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Geography and Landscape


Madeira is a Portuguese island in the Atlantic Ocean, and part of the archipelago of the same name. The archipelago also includes Porto Santo, the Ilhas Desertas ("deserted islands") and the Ilhas Selvagens ("wild islands").

Madeira Satellite ImagePhoto:Public domain

The total area of Madeira is 740 km2; the island is only 57 km long and 23 km wide and has a circumference of 151 km. Lisbon, the capital of motherland Portugal, is 900 km away, and it is 600 km to the coast of Morocco.

The most easterly island of the entire archipelago is Ilhéu de Fora.


The island is of volcanic origin and is characterized by steep basalt rocks. Madeira is part of a mighty mountain range that rises many thousands of meters above sea level. The islands of the archipelago are just the peaks of this massif and likely appeared above sea level about 20 million years ago as a result of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

From east to west, a mountain range runs across the island, split by two wild rivers: the Brava and the São Vicente. The Boca da Encumeada pass (1007 meters high) separates the west from the east geographically, with the Ponta de São Lourenço peninsula being the easternmost point of the island.

To the west of this gorge is a swampy table landscape, the Paúl da Serra ("swamp in the mountains": 17 km long and 6 km wide), which is on average 1,300 meters above sea level.

Summit of the Paul da Serra, MadeiraPhoto:Stephen Colebourne Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Genericno changes made

Most of the rivers originate in the Paúl da Serra, including the largest river, the Ribeira da Janela. The rivers in Madeira have a strong decline, up to 10%. Because of this and the composition of the volcanic soil, Madeira is characterized by deeply carved valleys. Due to the force of the water, very large basins resembling craters have also been carved out. The river Socorridos, for example, created the approx. 500 meters deep basin of Curral des Freiras.

Madeira does not have beautiful sandy beaches (Porto Santo does), if you want to swim in Madeira, you can do so in the swimming pools of the hotels. Only in the far east of Madeira, in the protected bay of Prainha, is a black sand beach; there are many pebble and rocky beaches. Madeira's most spectacular waterfalls are the two Risco waterfalls near Rabaçal. At the northern half of a plateau, the water plunges about 100 meters down.

The highest points are the Pico Ruivo de Santana (1861 m), Pico das Torres (1851 m), the Pico do Arieiro (1818 m), the Ruivo do Paúl (1640 m) and the Bica de Cana (1620 m). The 580 meter high Cabo Girão ("Cape of Return") is the second highest cliff in the world (say the Madeirans). One third of the island is more than 1000 meters high.

Porto Santo, Ilhas Desertas and Ilhas Selvagens

Porto Santo beach, MadeiraPhoto:Vitor Oliveira Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic no changes made

Porto Santo is the second largest island and, unlike Madeira, has an 8 km long uninterrupted golden sandy beach, the “Praia Dourada”. It was here where the Portuguese navigator João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Texeira in 1418 first dropped anchor and (re) discovered the Madeira archipelago.

Porto Santo is located almost 50 km northeast of Madeira and has the following dimensions: 11 km long, 6 km wide and 41 km2 in size. The strait between Madeira and Porto Santo is up to 2300 meters deep. The most important place is Vila Baleira (2500 inhabitants)

The highest mountain is Pico do Facho with 517 meters. Other "mountains" are Pico do Castelo (438m), Pico do Ataleia (447m), Pico Branco (450m) and Pico Juliana (440m).

Porto Santo has become the holiday island of the Madeirans, while foreign tourism is slowly taking off. Fishing, livestock farming and grain fields have all but disappeared, people are betting entirely on tourism. Since 1960, Porto Santo has been a NATO focal point, with a landing strip for large aircraft.

Ilhas Desertas, MadeiraPhoto:VillageHero Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic no changes made

The Ilhas Desertas, which are uninhabited due to the lack of fresh water, are located about 20 km southeast of Madeira. The flat archipelago consists of Ilhéu Chaõ, Deserta Grande and Bugio. The largest island is Deserta Grande, an elongated plateau of volcanic rock, 12 by 1 km and 470 meters high.

