Mayotte, also known by its Comorian name, Maore (or Mahore), is closest to the island of Madagascar and is geologically the oldest of the Comoro Islands. It is the most eroded and has slow moving, muddy streams. The island, along with several satellite islets, is almost completely surounded by a coral reef which is about a mile wide. Only two passages permit the entrance of large ships, thus providing a secure harbor. With an overall size of 144 square miles (374 square kilometers), it has a population of more than 55,000 inhabitants. Largely agricultural, the island produces sugar cane, vanilla, ylang-ylang, cloves, copra, and cinnamon. In recent years, Mayotte has produced the majority of the archipelago's cinnamon. A particular variety of fragrant dry rice is also grown and cattle production is an important part of its economy.
Mayotte's towns are quite different from those of the other islands. There are few of the walled cities with narrow, winding streets between multistoried stone houses found commonly on the other islands. Instead, towns are primarily comprised of wattle-and-daub or tressed coconut-frond huts ranged along wide, open streets. The architecture is more reminiscent of Madagascar than the other Comoro islands, testimony to the historical relationships between the island and Madagascar.
The Portuguese were the first Europeans to see Mayotte, having sailed to the island in the early years of the sixteenth century. Soon after, in 1595, an Englishman landed on the island, but it was the French who became the dominant European influence. Mayotte was the first of the Comoro islands to become a protectorate of France. In 1841 the Sakalava king Andriantsouli, who had declared himself Sultan of Mayotte, ceded it to the French in exchange for an annual payment of 5,000 francs and the French education of his two sons. It became a French colony and then an overseas territory until March, 2011 when it became incorporated into the French Republic as a Department.
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