A chronology of key events
12th century - Islam introduced
1558-1573 - Portuguese occupation, which ends after expulsion by locals
17th century - Islands become a protectorate first of the Dutch rulers of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and later of the British who take control of Ceylon in 1796
1887 - Status formalised as internally self-governing British protectorate
1932 - First democratic Constitution proclaimed. The sultanate becomes an elected position
1953 - Becomes a republic within the Commonwealth as the sultanate is abolished. However, the Sultan is restored within months.
1965 - Full independence as a sultanate outside Commonwealth.
1968 - Sultan deposed after referendum; republic reinstated with Ibrahim Nasir as president.
1978 - Nasir retires, replaced by Maumoon Abd al-Gayoom.
1982 - Rejoins Commonwealth.
1988 - Coup attempt involving Sri Lankan mercenaries foiled with the help of Indian commandos.
1998 - Gayoom re-elected for a fifth term in presidential referendum.
March 2002 - Concern over the Maldives' vulnerability to rising sea levels prompts government to announce decision to take legal action against US for refusing to sign Kyoto Protocol.
September 2002 - At World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, President Gayoom warns that low-lying islands are at greater risk than ever before, and calls on international community to take urgent action to prevent global environmental catastrophe.
July 2003 - Amnesty International accuses Maldives government of political repression and torture. It says arbitrary detentions, unfair trials and long-term imprisonment of government critics are commonplace. The government rejects allegations as "false and baseless".
October 2003 - Gayoom re-elected for unprecedented sixth term in presidential referendum, winning more than 90 per cent of the vote.
August 2004 - State of emergency imposed after a pro-democracy demonstration turns violent. Almost 100 people are jailed.
December 2004 - Scores of people are killed and many islands suffer severe damage when a tsunami generated by a powerful undersea earthquake off the Indonesian coast hits the Maldives. The government says the disaster has set development work back by 20 years.
June 2005 - Parliament votes unanimously to allow multi-party politics.
August 2005 - Opposition party leader Mohamed Nasheed is charged with terrorism and sedition. The government says he made comments against President Gayoom and incited people to violence.