The Ilhas Selvagens are also uninhabited and consist of the islands of Selvagem Grande, Pitaõ Grande and Pitaõ Pequeno. This archipelago is closer to the Canary island of Tenerife (170 km), than to the capital Funchal (230 km).

Climate and Weather

Madeira has an even, mild and humid subtropical climate, with warm summers and mild winters. Average annual temperatures are between 16 and 22°C, with water temperatures between 16 and 20°C. Temperatures below 16°C are almost never seen, but even here temperatures can drop below freezing at night in winter, only on the highest peaks of course. In the summer, trade winds bring coolness and the rising winds create a cloud crown over the island that subdues the hot midday sun. Only when the African leste wind blows from the southeast, temperatures above 30 °C are measured. January and March are the coldest months, but even then it rarely gets colder than 14°C at night and the mercury rises above 18°C during the day.

Clouds around the Pico do Arieiro, MadeiraPhoto:Bjørn Christian Tørrissen CCAttribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

Despite the name "Island of Eternal Spring", it often rains in Madeira, especially from October to March. Even in summer, few days pass cloudless. In winter it can rain quite hard, but it never lasts very long. It is typical that it often rains at night, which is of course beneficial for tourists.

Most sunshine can be found on the south coast, and the humidity is not too bad here. In most other parts of Madeira, the average humidity is often above 80%. The north coast is much more volatile and humid than the south coast. Clouds usually drift from the north and then cling to the high mountain slopes.

Cloudless skies at the São Lourenço peninsula, MadeiraPhoto:Hannes Grobe Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic no changes made

The São Lourenço peninsula is probably the driest area in Madeira. There is little rain and often a fierce sea breeze blows over the strange rocky landscape.

The climate of Porto Santo is much drier and hotter than that of Madeira. Only about 350 mm of precipitation is measured per year.

Average rainfall, temperature, hours of sunshine and humidity in Funchal

raintemperaturehours of sunshine per dayhumidity
January100 mm18°C566%
February90 mm19°C665%
March70 mm20°C767%
April45 mm21°C765%
May25 mm22°C865%
June10 mm24°C968%
July2 mm25°C967%
August3 mm26°C967%
September25 mm25°C867%
October75 mm24°C766%
November105 mm22°C665%
December75 mm19°C567%

Plants and Landscape


Jacaranda in bloom in MadeiraPhoto:Hedwig Storch Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

Madeira has many nicknames, but most of them refer to the island's floral, plant and tree splendor: "Island of Flowers", "Island of Eternal Spring" and the "Floating Gardens of the Atlantic". There are 760 plant species on the island that belong to 112 plant families. However, about 20% of all the beauty in Madeira is indigenous (endemic).

The flowering period lasts all year round:

springsummerfall/winterall year
aloesnake rootlilyballoon plant
gorsechrysantvenus shoebougainvillea
camelliafrangipanipoinsettiaflamingo flower
orchidjacaranda mallow
passion flowerclivia hibiscus
trumpet flowermagnolia strelitzia
belladonna lily

Laurasilva de MadeiraPhoto:Luismiguelrodrigues CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

Madeira was very rich in tree species at the time of its discovery. Major fires and centuries of felling of trees for building materials and fuel have left few of the original forests in Madeira. Nevertheless, in the north there are still some original laurel forests to be seen and in the mountains the mighty tree heather ("urze"). The four main laurel varieties are the "vinhático", the "til", the "loureiro" and the "barbusano". Madeira's "laurasilva" (laurel forest) was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999. One fifth of the island is still covered with forests, but 90% of it consists of exotic species.

Tree heather hedges are often used to protect crops from the northerly winds. Another very old tree, the "pau branco", an olive tree, still grows in the inhospitable gorges to the north.

Many tree species have also been introduced, including chestnuts, mimosas, pine, Douglas fir, cypress, Japanese cedar, Indian fir and eucalyptus.

Forests start in Madeira above 600 meters, even higher, above 1200 meters, the vegetation consists mainly of heather, ferns and blueberries. The arid soil of the northeastern Ponta de São Lourenço has a different vegetation than the rest of the island. Milk thistle, Mexican poppy and cardoon, also a species of thistle, grow here. A striking feature is the "tuna", a cactus species, introduced from Central America in 1826.

