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Madeira Autonomous Region
Região Autónoma da Madeira
Flag Coat of arms
Motto"Das ilhas, as mais belas e livres"  (Portuguese)
"Of all islands, the most beautiful and free"
AnthemA Portuguesa  (national)
Hino da Região Autónoma da Madeira  (local)
(and largest city)
32°39′N 16°55′W / 32.65°N 16.917°W / 32.65; -16.917
Official language(s) Portuguese
Ethnic groups  Portuguese
Government Autonomous region
 -  President Alberto João Jardim (PSDLogo PSD cor.PNG)
 -  Settled 1420 
 -  Autonomy 1 July 1976 
 -  Total 828 km2 (n/a)
320 sq mi 
 -  2006 estimate 245,806[1] 
 -  Density 295/km2 (n/a)
195/sq mi
Currency Euro (€)1 (EUR)
Time zone WET
 -  Summer (DST) WEST (UTC+1)
Internet TLD .pt
Calling code +351 spec. +351 291
1 Prior to 2002: Portuguese escudo

Madeira (pronounced /məˈdɪərə/ mə-DEER or /məˈdɛərə/ mə-DAIR; Portuguese: [mɐˈdeiɾɐ] or [mɐˈdɐiɾɐ]) is a Portuguese archipelago that lies between 32°22.3′N 16°16.5′W / 32.3717°N 16.275°W / 32.3717; -16.275 and 33°7.8′N 17°16.65′W / 33.13°N 17.2775°W / 33.13; -17.2775 in the north Atlantic Ocean. It is one of the Autonomous regions of Portugal, with Madeira Island and Porto Santo Island being the only inhabited islands. Madeira is part of the EU as an outermost region of the European Union.[2]

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.[3] Its harbour – Funchal – is important due to its commercial and passenger traffic and for being a major stopover for cruisers en route from Europe to the Caribbean.




Pre-Portuguese times

Pliny mentions certain Purple Islands, the position of which with reference to the Fortunate Islands, or Canaries, may indicate Madeira islands. Plutarch (Sertorius, 75 AD) referring to the military commander Quintus Sertorius (d. 72 BC), relates that after his return to Cádiz, "he met seamen recently arrived from Atlantic islands, two in number, divided from one another only by a narrow channel and distant from the coast of Africa 10,000 furlongs. They are called Isles of the Blest." The estimated distance from Africa, and the closeness of the two islands, seem to indicate Madeira and Porto Santo.

There is a romantic tale about two lovers, Robert Machim and Anna d'Arfet in time of the King Edward III of England, who, fleeing from England to France in 1346, were driven off their course by a violent storm, and cast onto 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.

It is certain that the discovery of Madeira predates the Portuguese settlement, as it appears on maps as early as 1339.[4]

Portuguese discovery

In 1419 two captains of Prince Henry the NavigatorJoão Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira – were driven by a storm to an island they named Porto Santo. They gave this name (meaning Holy Harbour) in gratitude for their rescue from the shipwreck. The following 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 islands started to be settled circa 1420 or 1425. In 23 September 1433, the name Ilha da Madeira (Madeira Island or "wood island") appears on a map, its first mention in a document.

The three captain-majors had led, in the first trip, their 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, there was excess water, 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 Eanes de Zurara 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.

Portuguese Madeira

Santa Catarina Park, in the heart of Funchal.

However, in time grain production began to fall. To get past the ensuing crisis, Henry decided to order the planting of sugarcane – to produce the "sweet salt" rare in Europe and, therefore, considered a spice – introducing Sicilian beets as the first specialized plant and along with it the technology of its agriculture.

Expansion of sugar plantations in Madeira started in 1455, using advisers from Sicily and (largely) Genoese capital for the mills, and developed until the 17th century. The accessibility of Madeira attracted Genoese and Flemish traders keen to bypass Venetian monopolies. "By 1480 Antwerp had some seventy ships engaged in the Madeira sugar trade, with the refining and distribution concentrated in Antwerp. By the 1490s Madeira had overtaken Cyprus as a producer of sugar."[5] Sugarcane production became a leading factor in the island's economy, and increased the demand for labour. Slaves were used during portions of the island's history to cultivate sugar cane, and the proportion of imported slaves reached 10% of the total population of Madeira by the 16th century.[6]

After the 17th century, as sugar production shifted to Brazil, São Tomé and Príncipe and elsewhere, Madeira's most important product became its wine. Madeira wine was perhaps the most popular luxury beverage in the colonial Western Hemisphere during the 17th and 18th centuries.[citation needed] The British occupied Madeira as a result of the Napoleonic Wars, a friendly occupation starting in 1807 and concluding in 1814 when the island was returned to Portugal.[7]

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).

