Christopher Columbos

History of Madeira

Madeira Island was discovered on the 1st July 1419 by the two Portuguese Captains João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz. The neighbouring island of Porto Santo was discovered one year earlier in 1418. The stark contrast between the two islands in close proximity, 28 miles, makes you wonder at nature.
Madeira em(meaning 'wood') has many forested areas and mountains.
Porto Santo em(Holy Port) has a four mile long golden sandy beach is arid and lowland.


Madeira island was divided between the two Captains -- Zarco had the West and South; Vaz had the North and East. The line is drawn diagonally between Ponta Oliveira in Caniço to Porto Moniz on the North-West coast.
Machico was the first City of Madeira where the two Captains had first landed, but on 21st August 1508 the City status was transferred to Funchal (Funchal, a derivative of Funcho, meaning fennel). The move was due to the best agricultural land and climatic conditions and the large bay that Funchal had to offer.
Funchal City is situated at Latitude 32°39' North and Longitude 16°54' West.


Madeira has been invaded twice. Once by the French in 1566 by Bertrand de Montluc which lasted only for several days. Second by the Spanish occupation from 1580 - 1640 of all Portugal, that included Madeira. In 1640 the Portuguese revolted against Spain and placed their own Monarch, John, Duke of Braganza, on the throne.


Madeira's location on the Atlantic ocean is an ideal stopping off port before the long crossing to the Caribbean and South America. Many early discoverers called into Madeira before making the crossing to find new lands including Captain Cook and Christopher Columbus. The main crop grown on Madeira was sugar cane. The early African slaves that farmed the land were finally freed in 1775 by a decree by the Duke of Pombal


Madeira is a sub-tropical island that in the winter months October - March can get monsoon type rain, even though the average temperature is around 16C.
Funchal has three main rivers (Ribeira, Portuguese) carrying the mountain run-off water through Funchal back to the sea. They are called the São João, Santa Luzia and the João Gomes.
The flood of 1803 killed 600 people. The river walls were heighten in the early 1800's but still the power of rain water I have personally witnessed. Heavy rain falling in Funchal on the 29th October 1993 that delivered ten inches of rain in forty eight hours. The rivers couldn't cope and overflowed, cutting Funchal sea front road off with mud and debris for a few days. A few people lost their lives.
And now recently on the 20th February 2010 cumulating in heavy rain the days before, brought a flash flood down the mountain side damaging a lot of commercial property in Funchal with mud as well as the water. Also Serra da Água, nr. Ribeira Brava was badly effected.
A total of 49 people lost their lives on the island on that day.


Madeira has had its sufferings in the past. In 1852 the vines and potato crop failed, that coincided with an outbreak of cholera, 7,000 people died of the disease.


Portugal was a monarchy ruled state until 1910. The internal politics were never really settled until a military dictatorship was imposed in 1926. The new dictator ruler was Dr. Antonio d'Oliveira Salazer followed by Dr. Marcello Caetano who stayed in power until the bloodless revolution on 25th April 1974 when the army overthrew the dictatorship and free elections were introduced.


During the Second World War Portugal was neutral. There was a large group of evacuees sent from Gibraltar to sit out the war in Madeira. Many old evacuees remember Madeira fondly and speak highly of the help the local people gave.


The island of Madeira became autonomous in 1976 and has its own parliament that passes local laws and regulations pertaining just to Madeira, but still adhere to mainland Portugal laws as well.


What does Madeira produce vegetation wise to eat. A better question would be what can't Madeira produce. I have seen everything growing from apples - pears - guava - bananas - avocados - cherries - passion fruit - custard apple - plums - loquat's - pineapples - tangerines - oranges - figs - papayas - nectarines - peaches - apricots - almonds - lemons - limes - strawberries - blackberries - bilberries - grapefruits - prickly pears - swiss cheese plant fruit - pomegranates - melons - pear melons - mango's - kiwis - gooseberries - quinces - marrows - chestnuts - walnuts - tree tomatoes - tomatoes - potatoes - sweet potatoes - vegetable pear - peas - runner beans - maize - wheat - barley - cabbage - cauliflower - carrots - lettuce - onions - beetroot - coffee beans - ginger - brazil cherry - parsley - peppers and of course grapes. Have I missed something out? Maybe.


Flowers. I am not going to try to list them all as there are hundreds. What I can tell you is that there is 157 indigenous plants on Madeira and still counting! The two flowers that people will remember Madeira by is the Estrelicia (Bird of paradise) and the Anthurium (Flamingo flower)

Welcome to the 'Pearl of the Atlantic' sometimes called the 'Floating Garden' or otherwise known as Madeira.


If there is an un-answered question about Madeira that has puzzled you and you would like an answer. Please send me an message I will try my best to answer your request.


I must give credit to John and Susan Farrow
'Madeira The Complete Guide' book published Robert Hale, ISBN 0-7090-3159-9 for dates and other information.


F.A.Q. History

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