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The Madeira Islands is a Portuguese
autonomous archipelago in the north Atlantic
Ocean that lies between 32°22.3′N 16°16.5′W and
The Madeira Islands, known originally to the
Romans as the Purple Islands, were rediscovered
(accidentally) by Portuguese sailors and settled
by Portugal in 1418. It is currently an
Positioned in the Atlantic Ocean, about 360
miles directly west of Morocco, Africa, and 540
miles southwest of Lisbon, Portugal. Madeira and
Porto Santo are the only inhabited islands.
These islands are a popular year-round resort,
famed worldwide for their Madeira wine,
embroidery artisans, New Years' Eve celebrations
with a spectacular fireworks show, a perfect
climate, striking scenery and beautiful flowers.
Madeira's almost five-century-old capital is
said to have been named 'Funchal' because of the
abundance of fennel (funcho) that was growing
Funchal is located in a unique area. The
amphitheatre of Funchal city begins at the
harbour and rises almost 1200 metres high on
gentle slopes. This provides a natural shelter
and was what once attracted the first settlers.
The harbour and climate combined with an
excellent geographical position allowed Funchal
to have a rapid population growth.
Today Funchal is a very modern city with over
104,000 inhabitants. This does however mean that
traffic congestion in the centre can become
sometimes quite stressful. The city can easily
be explored by foot and no matter where your
hotel is located (as long as it is in the
Funchal tourist area) you will find no
difficulty in walking into the city centre to
delight at its sights and sounds.
Probably the most central point is the Sé
Cathedral. Built between 1493 and 1514 by Gil
Eanes it represents one of Madeira's numerous
Geography and climate
Funchal, the capital of Madeira Island, is on
the south coast of the principal island, in
32°37.75′N 16°55.3′W. Among Madeira's main
cities are: Funchal, Porto Santo also known as
Vila Baleira, Ribeira Brava, Machico, Câmara de
Lobos, Santa Cruz, and Calheta.
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 Island is the largest island of the
group with 741 km², 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 (1220 metres), 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,
containing land shells and numerous bodies
resembling the roots of trees, probably produced
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 as 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
Southwestern Europe, bordering the
North Atlantic Ocean, west of Spain
Following its heyday as a world power
during the 15th and 16th centuries, Portugal lost
much of its wealth and status with the destruction
of Lisbon in a 1755 earthquake, occupation during
the Napoleonic Wars, and the independence in 1822 of
Brazil as a colony. A 1910 revolution deposed the
monarchy; for most of the next six decades,
repressive governments ran the country. In 1974, a
left-wing military coup installed broad democratic
reforms. The following year, Portugal granted
independence to all of its African colonies.
Portugal entered the EC (now the EU) in 1986.
euros per US dollar - 1.06 (2002),
1.12 (2001), 1.09 (2000), 0.94 (1999)