Ptolemy, the Greek geographer describes the Maldives as a multitude of islands. Ancient Chinese navigators, referring to the maze of lagoons and reefs that require great care in navigation, knew it as the Three Thousand Weak Waters. Marco Polo, the Venetian traveler, found the islands to be "the flower of the Indies". For Ibn Batuta, who traveled extensively during the 14th century and actually lived on the islands, the Maldives was "one of the wonders of the world".
It is believed that these unique coral atolls were formed about 65 to 200 million years ago from the crust of a deceased volcanic mountain range. The atolls (the word atoll was adapted to English from its Maldivian origin "atholhu") are formed from coral barrier reefs. The part of the reefs which protrude from the sea form into islands, as destroyed coral parts gather thus giving them the attribute of white sandy beaches. Having being protected by the reefs, the lagoons are calm and crystal-clear with abundant species of fish and coral.