67 fern species thrive in Madeira, 12 of which are endemic. Some levadas are overgrown with snakewort. One of these is the Pride of Madeira, an endemic variety with beautiful blue-violet flowers.

Hibiscus MadeiraPhoto:muffinn Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

Not yet mentioned are: wine red African daisies, ice herb, geraniums, fire sage, willows, watsonias, gladiolus, Easter lilies, hibiscus, begonias, swan flowers, honeysuckle, and white and blue agapanthuses. The beautiful blue agapanthus grows like weeds along almost all streets and roads in Madeira.


Levada MadeiraPhoto:Mhwater Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

For this growth and flowering explosion of all these beautiful flowers and plants, narrow channels carved out in the mountains lead the rainwater to places where it hardly rains. Here, the water is distributed by a "levadeiro", which distributes the water to the different landowners and maintains its part of the canal. These unique irrigation channels, called "levadas", reach all corners of the island and are mostly dug by hand. The levadas are fed by springs and reservoirs, gigantic basins high in the mountains. The system is thousands of kilometers long in total. Without the channels - the smallest are no wider than 20 centimeters - the south side of the island would look withered in the summer.

The construction of the system started around the year 1500, and its construction was a gigantic and dangerous job. Some canals have been carved into sheer cliffs, hanging on ropes by workers. Narrow walkways have been created next to the levadas, which are used for maintenance work. Over the years, the levadas have acquired a second function as a domain for hikers, who should not have a fear of heights!


Goat MadeiraPhoto:muffinn Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic no changes made

Large wild animals are rare in Madeira. Wild goats, hedgehogs, partridges, quail and rabbits are noteworthy. The only reptiles are the very small lagartixa lizards, a type of wall lizard. There are also about a thousand insect species and two hundred bird species, including the green canary, from which our house canary descends. In addition, Madeira also includes: buzzard, falcon, firecrest and chaffinch. Bats are among the oldest indigenous inhabitants of Madeira.

Espada and Bacalhau are popular fish on MadeiraPhoto:Allie_Caulfield Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic no changes made

Kabeljauw of ‘bacalhau’ is het Portugese volksvoedsel bij uitstek, en ook tonijn wordt veel door de bevolking gegeten. De beroemdste vis op Madeira is de ‘espada’, de zwarte degenvis, die alleen in de diepzee bij Madeira en Japan gevangen wordt. Rond de Madeira-archipel wordt verder gevangen: zwaardvis, marlijn, haai, makreel, sardine, papegaaivis, brasem, baars, barbeel en de witte degenvis. Wat schaaldieren betreft is de napjesslak ‘lapa’ een specialiteit op de menu’s. In de rivier Ribeiro Frio worden verder nog forellen gekweekt. Voor de oostkust strekt zich Madeira’s eerste beschermde onderwater-natuurgebied, de ‘Reserva Natural de Garajau’ uit.

Small Madeiran Shearwater MadeiraPhoto: Hobbyfotowiki in the public domain

Deserta Grande, one of the islands of the Ilhas Desertas, is home to a rare, highly venomous black wolf spider. In 1990 the island was declared a nature reserve, and from an observatory a number of biologists are trying to preserve the flora and fauna of the island, in particular the colony of monk seals on the island. Among the many bird species are the Kuhls Shearwater, the Arctic Shearwater, the Small Madeirenzer Shearwater or Bulwer and the Downy Madeiran Petrel.


Prehistory and Antiquity

Ancient volcanic rock, MadeiraPhoto:Joan Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

Volcanic eruptions from the Atlantic seafloor created many layers of lava that eventually reached the sea surface and created the Madeira Archipelago. All this happened from about 20 million years ago. Approx. 1.7 million years ago, the volcanic eruptions came to an end and seeds washed ashore and brought by birds provided the first plant growth. Madeira would eventually be covered with extensive old-growth forests.

From about 2000 years ago, Phoenician, Roman and North African sailors reached the uninhabited Madeira. This uninhabited status was maintained at least until the 15th century.

