Many millions of years back, the volcanic action at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean set up one island three hundred miles just off the coast of Northern Africa. Today, high mountains stand out dramatically from the sea in cliffs that tower 1.8 thousand feet from the beach coast. Et voilà! Madeira was born bringin more history and traditions to the world.
Portuguese sailors who arrived on the island in 1420 might have been the first humans to visit, or not … Gaius Plinius Secundus (AD 23 to 25 August, AD 79) refers certain Purple Islands, the stand that, in reference to the Fortunate Islands or Canaries would appear indicating Madeira islands. Plutarch (Sertorius, 75 AD) referring to the military commander Fifth Sertorius (d. 72 BC), relates that after his return to Cádiz, he had met sailors newly arrived from Atlantic islands, two in number, divided among themselves only by a narrow channel and far of the coast of Africa 10,000 furlongs. Formally, in 1418, two captains in service to Prince Henry, João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristan Vaz Teixeira, were led off course by a storm to an island that they have named Porto Santo (English: holy harbour), the name was given for their thankfulness and divine deliverance from a potential sinking for anchoring protected.They are referred to as Isles of the Blessed.The estimated distance from Africa, and closeness the two islands, seemed to indicate Madeira and Porto Santo. The possible existence of Atlantis has been discussed during the classic antiquity, but it was commonly dismissed and occasional parodied by recent authors. However Madeira Islands was also identified as the possible location, west of the Straits of Gibraltar but in relatively proximity of the Mediterranean Sea. In the following year an expedition organized under the captainship of Zarco and Vaz Teixeira, was shipped to this new land, and along with Captain Bartholomeu Perestrello, to take hold the island on behalf of the Portuguese crown. Afterwards, the new settlers informed him that to the west they always beheld a dark, suspended object, which they have never attempted to approach, that, from its dismal appearance, it was the haunt or the abode of demons and evil spirits, which, when investigating lead to finding the largest island of Madeira. The islands started to be settled about 1420 or 1425. September 23, 1433, the name Ilha da Madeira (Madeira Island or “wood island”) appears on a map, for the first time into a document. The three captain-majors brought, on the first trip, their respective families, a short bunch of people the gentry, people of humble conditions and some of former prisoners of the kingdom. To obtain minimum conditions for agricultural development, started a mammoth task of clearing land for farming purposes. The forest fire was the first step. In the early times, fish constitutes around half the settlers’ diet, along with fruits and vegetables. Deep ravines and rising peaks proved to be another significant obstacles faced by the courageous settlers.They started to build small terraces so called “poios” by building up stone walls to hold back the soil. Rocks were broken and taken to nearly inaccessible places, to build stone walls. Water was plentiful on the northern slopes, but at warmest south coast was parched. Those witty pioneers have decided to build a unique system irrigation channels called “levadas” that would take the water needed to grow the first sugarcane and vineyard. The job taken building continues through to the present day and the network is by now over 2000 kilometers long. The first local farming activity with some success was on planting wheat. First, colonists produced wheat for their own sustenance, but later on they begun exporting this wheat to Portugal. But in time, grain output began to drop, and in order to overcome this, Henry ordered the plantation of the sugar cane – uncommon in Europe and, so regarded as a spice – promoting, for this, the introduction of Sicilian beet as a first specialized factory and technology of agriculture. Sugarcane production became a major contributor to the economy of the island, and enhanced the demand for manpower. Genovese and Portuguese merchants were lured. Since the 17th century, the most important product of Madeira has been its wine, with sugar production having since changed to Brazil, Sao Tome and Principe, and other places. The Madeira Wine has been maybe the most popular luxury drink in the colonial Western Hemisphere during the 17th and 18th centuries. The heavy, sweet wine was a hit on the American colonies. Washington, Jefferson and Franklin supposedly toasted the signing of the Declaration of Independence with glasses of amber Madeira wine. When D.Jonh VI of Portugal died, his son Miguel of portugal usurped the trone from the rightful heir, his niece Maria II, and proclamed himself the ‘Absolute King, but Madeira standed up for the queen under the governor José Travassos Valdez, this lasted until Miguel decided to overwelme the island defence with a cushing force. Valdez had to flee to England under the protection of the Royal Navy (September 1828). A census taken in 1891 revealed the Madeiras population to be around 132,223 inhabitants, today the figure has doubled to 267,938. It is for sure a fact that for centuries, anyone with the wish to run away from the commotion of life as sought Madeira, mostly because there are a short number of destinations whit such wide variety of scenery, from stunning sea cliffs, peaks, alpine plateaus, verdant valleys to mountain terraces. Madeira is for sure a special place to be.