The French island of Réunion is an exotic place located in the Indian Ocean, providing a rather isolated home to its approximately 800,000 inhabitants, as the closest neighbours are Mauritius, which is about 200 kilometres away, and Madagascar, some 900 kilometres away. Still, despite its location, it constitutes one of the 27 regions of France and, as such, has the same administrative status as continental provinces, with French established as the only official language.
The population of this island is a very heterogeneous mix of ethnicities, made up mainly of the descendants of the immigrants who came here literally from all corners of the world. Consequently, ethnic groups with significant representation include people from Africa, India, Europe, China, and even Arab countries. It’s worth mentioning that the settlement of this island – a process that started at the beginning of the XVI century with the arrival of Portuguese explorers – was one of those rare cases in history where the newcomers didn’t displace, replace or destroy the native inhabitants, as the island was, reportedly, deserted at that time. Apparently, the Portuguese didn’t find it very welcoming either, as they left it for good some one hundred years later, and by the second half of the XVII century it was already being colonized by the French, albeit with convicts. Official colonization began in 1665 and was pioneered by the French East India Company.
The landscape of Réunion is considered somewhat similar to that of the Hawaii Island, as both are located on top of hotspots, particular points of the Earth’s crust in which the magma is closer to the surface. It has two impressive volcanoes, an extinct one, Piton des Neiges, and a very active one, Piton de la Fournaise, which most recently erupted in January 2010. Another spectacular feature of the scenery are the three calderas: Cirque de Salazie, situated north-east of Piton des Neiges, Cirque de Cilaos, hosting a community that has earned wide appreciation for the local embroidery, and Cirque de Mafate, remote and very inaccessible.
Most of the island’s economy relies on the little agriculture that is concentrated on the lower coastline lands. The administrative capital, Saint-Denis, a 150,000 people city, is also located close to the shore, almost at the mouth of Rivière Saint-Denis. It boasts art galleries, public gardens, and a seafront park.
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