Due to the total lack of traces, it is believed that Madeira (Portuguese for wood) never had a primal human population.

The Portuguese take possession of Madeira

Statue of João Gonçalves Zarco in Funchal, MadeiraPhoto:Vitor Oliveira Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic no changes made

In 1351 Madeira (“Isola di Legname”, wood island) first appeared on a Florentine nautical chart, on the “Parte dell” Africa tratta dalla CartaV. del Portulano. It is still a mystery who can be noted as the real discoverer of Madeira.

From 1418 to 1420, the explorer João Gonçalves Zarco, together with two companions, Tristão Vaz Teixeira and Bartolomeu Perestrelo, set up the first Portuguese bases for the Portuguese crown on Porto Santo and Madeira. The island was called Ilha da Madeira, "Wood Island". Zarco had been expelled for this purpose by Henry the Navigator, making Madeira one of the first territories to be claimed for the Portuguese crown during the reign of João I.

The first settlements, built in 1425, were funded by João I and later by his son Prince Henry. Madeira was divided into two districts or "doaçães": Machico in the north under the administration of Teixeira, Funchal in the south under the administration of Zarco; the island of Porto Santo came under Perestrelo administration.

The subsequent colonization of Madeira was rapid and the digging of irrigation canals or "levadas" enabled agriculture, particularly sugar cane, also known as the white gold. However, this was at the expense of the forests on the island; by 1433 most of Madeira had already been deforested. In 1440 the eastern part of Madeira with Machico as its capital came under the authority of Tristão Vaz Teixeira. The nearby island of Porto Santo was loaned to Bartolomeu Perestrelo in 1446 and Gonçalves Zarco became governor of the western part of Madeira in 1460 with Funchal as its capital. The later discoverer of America, Christopher Columbus, was one of the new inhabitants of the island.

Madeira is developing; Funchal becomes the capital

Manuel I of PortugalPhoto:Public domain

Madeira quickly grew into a bridgehead for the expansion of the Portuguese kingdom into a global colonial power. By the mid-15th century, Madeira had become one of the main sugar suppliers in Europe; the first sugar cane cuttings were already introduced in 1425. From 1452, the first slaves were imported, who worked the land, built terraces for agriculture and dug irrigation canals.

In 1497, King Manuel I integrated Madeira into the kingdom of Portugal, and appointed Funchal (city charter since 1508) as the sole capital of the archipelago and the descendants of Gonçalves Zarco became governor. At that time Madeira had about 5000 inhabitants and a very heterogeneous population with Portuguese, Dutch, Italians, Spaniards, Moors, Jews expelled from Spain, generally all adventurers and merchants. All settlements in the early days were on the sunny south coast; the colder, steeper and wetter north was not colonized until the 17th century. Due to the highly hilly landscape, interconnections were made by sea, resulting in the development of the ports of Machico, Funchal, Santa Cruz and Ponta do Sol.

Spaniards and English

Map of Madeira from the 17th centuryPhoto:Public domain

In 1516, Pope Leo X appointed Funchal as bishop's see and the Sé Cathedral was consecrated. Due to fierce competition from America, sugar cane exports are slowly but surely declining.

In 1580 Portugal lost its independence and became part of Spain, making Philip II the ruler of the Madeira archipelago. However, this period lasted only relatively short, because as early as 1640, Portugal, under King João, regained its independence after a revolt against the authority of Spain. Around that time Madeira had about 30,000 souls, including several thousand slaves.

The English, as an important trading nation, have also had a major influence on the development of Madeira. They did early business with the island's inhabitants, including James Cook, who bought wine for his crew in 1768. Rich English families came to Madeira to stimulate the export of wine, and in the mid-nineteenth century, many Englishmen traveled to Madeira, especially in winter. Tourism thus quickly became the main source of income and in 1891 the famous Hotel Reid's was opened as a winter retreat for the rich and noble from all over Europe. Before that, Madeira had been occupied by the English for seven years.

