Madeira was discovered by Portuguese sailors some time between 1418 and 1420. The archipelago is considered to be the first discovery of the exploratory period initiated by Henry the Navigator of Portugal. It is a popular year-round resort, noted for its Madeira wine, flowers, and embroidery artisans, as well as its New Year's Eve celebrations that feature a spectacular fireworks show, which is the largest in the world according to the Guinness World Records.
There is a romantic tale about two lovers, Robert Machim and Anna d'Arfet in time of the King Edward III of England, fleeing from England to France in 1346, were driven off their course by a violent storm, and cast on the coast of Madeira at the place subsequently named Machico, in memory of one of them. On the evidence of a portolan dated 1351, preserved at Florence, Italy, it would appear that Madeira had been discovered long before that date by Portuguese vessels under Genoese captains.
In 1419 two captains of Prince Henry the Navigator, João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira, were driven by a storm to the island they named Porto Santo. They gave this name (meaning Holy Harbour) in gratitude for their rescue from shipwreck. The next year an expedition was sent to populate the island, in which the two captains, together with captain Bartolomeu Perestrello, took possession of the islands on behalf of the Portuguese crown.
The three captain-majors had led, in the first trip, the respective families, a small group of people of the minor nobility, people of modest conditions and some old prisoners of the kingdom. To gain the minimum conditions for the development of agriculture, they had to rough-hew a part of the dense forest of laurisilva and to construct a large number of canals (levadas), since in some parts of the island, they had water in excess while in other parts water was scarce. In the earliest times, fish constituted about half of the settlers' diet, together with vegetables and fruit. The first local agricultural activity with some success was the raising of wheat. Initially, the colonists produced wheat for their own sustenance, but later began to export wheat to Portugal.
The discoveries of Porto Santo and Madeira were first described by Gomes Eannes de Azurara in Chronica da Descoberta e Conquista da Guiné. (Eng. version by Edgar Prestage in 2 vols. issued by the Hakluyt Society, London, 1896-1899: The Chronicle of Discovery and Conquest of Guinea.) Arkan Simaan relates these discoveries in French in his novel based on Azurara's Chronicle: L’Écuyer d’Henri le Navigateur, published by Éditions l’Harmattan, Paris.Henry decided to order the planting of sugarcane - rare in Europe and, therefore, considered a spice - promoting, for this, the introduction of Sicilian beets as the first specialized plant and the technology of its agriculture. Sugarcane production became a leading factor in the island's economy, and increased the demand for labour. Genoese and Portuguese traders were attracted to the islands. Sugarcane cultivation and the sugar production industry developed until the 17th century.
Since the 17th century, Madeira's most important product has been its wine, sugar production having since moved on to Brazil, São Tomé and Principe, and elsewhere. Madeira wine was perhaps the most popular luxury beverage in the colonial Western Hemisphere during the 17th and 18th centuries. The British Empire occupied Madeira as a result of the Napoleonic Wars, a friendly occupation, which started in 1807 concluding in 1814, when the island was returned to Portugal, and the British did much to popularise Madeira Wine.
When, after the death of king John VI of Portugal, his usurper son Miguel of Portugal seized power from the rightful heir, his niece Maria II, and proclaimed himself 'Absolute King', Madeira held out for the Queen under the governor José Travassos Valdez until Miguel sent an expeditionary force and the defence of the island was overwhelmed by crushing force. Valdez was forced to flee to England under the protection of the Royal Navy (September 1828).
Funchal, the capital of Madeira Island, is on the south coast of the principal island, in . Other main cities are: Porto Santo Town (also known as Vila Baleira), Ribeira Brava, Machico, Câmara de Lobos, Santa Cruz and Santana.
Madeira Island is the largest island of the group with an area of 741 km², a length of 30 geographical miles (57 km), a breadth of 13 miles (22 km) at its widest point, and a coastline of 80 to 90 miles. Its longer axis lies east and west, along which lies a mountain chain with a mean altitude of 4,000 feet (1,220 m), considered the backbone of the island from which many deep ravines radiate outward to the coast. Its most famous sea cliff, the Cabo Girão, is the worlds second highest. The highest point on the island is Pico Ruivo, at 1,862 meters (6,107 ft).
