The Archipelago of MADEIRA
Autonomous Region of The Portuguese Republic
The Madeira Islands
An archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, located 1,100 km (700 mi) southwest of Portugal, an autonomous region of that country. The Madeiras consist of two inhabited islands, Madeira and Porto Santo, and two uninhabited island groups, the Desertas and the Selvagens. The islands have a total area of 794 sq km (307 sq mi), with Madeira Island by far the largest at 55 km (34 mi) long and 22 km (14 mi) wide. The capital and largest city is Funchal (1995 population, 115,950), located on Madeira Island.
The Land and Population
Madeira means “wood” in the Portuguese language, and the archipelago was named for its large forests and dense vegetation. The Madeiras have lush tropical and semitropical plant life and extensive gardens, and are famous for their mild, pleasant climate. Madeira Island features a mountainous topography; the island's highest point is Ruivo de Santana Peak, 1,862 m (6,109 ft) high.
The islands are relatively sparsely settled. The total population of the Madeiras in 1992 was 256,000. The majority of the people live on Madeira Island. Porto Santo, 42 km (26 mi) northeast of Madeira Island, had an estimated population of 5,000 in the mid-1990s. A large number of Madeiran emigrants reside in South Africa and the United States.
The Madeiran economy is centered on agricultural production, especially sugar, wine grapes, and bananas. The internationally famous Madeira wine comes in several varieties and is an important export. While its variety of tropical fruits remains a resource, Madeiran hand-embroidered linen has also become a major source of revenue. This traditional craft is said to have been introduced to the islands in the 19th century by an Englishwoman. Fishing has long contributed to the Madeiran economy, and in recent decades tourism has increased in importance. The economy and infrastructure of the Madeiras have benefited from Portugal's membership in the European Union (called the European Community when Portugal joined in 1986). There have been recent improvements in Funchal's international airport, as well as its road system.
As an autonomous region of the Portuguese Republic and as such it has its own Political Administrative statute. The Regional Legislative Assembly and the Regional Government are the organs of this administration. The Regional Government is responsible politically to the Legislative Assembly. The Region also elects five representatives to serve in the Portuguese Republic's National Assembly. While at more them two political parties participate in local elections, the Social Democratic Party has retained political predominance since the implementation of the 1976 constitution, which established the framework for the region's government.
The islands were first discovered uninhabited by the Portuguese explorer João Gonçalves Zarco in 1418. Shortly thereafter, Prince Henry the Navigator began colonization of the islands and established sugar plantations. These plantations became the prototype for the plantation system developed for the Portuguese colonies in the Americas after 1550. The importance of Madeira wine to the local economy surpassed that of sugar beginning in the late 17th century. A British colony of merchants and entrepreneurs established themselves on Madeira around this time, and eventually came to dominate the islands' linen, wine, banking, export, and tourism industries. During the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815), British forces occupied and administered the islands as part of the British Empire; the British later evacuated the islands. Large tourist hotels and other facilities have been constructed in or near Funchal in the latter half of the 20th century.
Source: Travel Images and Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 2002. © 1993-2001 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
Nowadays it is general opinion that in 1419, under the orders of the Glorious Henry "The Navigator", Madeira Archipelago, that was already mentioned in 1350 at Libro del Conoscimento and represented on Italian and Catalan maps from the 14th century, was rediscovered by João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira. The kingdom had a constant lack of cereals, so they wanted to provide it with it and also be supportive to the maritime expansion of Portugal.
Thus, since the 15th century, Madeira has played an important role on the great Portuguese Discoveries. It became also famous for the rich trade routes between Funchal and the entire Atlantic World.
It was also in Madeira and Porto Santo that the merchant Cristovão Colombo increased his knowledge of the art of navigation and planned his famous voyage to America.
In 1425, after the division of the Archipelago into captaincies of Funchal, Machico and Porto Santo began the organised settlement. During some decades, cereal production was a factor of richness and development. At that time, Madeira had about 150 big farms that produced more than 3.000 m³ of wheat, being great part exported to the Mainland and to the Portuguese trading post of the Saccharine and Guinea Littoral.
