Mauritius is one of those places that just seems to have it all; stunning beaches, warm year-round weather, countless cultural sites, virgin rainforest, and welcoming, warm inhabitants. Perhaps it’s no wonder that this lush volcanic island has been contested by many of the major powers in the world since it was first visited by Europeans around the turn of the 15th century. For the purpose of getting to know a little bit about Mauritius before you discover it for yourself, we’ve taken a look into the fascinating history of the nation.
Finding the island
Portuguese explorers were the first Europeans to discover Mauritius, having found the island by chance in 1498. A navigator called Pedro Mascarenhas actually named it Cirne on a visit in 1510. However, despite being the first Europeans to discover Mauritius, the Portuguese never permanently settled. Instead, the first nation to call Mauritius home was actually the Dutch. They staked their claim to the island in 1598, and named it after their head of state, Maurice, Prince of Orange (Interestingly, what is now the Hudson River in New York was also named after this Prince).
However, the Dutch colonisation of Mauritius was not a success. They attempted to inhabit the island between 1638 and 1658 the first time, and then again between 1664 and 1710. The Dutch occupation is cited as the reason that the famous Dodo (a flightless bird only found on Mauritius) became extinct. The colonisers hunted the large bird, and so did their domesticated animals and the invasive species’ they bought along with them. Dodos had lived on an island with very few natural predators, and were docile and passive, meaning they stood no chance when confronted with hunters. When visiting Mauritius, should you want to discover a little more about these charming creatures and their tragic extinction, you can find skeletons, sketches and information about the nation’s national symbol in Port Louis Natural History Museum.
In 1810, the island was captured by the British and renamed Mauritius. In 1834, slavery was abolished using a phasing out process called ‘apprenticeship’. At the time, there were nearly 70,000 slaves registered on the island. These emancipated workers often sought higher wages than those abroad, so the British set up a system of indenture, where workers from other areas of the world (such as India) would pay for their voyage to Mauritius with a period of work. This work was usually in Mauritius’ fast-expanding sugar industry.
This time was one of rapid growth in the Mauritian population. The Indian rupee was integrated as an official currency in 1876, and the indentured labour system was abolished in 1910. In 1912, Mahatma Gandhi visited Mauritius.
An important feature of Mauritius’ fascinating history occurred between the 18th and 19th centuries, when runaway slaves from several countries settled around the striking Le Morne Mountain. These slaves, who’d risked everything for their freedom, set up communities in the hard-to-reach and striking terrain. The area has since become a symbol of resistance to slavery, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The landscape around Le Morne is rugged and beautiful, and makes for a fascinating visit.
In the 1900s, there was a great campaign in Mauritius for both a fair voting system and autonomy as a nation. In 1959, after a new constitution was written, the first election was held on the island under the principles of universal suffrage. This election was won by the MLP, a party led by Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, a man who fought for Mauritian self-rule, and is still - to this day - seen as the father of the nation. There are wonderful botanical gardens named after Seewoosagur Ramgoolam in the Pamplemousses district of Mauritius. These gardens are amongst the world’s finest, and are famous for a large pond of giant water lilies, as well as a wonderful array of birds.
Perhaps the biggest day in Mauritian history is the 12th of March 1968, when the nation gained independence and joined the commonwealth. This was followed by a turbulent next few years where the next general election was cancelled and a state of emergency was declared. More recently however, Mauritius has been a far more settled place, and it was declared a republic in 1992.
Today, Mauritius is one of the world’s most amazing holiday locations, an island with a population of around 1.2 million people, and a great number of amazing holiday resorts. Beaches such as Flic en Flac and Belle Mare are amongst the most idyllic anywhere, and national parks like Black River Gorges promise adventures through untouched wilderness and the chance to witness some amazing scenery and wildlife. Mauritius’ amazing holiday areas, combined with its rich history and culture, make it the perfect place to take a summer break.