The name means “wood” in the Portuguese language, and the archipelago was named for its large forests and dense vegetation.

Year:  2017

Area: 801 sq. km.

Population: 289,000

Flag: The Madeira Islands are an autonomous region of Portugal. Their flag's main feature is a centered Cross of the Order of Christ, outlined in red, with a white cross on it, identical to the one on the flag of Prince Henry's ships that discovered the islands. The blue symbolizes the sea surrounding the islands. The yellow represents the abundance of life on the islands.

In 1419, two captains of Prince Henry the Navigator, João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira, were driven by a storm to the island they called Porto Santo, or Holy Harbor, in gratitude for their rescue from shipwreck. The next year, an expedition was sent to populate the island. On September 23, 1433, the name Ilha da Madeira (Madeira Island or "island of wood") appears on a map for the first time.

To attain the minimum conditions for the development of agriculture, they had to rough-hew a part of the dense forest of "laurisilva". Then fires were started, which are said to have burned for seven years. The colonists constructed a large number of canals, since some parts of the island had water in excess while in other parts it was scarce.

The manual work was done by enslaved Africans brought from the African mainland. They were soon put to growing and refining sugar, which was much in demand in Europe -- and highly profitable. This pattern of sugar cultivation became the model that would soon be transferred to the Caribbean and Brazil. In Madeira, it became evident that a warm climate, winds to work windmills for sugar crushing, easy access to the sea for transportation, and slave labor were important components for what became a huge and highly profitable industry.

Some years before his voyages across the Atlantic, Christopher Columbus, who at the time was a sugar trader, visited Madeira. Columbus married the daughter of a plantation owner on Porto Santo and so was well aware of the profits to be made. On one of his voyages to the Caribbean, he took sugar cane plants with him. By the end of the 15th century, Madeira was the world's greatest sugar producer.

Since the 17th century, Madeira's most important product has been its wine, with sugar production having long since moved to Brazil, São Tomé and Príncipe, and elsewhere. Madeira wine was perhaps the most popular luxury beverage in the colonial Western Hemisphere during the 17th and 18th centuries.

On March 9, 1916, Germany declared war on Portugal. Portugal then declared war on Germany and started to organize Portuguese troops to go to the Western Front. A priest, José Marques Jardim, promised in 1917 to build a monument should peace ever return to Madeira. In 1927 at Terreiro da Luta, he built a statue of Nossa Senhora da Paz (Our Lady of Peace) commemorating the end of World War I. It incorporates the anchor chains from sunken ships from Madeira.

Portugal in World War II was officially neutral, but Salazar's decision to stick with the oldest alliance in the world, cemented by the Treaty of Windsor (1386) between Portugal and England, still in force today, meant that the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance allowed Madeira to help the allies.

On July 1, 1976, following the democratic revolution of 1974, Portugal granted political autonomy to Madeira, celebrated on Madeira Day. The region now has its own government and legislative assembly The Madeiras consist of two inhabited islands, Madeira and Porto Santo, and two uninhabited island groups, the Desertas and the Selvagens.

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