From 1801, English troops made Madeira their base in the Atlantic Ocean in the fight against Napoleon and the French. From 1807, British soldiers were stationed on the island for seven years, and after that time many Englishmen continued to live on the archipelago. From 1852 to 1872, viticulture was in crisis due to a number of diseases, which destroyed entire crops. This resulted in a large flow of emigration, especially to Venezuela and Australia. A cholera epidemic broke out among the population, resulting in approximately 7,000 victims.

Self-government and tourism development

Madeira tourist attractionPhoto:Bengt Nyman Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic no changes made

In 1902 Madeira gained self-government and after the monarchy fell in 1910 it became part of the republic of Portugal.

Madeira was also briefly involved in the First World War when German submarines bombed Funchal twice. In 1931, a general strike against the rule of the Portuguese dictator Salazar follows. From the Portuguese capital Lisbon, troops were deployed to quell the strike.

Due to the construction of airports, Madeira (Porto Santo, 1960 and Madeira, 1964) only became one of the most popular holiday destinations in the 1960s. In 1947 a regular service was set up from England to Madeira.

In 1976 the Carnation Revolution ended 50 years of Salazar dictatorship and democracy was introduced in Madeira. Madeira was then given the status of an autonomous region with its own parliament and its own president.

In 1993 the European Union supported Madeira with, among other things, agricultural subsidies.

See also the history of Portugal on Landenweb.


Dancing girl from MadeiraPhoto:knoxkiller Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic no changes made

Madeira and Porto Santo together have approximately 280,000 inhabitants (2017); the interior is virtually uninhabited and in fact 90% of the population lives on the narrow coastal strip along the south coast. Every year about 500,000 tourists come to the archipelago. Much of Madeira's population lives in the capital, Funchal, which is by far the largest city on the island with 100,000 inhabitants. The population density of Madeira is approximately 370 inhabitants per km2.

Until the 1970s, the flow of emigrants grew dramatically. The favorites were Venezuela and South Africa, where about 100,000 Madeirans now live.


Language card PortuguesePhoto:Public domain

The official language in Madeira is of course Portuguese. Portuguese is a Romance language, closely related to Spanish. However, the pronunciation is very different. Portuguese has a unique sound and is immediately recognizable. Anyone who has ever listened to Fado music will recognize both the raw and melancholic of this language. Portuguese is a global language and is spoken by more than 160 million people.

Portuguese spoken in Madeira is laced with South American words due to its close contact with Brazil. Returned Madeirese emigrants from Venezuela contribute to a Spanish accent. The British presence on the island is also reflected in the language.

The letter s and z are pronounced softly like sj, as in "carros" (carrosj = cars) and "faz favor" (fasj favor = please).

So-called double sounds are indicated by a tilde above the letters a and o, as in limão (= lemon).

Some words and phrases:



The former national church of Portugal is the Roman Catholic Church. About 80% of the population claims to be Catholic, although mass participation has been declining in recent years. There are three archdioceses namely Braga, Évora and Lisbon, with eight, two and eight dioceses respectively. Lisbon has been the seat of a patriarch since 1716, who has also been a cardinal since 1736.

Fatima, a Catholic pilgrimage site in PortugalPhoto:Güldem Üstün Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic no changes made

Portugal has a tradition of Marian worship, the most famous religious cult in Portugal is the alleged apparition of the Virgin Mary to three children in Cova da Iria, in the village of Fátima, in 1917. The apparition of the Heavenly Mother in this small village in the district Santarém has led hundreds of thousands of pilgrims to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Fátima each year, many in the hope of a cure from ailments.

The Protestant churches have about 50,000 members. There are also smaller groups of Muslims, Hindus (from the former Goa colony) and Jews.


Sé Cathedral in Funchal, MadeiraPhoto:Vitor Oliveira Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic no changes made

Construction of the Sé Cathedral (derived from the Latin "sedes", meaning episcopal see) in Funchal started in 1493 and was consecrated in 1516. The cathedral, built mainly in Gothic and Manueline style, has the shape of a cross, with a nave and two aisles. The ceiling is made in the style of the Mudeyears, expelled Muslims from Spain who converted to the Christian faith. The carving is ivory, inlaid in dark native cedar wood.

Built in 1533, the dazzling white church of São Salvador is one of the finest Manueline buildings on the island.

