the British in 1965 and became a republic ruled by a sultanate and an authoritarian government.
The Maldives archipelago is located on top of the Chagos-Maldives-Laccadive Ridge, a vast submarine mountain range in the Indian Ocean. Maldives also form a terrestrial ecoregion together with the Chagos and the Lakshadweep. The Maldives atolls encompass a territory spread over roughly 90,000 square kilometres (35,000 sq mi), making the country one of the world's most geographically dispersed. Its population of 328,536 (2012) inhabits 192 of its 1,192 islands. In 2006, Maldives' capital and largest city Malé, located at the southern edge of North Malé Atoll, had a population of 103,693. Malé is one of the Maldives' administrative divisions and, traditionally, it was the "King's Island" where the ancient Maldive royal dynasties were enthroned.
The Maldives is the smallest Asian country in both population and land area. With an average ground level of 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in) above sea level, it is the planet's lowest country. It is also the country with the lowest natural highest point in the world, at 2.4 metres (7 ft 10 in). Not surprisingly, forecasts of Maldives' inundation are a great concern for the Maldivian people.