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Three islands of the central Azores - spear-shaped Sao Jorge Island, Pico Island with its large volcano, and circular volcanic Faial Island - are visible in this low-oblique, southwest-looking, space shuttle photograph. Image courtesy of NASA.
Located in the Atlantic Ocean about 700 km off the coast of North Africa, Madeira Island is the top of a giant shield volcano that rises 6 km from the ocean floor to reach an altitude of 1,862 m above sea level. When Portuguese explorers arrived there in the early 1400s, they were so impressed with the thick forest covering the steep, mountainous island that they called it Ilhe de Madeira, Island of Wood.

The forest of Madeira is known as Laurissilva, a forest that is similar to high-altitude tropical rain forests ("cloud forests"). Laurissilva is a relic of the forest that once thrived across southern Europe and North Africa, but which disappeared as the last ice age ended and the regional climate became hotter and drier. Madeira's mild, subtropical climate and isolation preserved the laurel forest as it became extinct elsewhere.

The surviving Laurissilva is both a natural reserve and a World Heritage Site. The remaining forest covers about 15,000 ha, making it the largest Laurissilva forest in the world. About 90% of the forest is believed to be old growth, primary forest, according to the UN. The Laurissilva includes a wide diversity of flora, including a number of rare ferns and flowering plants. Image courtesy of NASA.
A peaceful plaza in front of a church in Madeira.
Narrow streets with their window boxes and wrought iron balconies in Madeira.
The brickwork in the main square of the coastal town of Cascais - some 30 km west of Lisbon - displays a distinctive wavy pattern.
The castle in Guimaraes was built in the 10th century to protect a nearby monastery from Moors and Norsemen.  As the first capital of the nation and birthplace of its first king, Guimaraes it is one of Portugal's most historic cities  and one of the most attractive places to visit in the country. Its historic town center is listed as a World Heritage Site in recognition of its being an "exceptionally well-preserved and authentic example of the evolution of a medieval settlement into a modern town" in Europe.
A rear view of Guimaraes Castle.
A medieval street in the historic town center of Guimaraes.
Along a medieval street in the historic town center of Guimaraes.
A medieval street in the historic town center of Guimaraes.
The medieval section of Guimaraes opens onto the “Largo Republica do Brasil (Republic Square of Brazil)” with its formal flower gardens. One end of the square features the slim Nossa Senhora da Consolacao e dos Santos Passos (Church of Our Lady of Consolation and the Holy Steps), one of the loveliest examples of Portuguese Baroque architecture.
Street shrines are maintained by Guimaraes residents in each neighborhood of the city.
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