Madeira Islands (mədērˈə, –dârˈə) [key], archipelago (1991 pop. 257,692), 308 sq mi (798 sq km), autonomous region of Portugal, in the Atlantic Ocean c.350 mi (560 km) off Morocco. Madeira, the largest island (35 mi/56 km long and 13 mi/21 km wide), and Porto Santo are inhabited. Two island groups, the Desertas and the Selvagens, are uninhabited. The chief town is Funchal on Madeira.
Mountain peaks, which descend steeply into deep, green valleys and advance to the sea as precipitous basalt cliffs, give the islands unusual scenic beauty. The delightful climate is marred only by the occasional leste, a hot Saharan wind. Madeira is a year-round resort. Sugarcane, Madeira wine, bananas, embroidery, and reed furniture are produced, and there is fishing. Remittances from residents who have emigrated are also important to the economy.
The islands were known to the Romans as the Purple Islands and were rediscovered (1418–20) by João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vas Teixeira. Settlement took place rapidly under the orders of Prince Henry the Navigator. Madeira was temporarily occupied by the British in the early 19th cent. Parts of Madeira island were devastated by flash floods in Feb., 2010.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Spanish and Portuguese Political Geography