The Maldives is a republic located in the Indian Ocean, consisting of a chain of twenty-six coral atolls 700 kilometres to the south-west of Sri Lanka. First settlement dates to the arrival of Dravidian people from the neighbouring Indian subcontinent, around 300 BC. Throughout its history, the islands were ruled by successive kings and queens, and became an important centre for the collection of cowrie shells used as currency in the region. The strategic location of the islands to maritime trade attracted the Portuguese, who established a trading post in 1558. The Dutch became the dominant power in the region by the seventeenth century, until 1796 when the British declared the Maldives a protected state. The island sultanate accepted British rule in 1887 as a result of ethnic disturbances. Internal self-government was established in 1948, and the first republic declared in 1953, with the islands formally achieving independence in 1965. The capital and largest city is Malé. Estimated population of the Maldives in 2012 was 328,536.