In the south, there is very little left of the indigenous laurisilva subtropical rainforest which once covered the whole island (the original settlers set fire to the island to clear the land for farming) and gave it the name it now bears (Madeira means "wood" in Portuguese). However, in the north, the valleys contain native trees of fine growth. These laurisilva forests, notably the forests on the northern slopes of Madeira Island, are designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
A long, narrow, and comparatively low rocky promontory forms the eastern extremity of the island, on which lies a tract of calcareous sand known as the Fossil Bed. It contains land shells and numerous bodies resembling the roots of trees, probably produced by infiltration.
Madeira Island's geographical position and mountainous landscape result in a very pleasant climate which varies between the north side, south side, and smaller islands groups like Porto Santo and Savages. The mean annual temperature on the coastline can reach more than 20°C in the south. With its mild humidity, the weather of the island is classified as oceanic subtropical and with its low rain level, desertic on the Savages. Influenced by the Gulf Stream, sea water temperature varies between 26°C during the summer and 17°C in the winter.
Just like the districts of mainland Portugal, Madeira is also further subdivided into 11 municipalities:
|Municipality||Population(2006)||Area (km²)||Main city/town||Freguesias|
|Câmara de Lobos||35,150||52.6||Câmara de Lobos||2|
|Santa Cruz 2)||32,696||68.0||Santa Cruz||5|
|Ribeira Brava||12,523||64.9||Ribeira Brava||4|
|Ponta do Sol||8,189||46.8||Ponta do Sol||3|
|São Vicente||6,063||80.8||São Vicente||3|
|Porto Santo 3)||4,388||42.4||Vila Baleira||1|
|Porto Moniz||2,762||82.6||Porto Moniz||4|
|1) including Savage Islands (to the freguesia of Sé)|
|2) including Desertas Islands (to the freguesia of Santa Cruz)|
|3) second largest island after Madeira island|
Today Funchal is a modern city with about 100,000 inhabitants. Funchal is located in a unique area; the natural geological features form an "amphitheatre" surrounding the city, which begins at the harbour and rises almost 1200 metres high on gentle slopes. This provides a natural shelter and was what attracted the first settlers.
The harbour and climate combined with an excellent geographical position allowed Funchal to have a rapid population growth.
Madeira Island is the top of a massive shield volcano that rises about 6 km from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, on an underwater mountain range called Tore, which stands on the African plate. The volcano formed atop an east-west rift in the oceanic crust. Construction of the bulk of the volcano began during the Miocene Epoch over 5 million years ago and continued into the Pleistocene until about 700,000 years ago. This was followed by extensive erosion, producing two large amphitheaters open to south in the central part of the island.
Volcanic activity later resumed, producing scoria cones and lava flows atop the older eroded shield. The most recent volcanic eruptions were on the west-central part of the island only 6,500 years ago, creating more cinder cones and lava flows.
The Macaronesia region harbours an important floral diversity. In fact, the archipelago's forest composition and maturity are quite similar to the forests found in the Tertiary period that covered Southern Europe and Northern Africa millions of years ago.
The great biodiversity of Madeira is phytogeographically linked to the Mediterranean region, Africa, America and Australia, and interest in this phytogeography has been increasing in recent years due to the discovery of some epiphytic bryophyte species with non-adjacent distribution. Madeira also has many endemic species of fauna – mostly invertebrates but also some vertebrates such as the native bat, some lizards species, and some birds as already mentioned. These islands have more than 200 species of land molluscs (snails and slugs), some with very unusual shell shape and colours.
The island of Madeira is wet in the northwest but dry in the southeast. In the 16th century the Portuguese started building levadas to carry water to the agricultural regions. The most recent was made in the 1940s. Madeira is very mountainous, and building the levadas was often difficult. Many are cut into the sides of mountains, and it was also necessary to dig 25 miles of tunnels.
Today the levadas not only supply water to the southern parts of the island but provide hydro-electric power. There are over 1350 miles of levadas and they provide a remarkable network of walking paths. Some provide easy and relaxing walks through beautiful countryside, but others are narrow, crumbling ledges where a slip could result in serious injury or death.
