The Seychelles were probably sighted by Arab sailors in the 9th century, and certainly by Portuguese in the 15th century. The British first landed in 1609. But the islands remained uninhabited until the 18th century, when they were officially colonized by France (in 1756; first settlement in 1770), and unofficially used as a base by British and French pirates. African slaves were imported to clear the forests for farming. In 1785 the population of Mahé was 7 Europeans and 123 slaves.
The Treaty of Paris in 1814 gave the Seychelles to Britain, which abolished slavery in 1835. Immigrants arrived from Mauritius, India, and China. Britain also found it a convenient place to send important political prisoners.
The international airport opened in 1971, which enabled tourism to begin.
The Seychelles gained independence in 1976. A year later, Albert René, the leader of the second-largest party, took power in a coup and changed the constitution. The country became a one-party socialist state, many opponents were deported, and René has remained in power ever since. Opposition parties were legalized in 1991, and James Mancham, the president ousted in 1977, was invited back to participate in the design of a new constitution. However, Albert René and his Seychelles People's Progressive Front have won the elections of 1993 and 1998.