Sunday, November 2, 2014

Madeira, Portugal

Executive summary by darmansjah

Madeira is a Portuguese archipelago that lies between 32°22.3′N 16°16.5′W and 33°7.8′N 17°16.65′W, just under 400 kilometres (250 mi) north of Tenerife, Canary Islands, in the north Atlantic Ocean and an outermost region of the European Union. The archipelago comprises the major part of one of the two Autonomous regions of Portugal (the other being the Azores located to the northwest), that includes the islands of Madeira, Porto Santo, and the Desertas, administered together with the separate archipelago of the Savage Islands Madeira was discovered by Portuguese sailors in the service of Infante D. Henrique (Henry the Navigator) in 1419, and settled after 1420. The archipelago is considered to be the first territorial discovery of the exploratory period of the Portuguese Age of Discovery.

Today, it is a popular year-round resort, being visited every year by about one million tourists, noted for its Madeira wine, flowers, landscapes and embroidery artisans, as well as for its annual New Year celebrations that feature the largest fireworks show in the world, as officially recognised by the Guinness World Records, in 2006. 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.

Madeira is currently the second richest region in Portugal, after Lisbon, with a GDP per capita of 104% of the European average


Pliny mentioned certain "Purple Islands", their position corresponding to the location of the Fortunate Isles (or Canary Islands), that may have referred to islands of Madeira. Plutarch (Sertorius, 75 AD) referring to the military commander Quintus Sertorius (d. 72 BC), relates that after his return to Cádiz: "...The islands are said to be two in number separated by a very narrow strait and lie 10,000 furlongs from Africa. They are called the Isles of the Blessed..." The estimated distance from Africa, 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi), and the closeness of the two islands, seem to describe the similar position of the islands of Madeira and Porto Santo.

There is also a romantic tale of two lovers, Robert Machim and Anna d'Arfet, during the reign of King Edward III of England, who, fleeing from England to France in 1346, were driven off their course by a violent storm. Their ship crashed along the coast of an island, that may have been Madeira; later, this story would be used in the naming of Machico, whose name was transliterated from the name of the boy in the tale, in memory of the young lovers.

Much like the Azores, it is clear that some knowledge of Atlantic islands, such as Madeira, existed before the discovery and settlement of these lands, as the islands appear on maps as early as 1339. From a portolan dating to 1351, and preserved in Florence, Italy, it would appear that the islands of Madeira had been discovered long before Portuguese vessels rediscovered them in the "official" timeline. In Libro del Conocimiento (1348–1349), a Spanish monk also identified the location of the islands in its present location, with the names Leiname, Diserta and Puerto Santo.

Officially, in 1418, two captains under service to Prince Henry the Navigator, João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira, were driven off-course by a storm to an island which they named Porto Santo (English: holy harbour); the name was bestowed for their gratitude and divine deliverance from a possible shipwreck by the protected anchorage. The following year, an organised expedition, under the captaincy of Zarco and Vaz Teixeira, was sent to this new land, and along with captain Bartolomeu Perestrello, to take possession of the island on behalf of the Portuguese crown. Subsequently, the new settlers observed "a heavy black cloud suspended to the southwest", which when investigated led to the discovery of the larger island of Madeira

The first settlers began colonizing the islands around 1420 or 1425; the three Captains-major had led the first settlement, along with their respective families, a small group of minor nobility, people of modest conditions and some prisoners, who could be trusted to work the lands. 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 others water was scarce. During this period, fish constituted about half of the settlers' diet, together with vegetables and fruits cultivated from small cleared parcels of land. Initially, these colonists produced wheat for their own subsistence, but later the quantity cultivated was sufficient to begin exporting wheat to continental Portugal.

On the 23 September of 1433, the name Ilha da Madeira (English: Madeira Island, or literally island of wood) began to appear in the first documents and maps. The name given to the islands corresponded to the large dense forests of native laurisilva trees that populated the island during the settlement.

