History of Madeira
Madeira is the largest island of a volcanic archipelago consisting of two large and several smaller islands situated in the Atlantic Ocean close to Morocco on the African plate (GMT +00:00). As the largest island of the group it has an surface area of 741 km2 (286 sq. mi.), a length of 57 km. (35 mi.), a width of approximately 22 km (14 mi) at its widest point and a coastline of 150 km (90 mi). It has a mountain reaching 1,862 meters (6,109 feet) at its highest point (Pico Ruivo). Madeira has been classified as having a subtropical climate.
The archipelago politically and culturally belongs to Europe as an autonomous region of Portugal since 1976. It includes the islands of Madeira, Porto Santo, and the Desertas, administered together with the separate archipelago of the Savage Islands.
Funchal is the capital of the island since 1497 and is located on the main island's south coast. The main harbour in Funchal is the leading Portuguese port in cruise liner dockings, being an important stopover for commercial and trans-Atlantic passenger cruises between Europe, the Caribbean and North Africa.
“Do not react with hope. Do not react with fear. Respond with knowledge” -
The island was also known by the Romans. There is a romantic story of two lovers, who wanted to escape from England to France, but a strong storm hijacked their ship and they reached to coast of Madeira.
Madeira was claimed by Portuguese sailors in the service of Prince Henry the Navigator after rumours of the existence of the islands in 1419 after which the first settlers arrived in 1420. The archipelago is considered as the first territorial discovery of the exploratory period of the Portuguese Age of Discovery, which extended from 1415 to 1542.
After exploring the island the Portuguese began deforesting the original forest Madeira got its name from. For the cultivation of the “clean” lands slaves were brought from Africa and the Canary Islands and also people were recruited from the mother country. The grapes and sugarcanes have been planted by commission of Henry the Navigator, and by the second half of the 15th century the sugarcane cultivation has become the leading sector of the economy.
In the 16th-18th century the island's inhabitants have suffered a lot because of the repeated attacks of English and French pirates. The fortresses in Funchal, now functioning as tourist attractions, are from that period.
Madeira Wine, Bananas and Gastronomy
Soon the majority of wine production fell into the hands of British families, who invented the popular Madeira liqueur wine, known as “Madeira Wine”. Madeira is now noted for its Madeira wine, bananas, gastronomy, historical and cultural value, its flora and its landscapes.
Fauna & Flora
The island's fauna is extremely poor. Couple of the indigenous species are birds, bats and lizards, molluscs and arthropods, but luckily none of them are dangerous to humans. In contrast the flora includes thousands of spices, for example the famous Laurel subtropical forests which are classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and thanks to a warm climate evenly throughout the whole year the archipelago has become a popular resting place.
The island of Madeira is wet in the northwest, but dry in the southeast. In the 16th century the Portuguese started building levadas (man-built artificial canals ) to carry water to the agricultural regions in the south to feed the sugarcane. Madeira is very mountainous, and building the levadas was difficult. Today the levadas do not only supply water to the southern parts of the island but also provide a network of walking paths with a total length of over 2170 km (1,350 miles).
The European Union supports the development of the island's infrastructure with significant sums since 1983 to help the development of tourism, which is the main source of income. Madeira is visited every year by about one million tourists. Its annual New Year celebration features the largest fireworks show in the world, as is officially recognised by Guinness World Records in 2006. Whale watching has become another very popular activity in recent years. Many species of dolphins such as whales can be spotted near the coast.