Maldives (, // or //; Dhivehi: ދިވެހިރާއްޖެ Dhivehi Raa'je), officially the Republic of Maldives (Dhivehi: ދިވެހިރާއްޖޭގެ ޖުމްހޫރިއްޔާ Dhivehi Raa'jeyge Jumhooriyya) 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.
From the mid-sixteenth century, the Maldives was dominated by colonial powers: Portugal, the Netherlands and Britain. The Dutch referred to the islands as the "Maldivische Eilanden" (pronounced [mɑlˈdivisə ˈɛi̯lɑndə(n)]), while the British anglicised the local name for the islands first as the "Maldive Islands" and later as 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 200 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.
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.