Madeira Islands

For other uses of the word, see Madeira (disambiguation)

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Flag of Madeira
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Madeira Islands location.
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View from Pico do Arieiro, the third-highest peak on Madeira
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The northern coast of Madeira in Santana
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Map of Madeira (navigational)

The Madeira Islands is a Portuguese archipelago in the north Atlantic Ocean that lies between the parallels of 32 22' 20'' and 33 7' 50'' and in a longitude between the 16 16' 30 W and 17 16' 39'' W. The Madeira Islands consist of two inhabited islands named Madeira and Porto Santo, three uninhabited small islands collectively called the Desertas, and a smaller group of three uninhabited islands called the Selvagens closer to Spain's Canary islands than to Madeira itself. Discovered and settled by Portugal in 1418, it is currently an autonomous region.


Islands and main Islets

Geography and climate

Funchal, the "capital" of Madeira Island, is on the south coast of the principal island, in 32 37' 45 N lat. 16 55' 20 W long. Among Madeira's main cities are: Funchal, Porto Santo also known as Vila Baleira, Machico, Cmara de Lobos, Santa Cruz and Santana.

The archipelago lies about 360 miles from the coast of Africa, 535 miles from Lisbon, 240 from Tenerife, and 480 from Santa Maria, the nearest of the Azores.

Madeira is the largest island of the group with 741 km ², has a length of 30 geographical miles (57 km), an extreme breadth of 13 miles (22 km), and a coastline of 80 or 90 miles. Its longer axis lies east and west, in which direction it is traversed by a mountain chain, the backbone of the island, having a mean altitude of 4000 feet, up to which many deep ravines penetrate from both coasts.

On the south there is very little left of the indigenous laurisilva forest which once clothed the whole island (until the original settlers decided to clear the land for farming by setting most of the island on fire) and gave it the name it bears (Madeira means "wood" in Portuguese), but on the north some of the valleys still contain native trees of fine growth. These laurisilva forests, notably the forests on the northern slopes of Madeira Island, are designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

A long narrow and comparatively low rocky promontory forms the eastern extremity of the island, and here there is to be seen a tract of calcareous sand, known as the Fossil Bed, containg land shells and numerous bodies resembling the roots of trees, probably produced by infiltration.

Its geographical position and mountainous landscape permit a very pleasing climate. Temperatures are about 22 degrees Celsius in the summer and circa 16 degrees Celsius during the winter. With its mild humidity, the weather of the Island is classified has subtropical. Influenced by the Gulf Stream, sea water temperature is 22 degrees Celsius during the summer and 16 in the winter. The islands are of volcanic origin.

Culture and people

The islands are noted as the source of Madeira wine. The islands are also known by the flowers and sub-tropical fruits.

There are circa 250,000 inhabitants (1991) in the two main islands, only 4,800 live on Porto Santo Island. The population density is 337 inhabitants per square kilometre in Madeira and 112 in Porto Santo. Most of the early settlers were from the Portuguese regions of the Algarve and Minho. The islands have historical monuments, streets and plazas (praas) with many gardens and typical small towns.


It has been conjectured, but on insufficient evidence, that the Phoenecians discovered Madeira at a very early period. Pliny mentions certain Purple or Mauretanian Islands, the position of which with reference to the Fortunate Islands or Canaries might seem to indicate Madeira islands. There is a romantic story, of doubtful truth, to the effect that two lovers, Robert Machim and Anna d'Arfet, fleeing from England to France in 1346, were driven off their course by a violent storm, and cast on the coast of Madeira at the place subsequently named Machico, in memory of one of them. On the evidence of a portulano dated 1351, preserved at Florence, Italy, it would appear that Madeira had been discovered long previous to that date by Portuguese vessels under Genoese captains. In 1419 two of the captains of Prince Henry the Navigator, Joo Gonalves Zarco and Tristo Vaz Teixeira, were driven by a storm to the island called by them Porto Santo, or Holy Port, in gratitude for their rescue from shipwreck. The next year an expedition was sent to populate the island, and, Madeira being described, they made for it, and took possession on behalf of the Portuguese crown.

The islands started to be settled circa 1432 or 1433. In September 23, 1433, the name ILHA DA MADEIRA (Madeira Island or "island of the forest") appears in a map, by the first time, in a document.

In 1921, the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Charles I was deported to Madeira, after an unsuccessful coup d'tat. He died there one year later.

In 1976, after the democratic revolution of 1974, Portugal granted autonomy to Madeira.

Postage stamps

In 1868, Portugal issued postage stamps for Madeira, consisting of the current stamps of Portugal overprinted "MADEIRA". This continued until 1928, when a series for Madeira was issued; but this was the last to be produced until 1980 (stamps of Portugal having been valid in Madeira since 1898), when Portugal began issuing stamps inscribed "Portugal Madeira" that were valid in both Madeira and Continental Portugal, similar to those issued for the Azores.


The Islands have two airports, one in Santa Cruz on the Island of Madeira and the other in the city of Vila Baleira on Porto Santo Island. Flights to the islands are mostly made from Lisbon, but there are also direct flights from other major European cities. European Union citizens of the Schengen Treaty area can enter the islands freely, while those from other regions need identification. Transportation between the two main islands is done by plane or by ferries which allow for the transportation of vehicles. Visiting the interior of these islands is now very easy, due to large developments on the islands during Portugal's economic boom. There are modern roads, reaching all points of interest on the islands, there's also a good transportation network.

See also

External link


ca:Madeira de:Madeira et:Madeira es:Madeira eo:Madejro fr:Madre id:Madeira nl:Madeira ja:マデイラ諸島 no:Madeira pl:Madera pt:Madeira (Portugal) fi:Madeira sv:Madeira zh:馬德拉


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