History: Madeira & Funchal

Madeira

The archipelago of Madeira was discovered during a geostrategic manoeuvre to expand Portuguese territory, spread the Catholic faith and develop the kingdom’s economy.

The entire archipelago of Madeira was discovered in 1419. Settlers began to arrive on the island of Madeira around 1425, with early settlers coming from northern Portugal and from the Algarve in the south.

The first products produced and exported from Madeira Island were wheat, sugar and wine.

Sugar became a kind of “white gold”, making trade with all points of maritime commerce possible and enabling the purchase of Flemish art, liturgical objects and paintings. Economic development of the archipelago of Madeira centred on agricultural production and the island’s role as an obligatory port of call on trade routes.

Records from the 14th century - a letter from Dulcert dating from 1339 and a sketch by Médici from 1370 - report the sighting of an island called “Legname”, which is believed to be the island of Madeira because of the abundant forests on this Atlantic island.

The archipelago of Madeira was discovered during a geostrategic manoeuvre to expand Portuguese territory, spread the Catholic faith and develop the kingdom’s economy.

This epic story begins in 1415 with the conquest of the city of Ceuta. In 1418, the island of Porto Santo was discovered and the other islands that came to be known as the archipelago of Madeira were sighted. The territory was formally established the following year.

Settlers began to arrive on the island of Madeira around 1425. The first settlers came from northern Portugal and from the Algarve in the south.

Later the islands were handed over to Infante Dom Henrique (Henry the Navigator) and port authorities were established with captainships being bestowed on the discoverers of the archipelago - João Gonçalves Zarco became captain of the port of Funchal, Tristão Vaz Teixeira captain of the port of Machico, and Bartolomeu Perestrelo captain of the port of Porto Santo.

Wheat was basically the first commodity that produced on the island and subsequently exported. Later, sugar and wine were introduced. After 1470, sugar became the island’s main export, and wheat production became limited to internal production for the local population.

Sugar became a kind of “white gold”, making trade with all points of maritime commerce possible and enabling the purchase of Flemish art, liturgical objects and paintings.

In the 17th century, Madeira wine started to gain importance on maritime trade routes.

Economic development of the archipelago of Madeira centred on agricultural production and the island’s role as an obligatory port of call on trade routes. The islands offered and continue to offer unique products in an extraordinary setting, which has made the archipelago the excellent tourist destination it is today.

Funchal

The name of Funchal derives from Foeniculum vulgare plant, the fennel plant. Reports at the time indicated that upon disembarking on the island, the first sight was a dense grove valley and an abundance of fennel plants essential in food and traditional desserts.

Despite the abundance of fennel it was the sugar that provided the development of a sustainable economy in the city of Funchal and throughout the island.

The Madeira Wine succeeded the sugar, becoming one of the symbols of the region nowadays. Sugar and wine production in Funchal become indispensable to the local economy and their icons were embedded in the coat of arms of the city.

Funchal was one of the first captaincies of Madeira, with the first appointed captain João Gonçalves Zarco - one of the main navigators who discovered the archipelago - who in 1425, settled in the city with his family.

The development of Funchal allowed the city to quickly evolve from autonomous parishes to a village and later to a municipality, being elevated to city in 1508. In 1835, due to the growth and degree of prosperity of the city, Funchal developed to the limits it has now and it is limited by the Santana municipalities, Câmara de Lobos and Santa Cruz.

The city has become a key trade point in the center of the Atlantic, allowing trade, culture and experiences exchanges. Funchal is unique for its diversity, from the sea to the mountains, from the fruits to the flowers and from the embroidery to the wicker toboggans, all influenced by its tropical climate, which allows unique productions and activities.


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