Madeira, the beginning of the New World

The world has probably never changed as quickly as it did in the 15th century. For thousands of years, civilisations had remained scattered around the world, isolated by water and by war. But in the early 1400s, driven by the crippling effect of the black plague, the Portuguese set sail to look for a sea route to the ‘Indies’ (South and Eastern Asia). The Spanish followed suite, crossing the Atlantic in hopes of finding an alternative route for the lucrative spice trade with the Indies. Little more than a century afterwards, both countries had succeeded. The Portuguese had found an eastern route, contouring Africa and discovering that the Indian Ocean wasn’t landlocked as previously thought. The Spanish had found an alternative western route, discovering the Americas in the process. While knowledge that the Earth was round dated back to the ancient Greeks, for the first time in history this had practical significance. The major continents had been mapped out and ships circumnavigated the world, connecting distant civilisations. And it all started with Madeira.

In 1418, during an exploratory mission of the coast of Africa, large waves and strong winds veered the ships of two Portuguese pilots – João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira – off course. They eventually found refuge on a long sandy beach, which they appropriately named Porto Santo (Holy Harbour). They had just found a needle in the immense haystack of the Atlantic.

A year after they found the neighbouring island of Madeira. Madeira was as luxuriant as Porto Santo was barren, and its rich soils and amenable weather allowed for a quick settlement. Farmers came from mainland Portugal to grow grain, sugar and sugar-beet, turning it into an important source of income for the Portuguese Crown.

It is perhaps suiting that Madeira has turned into a popular tourist destination. At the turn of the year, people from all over the globe gather at the harbour, watching the fireworks light up the same horizon from where the first Portuguese ships appeared, almost 600 years ago. A full circle indeed.

Walking around Funchal – Madeira’s capital – is also a time travelling experience. At a glance, the hilly city looks like a miniature version of Lisbon: cobblestone streets pave the way to fortresses; palaces and churches reveal intricate and beautiful gold carvings.

But whereas Lisbon is made up of limestone, Funchal’s settlers used local volcanic rock instead, creating a striking black version of the empire’s capital. Instead of sycamore trees, boardwalks are lined up with palm trees. Instead of grapes and olives, the undulating hills that surround Funchal grow bananas.

The beauty of the island extends well beyond the capital. There are water cascades rushing down steep inclines, right next to the winding mountain roads and trails.

The sea below is fierce and varies in countless shades of blue. The pastures are of a saturated green and are home to countless cows and sheep. The orange and pink sunsets are breathtaking.

And everywhere and in everyone, you’ll find the good spirits and open smiles of the locals. Those that speak a little Portuguese will also notice the unique accent, different from anything one can hear in mainland Portugal.

 

Jules*

 

66 thoughts on “Madeira, the beginning of the New World

  1. Thanks for reminding us again why we need to visit Madeira. We only had a brief introduction to Portugal last year and are coming back soon. You have given us many great ideas on the places to visit and the history. Tim

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    1. Thank you so much! Every time we go to Madeira we love it, and it was fascinating to find out all these things about it. I was reading through your “About” section, I love how you describe your “need to travel”. Not sure if you’ve been in Madeira already, but if not, you should definitely included it in one of your evening plans 😉 (Jules)

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      1. Thank you Jules. That need to travel is crucial to this one life we have. I appreciate that you took the time read it. I have not been to Madeira. It has been Lisbon and Sintra so far in that beautiful country. Madeira is on my travel list 🙂 One evening then 😀

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  2. Right… and they roll their ladies downhill with street sledges! 😮 Fascinating images and story. That accent must be interesting, I’m always drawn to linguistic peculiarities, however I have zero knowledge of Portuguese. Do you understand all that they are saying?

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    1. And it’s so fun to go down the hill!!! Have you tried it? I did and it’s so cool. It is a very thick accent, and although we get the majority of what it’s being said, there are some words and expressions that are harder to get 🙂 (Jules)

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  3. Mmmh, Azores. I know Madeira only because of Cristiano Ronaldo (who I gather is from there, but I might be wrong) but I’m thinking more and more about paying these islands a visit, thanks for the introduction!
    Fabrizio

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    1. He is indeed from Madeira, there’s even a statue of him at the harbour 🙂 There’s obviously very little impartiality going on here, but I think both Azores and Madeira are well worth a visit. If I had to choose one though, I would go with Azores, as there’s much less tourism and more islands to explore. -Verne

      Liked by 1 person

  4. We have a home away from home in Funchal… we LOVE it there… Gosh, we DO love the same places don’t we!!!!
    I should send you that blog link 🙂 oh too many blogs… i get confused… take a look at casabelavista.com

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  5. It is always a luxury to view the quiet passage of time through your lenses. I have never visited Portugal, but thanks for introducing us to the best your country has to offer. 🙂

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    1. The quiet passage of time is an extraordinarily appropriate way of putting it, as we talk about the place we happen to be in at the moment. Thank you for your astute words and for putting up with our musings 🙂 -Verne

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  6. Your photographs bring back great memories. We’ve been to Madeira five times – such a joy in the winter when it’s cold and miserable in Scotland to spend time there.