In 1921, the last Austro-Hungarian Emperor, Charles I, was deported to Madeira after his second unsuccessful coup d'état in Hungary. He died there one year later and is buried in Monte.

On 1 July 1976, following the democratic revolution of 1974, Portugal granted political autonomy to Madeira. The region now has its own government and legislative assembly.

Geography and climate

View from Bica da Cana.
Map of the islands.
Two topographic features characterize the Madeiran landscape: steep mountains and deep ravines. Both landforms are evident in this image.

Funchal, the capital of Madeira Autonomous Region, is the chief city and on the south coast of Madeira, the main island in the archipelago. 32°37.75′N 16°55.3′W / 32.62917°N 16.9217°W / 32.62917; -16.9217. Other cities are: Vila Baleira (in Porto Santo Island), Câmara de Lobos, Machico, Santa Cruz, Santana and Caniço (Santa Cruz municipality), Madeira Island.

Madeira island is 520 km (323.11 mi) from the African coast and 1,000 km (621.37 mi) from the European continent, which is the equivalent of a 1 hour 30 minute flight from Lisbon.[8]

Madeira Island is the largest island of the group with an area of 741 km2 (286 sq mi), a length of 57 km (35 mi), a breadth of 22 km (14 mi) at its widest point, and a coastline of 150 km (93.21 mi). 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 one of the highest in Europe. The highest point on the island is Pico Ruivo, at 1,862 metres (6,107 ft).[9]

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 (68 °F) 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 (79 °F) during the summer and 17 °C (63 °F) in the winter.

Climate data for Funchal, capital of Madeira
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 19.1
Average low °C (°F) 13.1
Precipitation cm (inches) 10.27
Avg. precipitation days 12 11 10 8 5 3 1 2 6 9 11 13 91
Source: World Meteorological Organization (UN)[10].

Islands and main Islets

The 9 km (6 mi) beach of Porto Santo island.


A 3D image from the east of the Island.

Just like the mainland Portugal, Madeira is also further subdivided into 11 municipalities[11]:

Municipality Population
Area Main city/town Parishes
Funchal 1) 100,847 00000000000075.775.7 km2 (29.2 sq mi) Funchal 10
Câmara de Lobos 35,150 00000000000052.652.6 km2 (20.3 sq mi) Câmara de Lobos 5
Santa Cruz 2) 32,696 00000000000068.068.0 km2 (26.3 sq mi) Santa Cruz 5
Machico 21,321 00000000000067.667.6 km2 (26.1 sq mi) Machico 5
Ribeira Brava 12,523 00000000000064.964.9 km2 (25.1 sq mi) Ribeira Brava 4
Calheta 11,856 00000000000110.3110.3 km2 (42.6 sq mi) Calheta 8
Santana 8,491 00000000000093.193.1 km2 (35.9 sq mi) Santana 6
Ponta do Sol 8,189 00000000000046.846.8 km2 (18.1 sq mi) Ponta do Sol 3
São Vicente 6,063 00000000000080.880.8 km2 (31.2 sq mi) São Vicente 3
Porto Santo 3) 4,388 00000000000042.442.4 km2 (16.4 sq mi) Vila Baleira 1
Porto Moniz 2,762 00000000000082.682.6 km2 (31.9 sq mi) Porto Moniz 4
Total 244,286 00000000000768.0768.0 km2 (296.5 sq mi) Funchal 54
1) including Savage Islands (to the freguesia of )
2) including Desertas Islands (to the freguesia of Santa Cruz)
3) second largest island after Madeira island


Funchal harbour.

Funchal is a modern city with more than 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 (Porto de Funchal) and rises almost 1,200 metres (3,900 ft) high on gentle slopes. This provides a natural shelter that attracted the first settlers.

Madeira's capital for more than five centuries, Funchal, is said to have been named as such because of the abundance of fennel (funcho in Portuguese) growing there.

The harbour and climate combined with an excellent geographical position allowed Funchal to have a rapid population growth.

