Maldives, officially the Republic of Maldives, is a small archipelagic state in South Asia, situated in the Arabian Sea of the Indian Ocean. It lies southwest of Sri Lanka and India, about 700 kilometres (430 mi) from the Asian continent's mainland. The chain of 26 atolls stretches from Ihavandhippolhu Atoll in the north to Addu Atoll in the south (across the Equator). Comprising a territory spanning roughly 298 square kilometres (115 sq mi), Maldives is one of the world's most geographically dispersed sovereign states as well as the smallest Asian country by land area and, with around 557,426 inhabitants, the 2nd least populous country in Asia. Malé is the capital and the most populated city, traditionally called the "King's Island" where the ancient royal dynasties ruled for its central location.
The Maldivian Archipelago is located on the Chagos-Laccadive Ridge, a vast submarine mountain range in the Indian Ocean; this also forms a terrestrial ecoregion, together with the Chagos Archipelago and Lakshadweep. With an average ground-level elevation of 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in) above sea level, and a highest natural point of only 5.1 metres (17 ft), it is the world's lowest-lying country.