    Even in winter Madeira is green with tropical foliage and lots of flowers blooming. In particular, I’ve fallen for the African tulip trees that are smothered in orange-red tulip-like flowers during the cooler months.

    So much to see, such lovely friendly people, hardly any crime, stunning mountain scenery, fascinating history and modern hotels that cater for your every need. And that’s without all the free glasses of Madeira that are so plentiful.

    We’ll be heading back again as soon as we can, but intend fitting in a visit to Lisbon soon too if we can manage it.

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      1. It will leave from Cartagena in Colombia with stops in Sint Maarten, Antigua, Madeira and finally Lisbon.
        It was only slightly more expensive than a flight, and I am looking forward to two weeks with enough time to read books. But after the cruise, I will need to go on a long walk to lose the extra weight.

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  7. A full circle indeed. There is an undoubtedly Portuguese flair in the air, but from your description Madeira also feels like it belongs somewhere else, far from Continental Europe. When my friend and I went to Timor-Leste, the manager of the hotel where we stayed came from Madeira. She said her grandmother’s house was centuries old, probably among the first built on the island, I suppose.

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    1. You’re absolutely right! Although the islands were deserted and settled only by Portuguese, over these 600 hundreds they have developed their own identity, one that incorporates many unique aspects of living in a small island. I think the same happened in Azores, the other Portuguese archipelago. -Verne

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  8. Com estas lindas fotos e este belo texto, eu já não preciso de viajar mais para a Madeira…quando a saudade apertar, venho aqui e mato saudades.
    Os Açores também devem dar umas belas chapas e quanto a mim, não ficam atrás da Madeira nem em beleza nem em hospitalidade!
    Continuem a deliciar-nos com o vosso blogue! Assim, nem precisamos de sair do sofá:)!

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    1. Thank you Sheri! We very much enjoy writing these pieces, as the history bits force us to do research and we end up learning a lot. That said, next week’s post will have very little of history but a lot of physical strain 🙂 -Verne

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  9. I loved my time on Madeira. We were there for my 60th birthday, wanting somewhere sunnier than the Algarve for a winter destination. Not necessarily the case as we did find a shower or two, but after the rain, boy did those colours sing! I was devastated to read of the floods that swept through Funchal not long after. I always meant to go back and do a little levada walking but some memories are better left unsullied. 🙂 🙂 Happy Easter to you both!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was in Madeira soon after the floods and the destruction was heart-breaking. But the last time I was there I could hardly find any evidence of what happened. Be careful with hose levadas though, some of them are quite sketchy. Happy Easter to you too, hope you’re having fun in Wales! -Verne

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Great post! Hubby and I have been to Madeira last year – and booked a second trip for this year as soon as we got back 🙂 Seems, we both found our happy place there. The seemingly effortless balance between history, culture, stunning nature and the modern life, the easygoing pace of life and heartfelt friendliness of the locals and the amazing cuisine make this island the perfect escape for us.
    By the way – for anyone interested in a deeper dive into the history of the island while you’re in Funchal: I recommend checking out the Madeira Film Experience. They show an amazing documentary about the geological and historical development of the island several times a day. Even though the idea of going to a movie theater for a documentary while on vacation on an island screaming for our hiking boots being well used seemed a bit silly, we gave it a chance – and walked out even more motivated and very well informed about the things to come.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for reading and for the great tip about the Madeira Film Experience! I had a look at the trailer, it looks fantastic: we’ll surely watch it next time we go to Madeira.

      Have you guys ever been to Azores, the other Portuguese archipelago? It might be right up your alley too 🙂 -Verne

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Hehe~ I”m always happy to share lucky (and maybe a bit quirky) finds like this one 🙂 Glad you like it~
    Thanks for reminding me of the Azores! We had a good look at them before we put them high up on out to-do list for the near future, but a return trip to Madeira was even more important for the time being 🙂 Porto and Lisbon are calling too, though, so we might go for a city/island combo on our next Portugese getaway… Ugh, so much to do!

    Liked by 2 people

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