Probably the most central point is the Sé Cathedral. Built between 1493 and 1514 by Pêro Annes in Manueline style it represents one of Madeira's numerous treasures.

Geological origin and volcanism

Madeira Island
Madeira Island is located in Madeira
Madeira Island
Atlantic Ocean
Elevation 1,862 m (6,109 ft)
Coordinates 32°44′00″N 16°58′00″W / 32.7333333°N 16.9666667°W / 32.7333333; -16.9666667Coordinates: 32°44′00″N 16°58′00″W / 32.7333333°N 16.9666667°W / 32.7333333; -16.9666667
Type shield volcano
Age of rock over 5 million years
Last eruption 6,500 years ago[13]

Madeira Island is the top of a massive shield volcano that rises about 6 km (3.7 mi) 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. Formation 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.[13] 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.[13]


Typical Madeiran flowers

Madeira has three endemic birds: Zino's Petrel, the Trocaz Pigeon and the Madeira Firecrest.

It is also of importance for other breeding seabirds, including the Madeiran Storm-petrel, North Atlantic Little Shearwater and Cory's Shearwater.

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 which include the extremely rare Madeiran Large White but also some vertebrates such as the native bat, some lizards species, and some birds as already mentioned. The biggest tarantula of Europe is found on Desertas islands of Madeira and can be as wide as a normal man's hand. These islands have more than 250 species of land molluscs (snails and slugs), some with very unusual shell shape and colours. Most of them are endemic and vulnerable.


The island of Madeira is wet in the northwest but dry in the southeast. In the 16th century the Portuguese started building levadas or aqueducts to carry water to the agricultural regions on the south. The most recent were built in the 1940s. Madeira is very mountainous, and building the levadas was difficult and often sentenced criminals or slaves were used. Many are cut into the sides of mountains, and it was also necessary to dig 25 miles (40 km) of tunnels, some of them are still accessible.

Today the levadas not only supply water to the southern parts of the island but provide hydro-electric power. There are over 1,350 miles (2,170 km) 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 (11.4 km) from Maroços to the Caniçal Tunnel. It is known as the mimosa levada because mimosa trees are found all along the route.


The port of Funchal

The setting-up of the Free trade 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 competitive internationally. The largest industries are by sector food, beverages (especially Madeira wine), and construction.


The natural beauty of Madeira draws many tourists to the island

Tourism is an important sector in the region's economy since it contributes 20%[citation needed] to the region's GDP, providing support throughout the year for commercial, transport and other activities and constituting a significant market for local products. The share in Gross Value Added of hotels and restaurants (9%) also highlights this phenomenon. The island of Porto Santo, with its 9 km (5.6 mi) long beach and its climate, is entirely devoted to tourism. Over the past decade it has recorded a substantial increase in its hotel accommodation capacity.

Development in Madeira is considered to have future 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. Nature conservation is seen as important because it is a major draw for tourists to 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 60.3% in 2008[14], reaching its maximum in March and April, when it exceeds 70%.

Transport and immigration

Ferry boat makes daily trips between Madeira and Porto Santo Islands

European Union citizens of the Schengen Treaty area can enter the islands freely, while those from other regions need identification.

The Islands have two airports, Funchal Airport on the Island of Madeira and the other in the island of Porto Santo. 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.

Transport between the two main islands is by plane or ferries, the latter also carrying vehicles. Visiting the interior of the islands is now easy thanks to construction of the Vias Rápidas, major roads built 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 Horários do Funchal which has been operating for over a hundred years, have regularly scheduled routes to all points of interest on the island.

Society and culture


When the Portuguese discovered the island of Madeira in 1419, it was completely uninhabited by humans, with no aboriginal population at all. The island was settled by Portuguese people, especially farmers from the Minho region[15], meaning that Madeirans (Portuguese: Madeirenses), as they are called, are ethnic Portuguese, though they have developed their own distinct regional identity and cultural traits.

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.