The Church of São Bento in Ribeira Brava was completely rebuilt in the 16th century. In addition to the beautiful blue and white tiles ("azujelos") on the pyramid-shaped spire and inside the church, there are also precious artifacts in Manuel style, including a beautiful baptismal font. The square in front of the church is covered with a geometric pattern of river pebbles.

Church of Sao Bete, MadeiraPhoto:Joãofcf Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

The Church of Monte (1747), the "Nosse Senhora do Monte" contains the tomb of Emperor Charles I of Austria, one of the first "tourists" in Madeira, at the time when Madeira was a well-known spa for tuberculosis patients. The church also houses the statue of "Nossa Senhora do Monte", the island's patron saint. This 15th-century statue of the Blessed Virgin has been an object of veneration and the purpose of pilgrimages for hundreds of years. Devout believers descend the 74 steps on their knees.

The "Capelo do Senhor dos Milagres" in Machico is the chapel built in 1425 by the discoverer of Madeira, Zarco. Only the cross on the facade and the pointed arch portal of the original chapel have been preserved.

Capelo dos Reis Magos Estreito da Calheta, MadeiraPhoto:PESP/Wikimedia CCAttribution-Share Alike 4.0 International no changes made

The "Capelo dos Reis Magos" (Epiphany Chapel) in Estreito da Calheta is one of the few Manueline buildings in Madeira that is still in its original state. Special is the Antwerp (?) Wood carving of the three-part altarpiece.

Religious festivals

"Festas" are often held in honor of a patron saint and so the church and procession are other essential elements of such a celebration. Since Madeira has many dozens of patron saints, there is almost always something to be celebrated somewhere on the island, usually on Sundays.

January 15: "Dia de Varrer os Armários", the feast of St. Armaro, the patron saint of livestock.

Santo Amaro, MadeiraPhoto:Arquidiocese de Braga CC Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International no changes made

May / June: "Espírito Santo", Pentecost, including a beautiful procession in Camacha.

May 13: "Nossa Senhora de Fátima", Saint Fatima Day in Funchal.

August 14/15: "Nossa Senhora do Monte", the festival in honor of Madeira's patron saints.

Last Sunday in August: "Festa do Senhor", the feast of the Lord in Camacha with great fires.

First Sunday of September: Ponte Delgada then hosts one of the oldest and largest festivals in Madeira. A wooden crucifix is being honored that - according to legend - was said to have been washed up in a wooden box at the time the village was founded.

Politics and governance

Government of Madeira meeting roomPhoto:PESP/Wikimedia CC Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International no changes made

During the revolution of 1974, large groups of the Madeiran population strived for full independence, including the FLAMA independence movement. Ultimately, the island's politically active residents saw that it would be an impossible task. It would be better if Madeira remained an autonomous region of Portugal.

Madeira is now largely in control of its own house, and can decide for itself where taxes and customs duties are spent. Only for defense and foreign policy is one of course still subordinate to motherland Portugal.

All the islands of the archipelago belong to the Região Autónoma da Madeira. The island government consists of fifty representatives and has its seat in the capital Funchal, and sets out policy. Day-to-day business is handled by an executive committee made up of the president, vice president and six secretaries.

The various municipal councils are responsible for most local affairs. Five members of the Island Parliament are delegated to the Portuguese Parliament on behalf of Madeira.


University of Madeira, FunchalPhoto:Jos van Leeuwen Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

Education is compulsory for all Madeirese children up to the age of fourteen. In practice, children from the poorer population groups do not always attend school regularly. The number of illiterate people is therefore relatively high. Still, many children graduate from high school.

Due to a lack of vocational training, the University of Funchal and the one on the mainland are well attended by Madeira students.

Typically Madeira


Azulejo on a facade in Funchal, MadeiraPhoto:Dietrich Bartel Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic no changes made

Azulejos are story-telling painted tiles. When joined together, a number of tiles form the entire motif. These tile pictures are usually in white and blue and in Madeira they decorate benches, fountains, churches and public buildings.

The art of making and painting tiles came from Rome and Byzantium.