Two of the most popular levadas to hike are the Levada do Caldeirão Verde and the Levada do Caldeirão do Inferno which should not be attempted by hikers prone to vertigo or without torches and helmets. The Levada do Caniçal is a much easier walk, running 7.1 miles from Maroços to the Caniçal Tunnel. It is known as the mimosa levada because mimosa trees are found all along the route.
The setting-up of the Free Industrial Zone has led to the installation, under more favourable conditions, of infrastructure, production shops and essential services for small and medium-sized industrial enterprises. The Free Zone of Madeira, also called the Madeira International Business Centre, being a tax-privileged economic area, provides an incentive for companies, offering them financial and tax advantages via a whole range of activities exercised in the Industrial Free Zone, the Off-Shore Financial Centre, the International Shipping Register organisation, and the International Service Centre.
The services sector makes the largest contribution to the formation of the regional gross value added as opposed to the agricultural sector, for which the share has continuously declined in the regional economy.
Over the last few years, the regional economy has managed to open up and establish more internal and external competitiveness, so that its companies have become internationalised.
Development in Madeira is considered to have potential since the necessary infrastructure has been established and adequate investment incentives have been introduced for expanding its hotel and catering structure in a controlled manner. Conservation of its nature is important as it is one of tourists' main reasons for visiting Madeira.
Visitors are mainly from the European Union, with German, British, Scandinavian and Portuguese tourists providing the main contingents. The average annual occupancy rate was 57.4% in 2001, reaching its maximum in March and April, when it exceeds 70%.
The Islands have two airports, one in Santa Cruz (known as Funchal Airport (FNC)) on the Island of Madeira and the other in the city of Vila Baleira on Porto Santo Island. Flights to the islands are mostly made from Lisbon and Porto, but there are also direct flights from other major European cities and other countries, like Brazil, Venezuela and South Africa.
In the past Funchal airport was infamous for its runway, which was short and was built on a high embankment but which fell away abruptly to the sea and was often troubled by difficult upwinds which tended to uplift aircraft when landing. In the past the largest airliners that were able to use the airport were the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 and in 1977 a Boeing 727 aircraft when landing in unfavorable weather ran off the cliff at the end of the runway causing over 150 deaths. Recently, however, the runway has been realigned and extended from 1.0km to 2.7km, enabling almost any modern airliner to visit the island, including the Boeing 747-400, one of the biggest airliners today.
Transport between the two main islands is done by plane or by ferries, the latter also allowing for the transportation of vehicles. Visiting the interior of the islands is now very easy, due to major road developments, known as the Via Rapids, on the islands during Portugal's economic boom. Modern roads reach all points of interest on the islands. The old, curving mountain roads are still an excellent way to tour the island. Funchal has an extensive public transportation system. Bus companies, including Horarios do Funchal which has been operating for over one hundred years, have regularly scheduled routes to all points of interest on the island.
The region has a total population of just under 250,000 inhabitants, the majority of whom live on the main island of Madeira where the population density is 337/km²; meanwhile only around 4,500 live on the Porto Santo Island where the population density is 112/km².
The following people were either born or have lived part of their lives in Madeira:
This island now produces also banana, mangoes, papaws, guyabas, pinneapple, sugar cane, avocados, passionflower, coffee and many other fruit and specialty crops. In their gardens, inhabitants also grow coconut palms (Cocos nucifera), rubber trees, and other "exotic" plants.
Traditional pastries in Madeira usually contain local ingredients, one of the most common being mel de cana, literally sugarcane honey - molasses. The traditional cake of Madeira is called "Bolo de mel", which translates as (Sugarcane) "Honey Cake" and according to custom is never cut with a knife but broken into pieces by hand. It is a rich and heavy cake. Visitors to the island will see plentiful examples of handicraft on sale in shops. The islands have historical monuments, streets and plazas (praças) with many gardens and typical small towns.
Marítimo has also enjoyed various campaigns in the UEFA Cup having recorded famous results against teams such as Juventus, Leeds and Rangers. In 2003-04 Nacional has achieved 4th place in the Portuguese League, their best classification ever.
In recent years Madeira has had a considerable amount of success in professional basketball, with CAB Madeira having won numerous titles, especially their female team. CAB are often seen competing in European competition such as the FIBA EuroCup, and former stars include Filipe da Silva and ex-Los Angeles Lakers player Ike Nwankwo.
Rugby union is also played on the island to a minor degree.
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