History of Madeira Island

History of Madeira Island

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Madeira Island:



Madeira Island is located in the Atlantic Ocean, around 1,000 kilometers away from the coast of Portugal and its capital city Lisbon. On the map, the island is situated to the West from the coast of the African continent and Morocco, just 400 kilometers north of Tenerife.  Its mild climate offers almost a year round paradise in amazing biodiversity, which probably represents the main tourist attraction of the island.

The population of Madeira Island is around 270,000 people. The capital city of Madeira Island is Funchal, located on the southern coast. The population of Funchal is around 111,000 people, which means that more than 40% of Madeira’s population lives in Funchal.

The island was completely uninhabited till 15th century when it was discovered by Portuguese sailors. In this period, called the age of discovery, Portugal started building new navy ships and started exploring and discovering new worlds. Madeira is considered to be the first discovery of this era. There are many sources that testify that the island may had been discovered even before, but in history the Portuguese discovery was taken as the official date.

In 1418, two Portugal captains were taken off course by a storm and ended up on the island that they named Porto Santo (Holy Harbor) because they escaped a shipwreck. In 1419, an expedition was organized to explore this island. Newcomers saw a heavy cloud in the direction of southwest, which finally turned out to be the largest island of the archipelago Madeira. Therefore, both discovered islands Porto Santo and Madeira were claimed by Portuguese crown and soon afterwards colonized.

First colonizers of the island completely cleared large areas of dense forests in order to build a vast network of canals (called levada) which supplied with necessary water those drier parts of the island.
This work was carried out by prisoners at first and slaves later. At the beginning, the economy was based on agriculture and production of grain. Afterwards, more profitable species were introduced (sugarcane) which fueled Portuguese economy. In more recent history, the numbers of banana trees were planted and various passion fruit varieties which are all used in production of Poncha (traditional Madeira drink) which is a actually a liquor made of bananas or passion fruits.

The island of Madeira is a volcanic island that literary looks like a mountain surrounded by the ocean. The slopes of the island are very steep and the whole of the island coast is rocky. This means that there are no natural sandy beaches and that they had to be made. These beaches are located in most cities and had to be protected by heavy concrete barriers in order to give refuge to swimmers from large ocean waves and to protect the beach itself from winter storms. Because of its unique climate and biodiversity the island is best known for its nature, perfect for those that enjoy walks, tropical fruits, beautiful flowers etc.


Did you know?

  • It is believed that Christopher Colombo lived in Madeira Archipelago for a few years before he managed to get the support for his expedition in which he discovered America.
  • Archeological findings suggest that Madeira Island was visited by Vikings sometime between 10th and 11th century.
  • The meaning of the word Madeira in Portuguese can be translated into wood. Vast forest once covered the island which were cut down by early Portuguese settlers. At first, the island was called Ilha da Madeira or translated to English the “Island of wood”.

Tourist destinations in Portugal:

Madeira Island

Madeira is a beautiful island in the Atlantic Ocean that is teeming with life, offers a display of brilliantly coloured flowers and fragrant fruits which most visitors might have never seen before, wonderful nature, splendid views, amazing hiking trails etc. it is so hard to put into words the uniqueness of Madeira Island and its nature. The volcanic nature of the island cossets away most of the island’s beaches behind its high cliffs, but instead offering spectacular viewpoints onto the ocean, lush forests that hide incredible animal and plant species as well as many hidden locations waiting to be uncovered. Even though the main attractions of the island are its exotic tropical nature and botanical gardens, Madeira also has well-developed cities catering for the needs of modern tourists with a lot of sights, history, shopping areas, restaurants etc.

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