Barrels of Madeira WinePhoto:Paul Mannix Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic no changes made

Wine is grown all over Madeira, but the finest Madeira comes from grapes that grow around Estreito. The vines were imported from Cyprus, Crete and Italy as early as 1425. To get a better taste, the wines are stored in heated rooms.

There are now four main types of Madeira: the dry "sercial", the semi-dry "verdelho", and two dessert wines, the semi-sweet "boal" and the sweet "malvasia".

A really good Madeira must have been matured for more than 25 years.


Tobaggan, MadeiraPhoto:Mike McBey Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic no changes made

The Madeiran toboggan was invented in 1850. Before that time, transport with oxen or horse-drawn sleds was common.

A toboggan is a wicker basket on wooden glides with which everything can be transported. At the moment the toboggan is actually only used in Monte, and then only for transporting the tourists.



Bananas are Madeira's main agricultural productPhoto:unukorno Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic no changes made

Along the coast, where agriculture is an important source of livelihood, viticulture plays an important role; furthermore the cultivation of sugar cane, potatoes, grain, vegetables and fruit (including bananas) and dairy farming. Bananas are an important crop on the island for the economy, although all bananas are exported to the motherland, Portugal. In total Madeira exports more than 600,000 kg of bananas every year. The Ribeira Sêca valley, north of Machico, produces an abundance of products; it is one of the richest agricultural areas in Madeira. The land is worked by hand by most of the inhabitants of Madeira because of the terrace construction.

Harbor and Fisheries

Fishing boats MadeiraPhoto:H Zell Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

Funchal's deep natural harbor can accommodate both container and passenger ships. Besides Funchal there are several (smaller) fishing ports. The small fishing fleet is no longer important to the economy. They do, however, provide the supply of fish for the many restaurants and hotels.

Foreign Money

Emigrants bring euros to MadeiraPhoto:Octubre Rojo Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

Another source of income is the foreign exchange of emigrants, Madeirans who have sought their luck in countries such as Venezuela, England, South Africa and Australia. They still send money to their families, and that money is an important part of Madeira's invisible economy.

Energy supply

Wind turbine, MadeiraPhoto:muffinn Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic no changes made

For the energy supply, there are four hydroelectric power stations north of Calheta. However, water reserves are steadily shrinking, and only 20% of the energy required is generated by hydropower. So more and more petroleum has to be imported to meet the energy demand.

An attempt is now being made to generate energy from wind power. On the plateau of the Paúl da Serra there is already a forest of wind turbines that provide electricity in the villages on the coast.

Holidays and Sightseeing

Wicker baskets MadeiraPhoto:muffinn Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic no changes made

The climate and natural beauty have made the island a major tourist attraction. Madeira attracts around 500,000 tourists every year. Crafts, embroidery and reed plaiting are also benefiting from tourism. Embroidery was brought to Madeira from England in the 19th century by Elizabeth Phelps. At the moment about 20,000 people work in this cottage industry. Wicker weaving is also an important home industry, employing approx. 2500 people.

Levada MadeiraPhoto:Sebastian from the EU Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) no changes made

Levadas are aqueducts that run through the Madeiran countryside. They were originally built to move water from the west and northwest of the island to the drier southeast. The terrain itself is very mountainous, and the aqueducts are now used no longer just for running water, but mainly as hiking trails. You'll find about 1,350 miles of Levadas to hike along.

Jardim Botanico da MadeiraPhoto:H Zell Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

Funchal is the capital and main city of Madeira. It is also the largest city with as many as 150,000 inhabitants. Funchal's location is unique due to its geological features and its amphitheater shape. This natural landscaping provides protection from the weather and potential threats. It is a very modern city, with all the amenities a tourist could wish for. The Jardim Botanico da Madeira is one of Madeira's most sought after tourist attractions. The gardens themselves can be found in the Funchal Amphitheater and run up and down steep slopes, often providing breathtaking views. The gardens cover more than 80,000 square meters.

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Catling, C. / Madeira

Lipps, S. / Madeira

APA Publications

Schetar, D. / Madeira
Het Spectrum

Stiller, R. / Madeira
Van Reemst

Underwood, J. / Het Madeira-boek
Sunflower Books

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated October 2021
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