Madeira Islands

Madeira Islands
Island group (pop., 2001 prelim.: 242,603) and autonomous region of Portugal, in the North Atlantic Ocean.

Madeira, the largest of the Madeira Islands, is the site of the region's capital, Funchal. Madeira Island is 34 mi (55 km) long and 14 mi (22 km) wide and has deep ravines and rugged mountains. Possibly known to ancient Phoenicians, it was rediscovered by the Portuguese navigator João Gonçalves Zarco, who founded Funchal in 1421. It allegedly had the world's first sugarcane plantation. Its Madeira wine has been an important export since the 17th century. Tourism is also important.

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Portuguese  Arquipélago Da Madeira,  

      archipelago of volcanic origin in the North Atlantic Ocean, belonging to Portugal and comprising two inhabited islands, Madeira and Porto Santo, and two uninhabited groups, the Desertas and the Selvagens. The islands are the summits of mountains that have their bases on an abyssal ocean floor. Administratively they form the autonomous region of Madeira. The islands have a combined land area of 306 square miles (794 square km).

      Madeira Island, the largest of the group, is 34 miles (55 km) long and has a maximum width of 14 miles (22 km) and a coastline of about 90 miles (144 km) and rises in the centre to the Ruivo Peak (6,106 feet [1,861 m]). The greater part of the interior above 3,000 feet (900 m) is uninhabited and uncultivated; communities of scattered huts are usually built either at the mouths of ravines or upon slopes that descend from the mountains to the coast.

      Porto Santo Island is about 26 miles (42 km) northeast of Madeira; its main town, Vila de Porto Santo, is called locally the Vila. At each end of the island are hills, of which Facho Peak, the highest, reaches 1,696 feet (515 m). Crops include little besides wheat, grapes, and barley.

      The Desertas lie about 11 miles (18 km) southeast of Madeira and consist of three islets, Chão, Bugio, and Deserta Grande, along with the Prego do Mor off the north end of Chão Island. Rabbits and wild goats live on the poor pasture and attract occasional hunters to once-inhabited Deserta Grande.

      The Selvagens, or Salvage Islands, are three uninhabited rocks located 156 miles (251 km) south of Madeira, between the latter and the Canary Islands. The largest has a circumference of about 3 miles (5 km).

      The Madeira Islands' economy is still based on the production of sugar, wine, and bananas. The common sweet potato and gourds of various kinds are extensively grown, as is the kalo, or taro, introduced from the Pacific islands. Most of the culinary vegetables of Europe are also grown on the islands in plentiful quantities. In addition to common temperate fruits, oranges, lemons, guavas, mangoes, loquats, custard apples, figs, pineapples, and bananas are produced, the latter being an important export. Although agriculture predominates in the Madeiran economy, handicrafts, tourism, and fishing are notable subsidiaries. Handicrafts include woodworking and wickerworking. Embroidery, which was introduced in 1850 by a Mrs. Phelps, an Englishwoman, now employs thousands of women. Pop. (2005 est.) Madeira, 245,197; Porto Santo, 4,390.

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Universalium. 2010.

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