Population genetics

Like in continental Portugal, the most frequent mtDNA haplogroup in Madeira is H (36.2%), followed by U (19.4% including 3.9% of North African Berber U6), T (7.7%), pre-HV clades (7.1%) and K (6.5%). Two haplogroups, H and U5 alone account for more than 50% of the individuals. The relatively high frequency of sub-Saharan L haplogroups (13%) in Madeira is also consistent with the historical records of slaves being introduced in both the south of Portugal and in Madeira.[16]

Concerning the males Y-Dna haplogroups, R1b (particularly R1b3) was found to be the most dominant Y chromosomal lineage in Madeira, covering about 53% of the Y chromosomal lineages. The high frequency of this haplogroup is typical in all West European populations, reflecting a cline and likely continuity of the Palaeolithic gene pool in Europe. Haplogroups I and G, also characteristic markers for many different West European populations, were found in Madeira at frequencies above 5%. Together with R1b, haplogroups J (12%) and E1b1b (14%) comprise about 80% of the Y-chromosomal gene pool of Madeira individuals. Haplogroups J and E1b1b consist of lineages with differential distribution within Middle East, North Africa and Europe. The typical Berber haplogroup E1b1b (M81) was found like in continental Portugal at a frequency of 5-6%.[17]

Famous Madeirans

Cristiano Ronaldo was 'World Footballer of the Year' in 2008

The following people were either born or have lived part of their lives in Madeira:


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. Black scabbardfish, espada, is often served with banana.

To promote Madeiran gastronomy worldwide, every November the Madeira Gourmet Festival is organized. The festival brings international chefs to the island, mixing their know-how with local young chefs and preparing new recipes using Madeiran traditional products, like Madeira wine, local fish and other products.


Madeira has two football teams in the Portuguese Liga, Portugal's top league, C.S. Marítimo of Funchal and Nacional. The Real Madrid and Portugal footballer Cristiano Ronaldo was born in Madeira and played for Nacional before going to Sporting Lisbon.[19]

C.S. Marítimo has nurtured great players such as Pepe, now at Real Madrid, Tonel, now at Sporting, Danny, now at Zenit, Jorge Costa, retired (F.C. Porto), Tarik Sektioui, now at F.C. Porto, Nuno Valente, now at Everton, Makukula, now at Kayserispor, among others.

C.S. Marítimo is considered as the biggest club of Madeira.

C.S. 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 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 competitions such as the FIBA EuroCup, and former stars include Filipe da Silva and ex-Los Angeles Lakers player Ike Nwankwo.

In 2001 the World Surfing Championships were held in Madeira at Surfspots including Paul do Mar, Ponta Pequena and Jardim do Mar (see Surfing in Madeira).

Madeira Andebol SAD, the island's only professional handball team is one of the most successful in the country, while rally car racing (Rali Vinho da Madeira), fishing and golf are other popular sports played on the island.

Rugby union is also played on the island to a minor degree.[citation needed]

Postage stamps

Portugal has issued postage stamps for Madeira during several periods, beginning in 1868; see postage stamps and postal history of Madeira for more details.

See also


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^
  3. ^ Madeira “largest firework display in the world”
  4. ^ Fernández-Armesto, Felipe (2004). "Machim (supp. fl. 14th cent.)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/17535. 
  5. ^ Ponting, Clive (2000) [2000]. World history: a new perspective. London: Chatto & Windus. pp. 482. ISBN 0-701-16834-X. 
  6. ^ Godinho, V. M. Os Descobrimentos e a Economia Mundial, Arcádia, 1965, Vol 1 and 2, Lisboa
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Weather Information for Funchal". 
  11. ^ Map of municipalities at
  12. ^ (Portuguese) Associação Nacional de Municípios Portugueses
  13. ^ a b c "Madeira". Global Volcanism Program, Smithsonian Institution. 
  14. ^ Statistics from DRE of Madeira tourism (2008)
  15. ^ Alberto Vieira, O Infante e a Madeira: dúvidas e certezas, Centro Estudos História Atlântico.
  16. ^ "The relatively high proportion of African lineage clusters L1–L3, U6, and M1 in Madeira (18.7%) and only 5.1% in the Açores agrees well with previous estimates of African admixture based on HLA and STR markers (Spínola et al. 2002; Fernandes et al. 2003)". Mitochondrial portraits of the Madeira and Açores archipelagos witness different genetic pools of its settlers, Brehm et al. 2003
  17. ^ Y-chromosome lineages from Portugal, Madeira and Açores record elements of Sephardim and Berber ancestry, Goncalves et al. 2005
  18. ^ Madeira (Insight Guides), ed. Ute York
  19. ^ Cristiano Ronaldo

External links


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