Madeira Islands, a group of volcanic islands in the eastern North Atlantic Ocean. Politically, the islands are an autonomous region of Portugal. They lie about 500 miles (800 km) southwest of Portugal and 440 miles (710 km) west of the African coast. The main islands are Madeira and Porto Santo. Desertas and Salvages are small, uninhabited island groups. The total area is 308 square miles (798 km2). Striking mountain scenery and a mild climate attract many tourists.
Madeira's highest point is Pico Ruivo, 6,106 feet (1,861 m) above sea level. There are dense growths of pines and tropical plants. Rivers draining the interior are used for hydroelectric power and irrigation. Farms, many on terraced slopes, cover much of the island. Most towns are on the coast. Tourism, fishing, and the production of sugarcane, wine, wicker furniture and baskets, and embroidered items are the mainstays of the economy.
The total population in 2001 was 245,011. Funchal, the capital, is on Madeira; it had a population of 112,362. The Madeira Islands are governed by an elected regional assembly. The people are mostly of Portuguese origin.
Portuguese explorers acting for Prince Henry the Navigator discovered the islands in 1418. Colonization of the uninhabited islands by the Portuguese soon followed. Great Britain held the islands briefly in the early 1800's. In 1976 the islands were made an autonomous region of Portugal.