The Marianas were first made known to the Western world by Magellan, who discovered the islands March 6, 1521, after his hazardous voyage across the Pacific. The island chain was christened in honor of St. Lazarus, but before sailing away Magellan changed the name to "Las Islas de las Ladrones" (The Isles of the Thieves). After the ships had anchored, the natives had come crowding aboard, taking everything that could be carried away. Eventually this led to bloodshed, beginning the modern history of the Marianas with a violence that eventually almost terminated the native population.
THE MARIANA CHAIN
During the Second World War the Marianas provided an island road for American advance northward to Japan. The seventeen islands in the group, three of which make up the island cluster, Maug, extend over a distance of 440 miles, roughly the airline mileage between Boston and Washington, D.C. The islands are arranged along two lines, which, if extended, would parallel each other. Along the eastern line, and making up the northern portion of the chain, are nine small volcanic islands, among which Pagan, Asuncion, and Farallon de Pajaros are still active. The southern islands, located along the western line, are larger, coral-capped, terraced, and fringed in part with coral reefs. Youthful karst features characterize the geomorphologic landscape: sinkholes, caves, and disappearing streams. The vegetation patterns are mainly those imposed by man. Under the Japanese, clearing for commercial agriculture and the cutting of trees for timber have left little native cover. Only on the rocky cliffs and ledges of Rota is there still preserved some trace of the original forest, a dense growth of ferns, vines, shrubs, and trees. The five southern islands have a total area equal to about five-sixths that of the entire group, whereas Guam has an area greater than that of all the other islands combined.