However, when grain production began to fall, the ensuing crisis forced Henry the Navigator, as principal benefactor of the islands, to plant other commercial crops. The planting of sugarcane, and later Sicilian sugar beet, allowed the introduction of the "sweet salt" (as sugar was known) into Europe, where it was a rare and popular spice. These specialised plants, and their associated industrial technology, created one of the major revolutions on the islands and fuelled Portuguese industry. The expansion of sugar plantations in Madeira began in 1455, using advisers from Sicily and financed by Genoese capital (it would become an integral part of the island economy until the 17th century). The accessibility of Madeira attracted Genoese and Flemish traders who were 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."

Sugarcane production was the primary engine of the island's economy, increasing 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.

In 1617, Algerian pirates, having enslaved Europeans along the Mediterranean coasts, captured 1,200 men and women in Porto Santo. After the 17th century, as sugar production shifted to Brazil, São Tomé and Príncipe and elsewhere, Madeira's most important product became its wine. The British occupied Madeira as a result of the Napoleonic Wars, a consented occupation starting in 1807 and concluding in 1814 when the island was returned to Portugal.Nevertheless, the island was a British Crown Colony for four months, and Britain had intentions of keeping it after the Napoleonic Wars, owing to its strategic position, but plans for its permanent annexation were abandoned shortly after the start of the occupation.

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).

The archipelago of Madeira is located 520 km (323.11 mi) from the African coast and 1,000 km (621.37 mi) from the European continent (approximately a one-and-a-half hour flight from the Portuguese capital of Lisbon). It is found in the extreme south of the Tore-Madeira Ridge, a bathymetric structure of great dimensions oriented along a north-northeast to south-southwest axis that extends for 1,000 kilometres (620 mi). This submarine structure consists of long geomorphological relief that extends from the abyssal plain to 3500 metres; its highest submersed point is at a depth of about 150 metres (around latitude 36ºN). The origins of the Tore-Madeira Ridge are not clearly established, but may have resulted from a morphological buckling of the lithosphere.

The archipelago itself is a series of oceanic volcanic islands that date back to the Miocene (about 20 million years ago), and constructed from a hotspot in the Earth's crust of the African Tectonic Plate. Madeira, and the smaller Desertas Islands, are the youngest of these islands (dating from 4.6 to 0.7 million years), while Porto Santo, the smaller of the main islands, is the oldest (approximately 14 million years). Since their immersion, there have been five phases related to the volcanism of the group, and they are particularly visible on the island of Madeira, which include:

Base formation - characterised by large eruptions and ejecta which terminated about three million years ago;

Peripheral formation - where there is a diminishing level of the projectiles, causing the formation of several dykes and platforms, that terminated about 740,000 years ago;

High altitude formation - marked by a continuation of projectiles, pyroclastic materials and the formation of faults along the northern and southern coasts (between 400–900 meters);

Paul da Serra - formation that travelled along the Bica da Cana around 550,000 years ago;

Recent eruptions, associated with minor island formations; the magma fields discovered on the islands (which terminated about 6500 years ago) are associated with this phase.

These basaltic islands have not seen any volcanic activity within the last 6000 years.

Islands and islets

Madeira (740.7 km²), including Ilhéu de Agostinho, Ilhéu de São Lourenço, Ilhéu Mole (northwest);

Porto Santo (42.5 km²), including Ilhéu de Baixo ou da Cal, Ilhéu de Ferro, Ilhéu das Cenouras, Ilhéu de Fora, Ilhéu de Cima.

Desertas Islands (14.2 km²), including the three uninhabited islands: Deserta Grande Island, Bugio Island and Ilhéu de Chão;

Savage Islands (3.6 km²), including three main islands and 16 uninhabited islets) in two groups: the Northwest Group (Selvagem Grande Island, Ilhéu de Palheiro da Terra, Ilhéu de Palheiro do Mar) and the Southeast Group (Selvagem Pequena Island, Ilhéu Grande, Ilhéu Sul, Ilhéu Pequeno, Ilhéu Fora, Ilhéu Alto, Ilhéu Comprido, Ilhéu Redondo, Ilhéu Norte).

1 comment:

  1. Hi! This is certainly an informative post! I must say you have great writing style! Your blog is surely interesting and engaging one! Never knew even reading about Madeira could be this much fun. Your blog has stimulated my desire to get my visa to Portugal soon.