The Republic of Mauritius is an island nation located in the Indian Ocean, about 560 miles (900 km) east of Madagascar. The island of Mauritius is part of the Mascarene Islands archipelago. Other nearby islands, St. Brandon, Rodrigues, and the Agalega Islands, are dependencies of the Republic of Mauritius. In addition, Mauritius owns a number of underwater banks and claims a few islands in the possession of other countries.
There is no native population of Mauritius. Arab and Malay sailors may have known of the island's existence in the Middle Ages, but its first appearance in recorded history is on a 1502 Italian map. Portuguese traders began using the island as a visiting base in 1505, though they did not form any settlements.
The first settlers on the island were Dutch, and they named Mauritius after the Dutch Stadtholder, Maurice of Nassau. The Dutch tried to establish a local economy based on the export of ebony wood, harvested by slave labor. The first Dutch settlement in Mauritius was established in 1638 and lasted only twenty years. The Dutch tried again in 1666, but political instability and a hostile environment caused them to eventually abandon the island in 1710.
Mauritius came under European control again in 1715, when France took possession and renamed the territory Ile de France. The French developed sugar production on the island, but lost the territory to Great Britain during the Napoleonic Wars, in 1810. Mauritius gained independence in 1968 and became a member of the Commonwealth of Nations in 1992.
Mauritius has been a stable and successful democracy since gaining independence. It has a unicameral parliament, which elects the president for a five-year term. While the president is head of state, the prime minister is head of government, along with a council of ministers.
The economy of Mauritius has experienced significant growth since independence. The country has the second highest per capita gross domestic product (GDP) in Africa, after Equatorial Guinea. Sugarcane remains an important part of the economy, but other sectors, including international finance and tourism, are expanding.
Mauritius has a warm tropical climate and a beautiful natural landscape. Cyclones are common between the months of November and April. The island of Mauritius is divided into nine districts, and Port Louis is both the capital and the largest city.
The population and culture of Mauritius are diverse, of European, African, and South and East Asian descent, among others. English is the official language, but French and Mauritian Creole are widely spoken. Hindi and other Indian and Chinese dialects also have many speakers on the island. Hindu is the majority religion at just over 50%, while Roman Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism, and other religions are also practiced. Music, cuisine, and other aspects of Mauritian culture grew out of a multicultural tradition.