However, since the last decade of the 15th century, the kingdom and the island governors began dedicating, above all, to the culture of sugar cane and to the exportation of the "white gold" to all Europe. Slaves, who were brought from African trading posts, were used to work at cane brake and sugar mill.
The Madeira Diogo Teives invented the first mechanical sugar mill moved by water. This invention determinated a great increase of production, which in 1506 reached 3.500 tones.
Madeira had its greatest economical and cultural development during this period and became known all over the civilised World.
Still today, our museums keep abundant and precious artistic masterpieces of that period and Madeira people have proud of "Museu de Arte Sacra in Funchal". It has one of the most representative world collections of Flemish paintings, proceeding from Bruges, Antwerp and Malines.
There are also still notable architectonic evidences, such as at Funchal Cathedral; the Church and Convent of Santa Clara; the Churches of Calheta, Santa Cruz and Machico; the Chapels of Reis Magos, Encarnação and Corpo Santo. There are also some remains of Old Customhouse and Manueline windows kept at Quinta das Cruzes.
However, since the last decade of the 16th century, the exportation of sugar suffered a great resection. This resection was determined by the break of soil productivity, diseases that contaminated the canebrakes and, above all, due to the competitive sugar brought from Brazil, where Madeira people had introduced techniques and specialised hand labour. Thus, during a great period of the 17th century, Madeira Archipelago suffered a social and economical crisis.
However, Funchal port kept the commercial trade to Africa, America and India. It also had importance with the exportation of pastry, the famous "casquinha" done from lemon, cider and other candied fruit in a fusing of sugar.
In 1580 Portugal and Madeira became under the domain of Castille. However, in 1640, the independence was restored, followed by the marriage of our Infant D. Catarina de Bragança with Charles II of England.
It was then granted several contracts with British people who favoured the exportation of Madeira Wine to England, Occidental India and British colonies in America. Since the last decade of the 17th century, Madeira knew a new period of economical and cultural increasing, being its excellent wine responsible for the fame of the Island all over the world.
Quickly the production achieved 45.000 wine barrels, from which annually were exported a medium of 30.000.
This prosperity called vineyard cycle had its reflections at arts and architecture.
It was constructed the typical residences of the 17th and 18th centuries, with its stonework "bull’s-eye" window, balconies made with wrought iron, towers, belvederes, balconies and wine press at the ground floor. There is still beautiful examples at Rua dos Ferreiros, do Bispo, de Santa Maria and at some villas on the surroundings of Funchal.
At the same time, we can see the preference of the Baroque and its carved work upon the Flemish and Mudejar art, in churches, chapels and manor houses. We have chosen as examples the churches of S. Pedro and the fascinating of Colégio at Funchal.
However, since the beginning of the 19th century first decade, Madeira Archipelago recognised once again another economical resection, due to the end of the napoleon wars and the subsequent peace restoration in Europe.
Some habits of the British were modified who began drinking Xerez and Porto Wine, because of the diseases at the Madeira vineyards (philoxera and oidium).
With the victory of liberal ideas against absolutism, the new Madeira authorities made economical reformations to fight against the crisis and began constructing the wonderful "levadas" (water canals) of Rabaçal, Juncal, Furado, Feijã dos Vinháticos.
With the irrigation increase, cereal production and other food products increased and Madeira people became, once again, developing canebrake plantation and increasing sugar and banana exportation.
At that time, began their development of the production and exportation of the famous Madeira embroideries and of the typical wickerwork and baskets.
Finally, tourism industry also increased, at first, through the Therapeutic Tourism. In fact, since the middle of the 19th century, a number of English and German doctors recommended Madeira mild climate as a possible cure to pulmonary diseases. A lot of people came to Madeira Archipelago.
In this century, with the airport construction, port enlargement and road construction connecting all regions, industrial tourism developed. Today Madeira is known all over the world by the diversity of its splendours beauty, splendid climate and above all, by the excellent quality of touristic services and population kindness.