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Madeira ( or ; or ) is a Portuguesemarker archipelago in the mid Atlantic Oceanmarker that lies between and . It is one of the Autonomous regions of Portugal, with Madeira Island and Porto Santo Islandmarker being the only inhabited islands. Madeira is an archipelago with volcanic origins from a Hot Spot, so is not geographically part of a specific continent, but Madeira belongs and has belonged ethnically, culturally, economically and politically to Europe for 600 years despite being geographically closer to Africa. Madeira is part of Portugalmarker, and as such a part of the European Union, as an Outermost Region.

Madeira was rediscovered by Portuguesemarker 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 Portugalmarker. 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. Its harbour – Funchalmarker – is important due to its commercial and passenger traffic and for being a major stopover for cruisers en route from Europe to the Caribbeanmarker.


Pre-Portuguese times

Pliny mentions certain Purple Islands, the position of which with reference to the Fortunate Islands, or Canariesmarker, may indicate Madeira islands. Plutarch (Sertorius, 75 AD) referring to the military commander Quintus Sertorius (d. 72 BC), relates that after his return to Cadizmarker, "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 Santomarker.

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 Englandmarker to Francemarker in 1346, were driven off their course by a violent storm, and cast on the coast of Madeira at the place subsequently named Machicomarker, in memory of one of them. On the evidence of a portolan dated 1351, preserved at Florence, Italymarker, it would appear that Madeira had been discovered long before that date by Portuguese vessels under Genoesemarker captains.

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

Portuguese discovery

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 Santomarker. They gave this name (meaning Holy Harbour) in gratitude for their rescue from the 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 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, 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 laurisilvamarker 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

However, in time grain production began to fall. To get past the ensuing crisis 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. Slaves were used during portions of the islands' history to cultivate sugar cane, and the proportion of imported slaves in Madeira reached 10% of the total population by the 16th century. 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 Brazilmarker, São Tomé and Principemarker, 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 Portugalmarker 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).

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

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.

Funchalmarker, the capital of Madeira Autonomous Region, is the chief city and on the south coast of Madeira, the principal island in the archipelago. .Other cities are: Vila Baleiramarker (in Porto Santo Islandmarker), Câmara de Lobosmarker, Machicomarker, Santa Cruzmarker, Santanamarker and Caniço (Santa Cruz municipality), Madeira Islandmarker.

The archipelago lies about from the coast of Africa, from Lisbonmarker, from Gran Canariamarker, and from Santa Mariamarker, the nearest of the Azores.
Map of the islands.
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 . 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 Ruivomarker, at 1,862 meters (6,107 ft).

In the south, there is very little left of the indigenous laurisilvamarker 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 UNESCOmarker.

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.

Islands and main Islets


A 3D image from the east of the Island.
Just like the mainland Portugal, Madeira is also further subdivided into 11 municipalities:

Municipality Population


Main city/town Parishes
Funchalmarker 1) 100,847 75.7 Funchalmarker 10
Câmara de Lobosmarker 35,150 52.6 Câmara de Lobosmarker 5
Santa Cruzmarker 2) 32,696 68.0 Santa Cruzmarker 5
Machicomarker 21,321 67.6 Machicomarker 5
Ribeira Bravamarker 12,523 64.9 Ribeira Bravamarker 4
Calheta 11,856 110.3 Calheta 8
Santanamarker 8,491 93.1 Santanamarker 6
Ponta do Solmarker 8,189 46.8 Ponta do Solmarker 3
São Vicentemarker 6,063 80.8 São Vicentemarker 3
Porto Santomarker 3) 4,388 42.4 Vila Baleiramarker 1
Porto Monizmarker 2,762 82.6 Porto Monizmarker 4
Total 244,286 768.0 Funchalmarker 54
1) including Savage Islandsmarker (to the freguesia of marker)
2) including Desertas Islandsmarker (to the freguesia of Santa Cruzmarker)
3) second largest island after Madeira island


Today Funchalmarker 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 1200 metres high on gentle slopes. This provides a natural shelter and was what 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 is the top of a massive shield volcano that rises about 6 km from the floor of the Atlantic Oceanmarker, 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. 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.


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 Macaronesiamarker 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 Mediterraneanmarker 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 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. The most recent were 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 of tunnels.

Today the levadas not only supply water to the southern parts of the island but provide hydro-electric power. There are over 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 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 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% 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 Santomarker, with its 9 km 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 Germanmarker, Britishmarker, Scandinavian and Portuguesemarker tourists providing the main contingents. The average annual occupancy rate was 60,3% in 2008, reaching its maximum in March and April, when it exceeds 70%.


The Islands have two airports, Funchal Airportmarker on the Island of Madeira and the other in the island of Porto Santomarker. Flights to the islands are mostly made from Lisbonmarker and Portomarker, but there are also direct flights from other major European cities and other countries, like Brazilmarker, Venezuelamarker and South Africa.

In the past, Funchal airport was infamous for its runway, which was short and was built on a high embankment. This embankment fell away abruptly to the sea and was often troubled by difficult updrafts which tended to lift aircraft when landing. In the past, the largest airliners that were able to use the airport were the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737.

In an infamous 1977 accident, TAP Portugal Flight 425marker (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 1,800m to 2,481m, enabling most modern passenger airplanes to visit the island, including the Boeing 747-400, one of the biggest airliners today.

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

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 Vias Rápidas, these major roads were constructed 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 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, meaning that Madeirans ( ), 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 Islandmarker 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 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. Relatively high frequency of sub-Saharan L haplogroups (13%) in Madeira is also consistent with the historical records on slaves' introduction both in the south of Portugal and in Madeira.

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 Paleolithic 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%.

Famous Madeirans

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, each year, every November the Madeira Gourmet Festival is organized. The festival brings international Chefs to the island, mixing their know who with local young chefs and preparing new recipes using madeiran traditional products, like the 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.

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 competition 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 Marmarker, Ponta Pequena and Jardim do Marmarker (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.

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. Madeira “largest firework display in the world”
  2. Godinho, V. M. Os Descobrimentos e a Economia Mundial, Arcádia, 1965, Vol 1 and 2, Lisboa
  4. Map of municipalities at
  5. [ ] Associação Nacional de Municípios Portugueses]]
  6. Statistics from DRE of Madeira tourism (2008)
  7. Funchal Aircraft Disaster of 19 November 1977
  8. Alberto Vieira, O Infante e a Madeira: dúvidas e certezas, Centro Estudos História Atlântico.
  9. "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
  10. Y-chromosome lineages from Portugal, Madeira and Açores record elements of Sephardim and Berber ancestry, Goncalves et al. 2005
  11. Madeira (Insight Guides), ed. Ute York
  12. Cristiano Ronaldo

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