Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Brief History of Madeira Island!

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"When the Infante Dom Henrique, better known in English as Prince Henry the Navigator, gathered together the finest cartographers and navigators of Portugal at the beginning of the 15th century, his plan was to extend the knowledge of the coast of West Africa. Armed only with square-rigged ships, compass, hourglass and astrolabe, the initial sea captains were severely handicapped in their endeavours. But in the course of their ventures, the finest hour of Portuguese maritime history, luck brought greater riches than the purities of science and logic.
Two young sea captains, João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira, were blown off course on their journey around the African coast and after many days at sea found land on a small island that they named Porto Santo - the very first of the many discoveries made by Henry's school of navigation. On reporting to Henry they were promptly ordered to return and colonize the island. The year was 1419. Seductive as are the charms of the golden sands of Porto Santo it seems somewhat incredible today that it took a further year before the next discovery was made. The captains had reported a dark mass of clouds visible on the southern horizon. They were now encouraged to explore this foreboding mass. As theories to whether the world was flat had yet to be completely disproved, it took an enormous leap of faith to cross the traverse. As they approached, the huge Atlantic rollers breaking along the north coast and the boiling turbulence of the cross currents at the Ponta de São Lourenço cannot have eased the concern of the superstitious sailors. But on rounding the headland they discovered the bay of Machico, the threshold to the heavily forested island that they named Madeira. Prince Henry immediately organized the colonization of the island, with the first families coming from the Algarve region of Portugal."~google search~

 ~A Timeline of the History of Madeira, By Jorge Barbosa~


Colonization begins. The first settlers set fire to the dense forest near the areas where conditions are ideal for the cultivation of sugar cane. Sugar, the white gold, transforms the island into a rapidly important economic unit for the Portuguese crown. Mostly noble families are entrusted to these ventures.


Christopher Columbus visits the archipelago to buy sugar. He marries Filipa Moniz, daughter of the first governor of Porto Santo Bartolomeu Perestrelo. He finds flotsam of various plants of foreign origin on the beach of Porto Santo to inculcate the theory of other lands or islands even further west from the archipelago. This way is hatched his plans for the future discovery of the Americas.


The archipelago undertakes its first census. There are more than 5000 inhabitants on the islands.


The city walls, to protect Funchal from Pirate attack, are completed.


Despite the protection of the city walls 1000 (one thousand) French corsairs attack Funchal. They assassinate the governor and plunder the mansions and churches dotted around the successful community. This marks the worst act of aggression ever perpetrated on the island.


Phillip II of Spain assumes the throne in Portugal and Madeira falls under Spanish rule.


The total population of Madeira is now calculated at 28,345 inhabitants. Of these, at least 3000 are slaves.


Under the leadership of King John IV, Portugal revolts the Spanish rule and recover independence from the Spanish crown. Madeira is Portuguese again.


Catherine of Bragana, daughter of King John IV, marries Charles II, the king of England. As part of the pre-nuptial agreement English trade and merchants are given privileged access to the Madeiran economy. Over time they gain strong control of the emerging and lucrative Madeira wine industry. Many choose to reside permanently in Madeira.


Slavery is abolished in Portugal.


In one of the worst natural disasters on the island, 600 inhabitants drown during some flash floods in Funchal. Preparations are made for the building of high walls on the banks of the three rivers that run down to the harbour in central Funchal.

1807 - 1813

British troops land on the island. Their purpose is to act as a defense against the encroaching and marching forces of Napoleon as his armies conquer most of Europe. Indeed, Madeira is briefly under the dominion of British rule and the Union Jack is hoisted over that of Portugal's flag when Napoleon takes control of the country. Madeira never sees a French soldier close to its shores.


In one of the worst health problems the island has ever suffered, more than 7000 inhabitants fall victim to cholera. At the same time, a devastating mildew destroys the vines across Madeira and economic hardship is rife. New varietals of grapes are planted and the introduction of the banana as an alternative cash crop is promoted.


Madeira starts enjoying the first inklings of what would become its mainstay for the insular economy: tourism. The island's new fortunes are a result of the increased and intense traffic of ships between cold northern Europe and the warmer tropical climates of the south by a new bourgeoisie class of Europe.


The emblematic and token hotel, The Reid's, opens its doors to the public. It caters specifically to a very wealthy and distinct upper class of clientele.


German submarines firing from the harbour of Funchal bombard the city on two separate occasions. The damage incurred is minimal.


Inhabitants on the island revolt against the stringent economic measures put in place by the government of Oliveira Salazar. They go on general strike. The government in Lisbon sends troops to the island to quell the rebellion. After the suppression, many Madeirans start to seek new lives abroad and begin a long tradition of emigration to many different parts of the world. Initially, these would include the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), the USA and Brazil. Later it is Venezuela, South Africa and France that collect the many departed.


Santa Catarina Airport (or Funchal Airport) is inaugurated. The first commercial flights are introduced and the island adapts to a new type of tourist.


On the 25th of April a bloodless revolution takes place and the dictatorial government is overthrown. A democratic regime is installed and Portugal starts to relinquish its colonial territories.


The archipelago of Madeira is accorded self-rule and is given autonomous status by the Portuguese government. Madeira has its own regional government, presidency and legislature. The military and judiciary remain under Portuguese auspices.


The entry of Portugal into the European Economic Community heralds a new phase of development for Madeira. Madeira is considered one of the poorest regions of the EEC and the islands are given incredible financial support for the development of infrastructure and the economy.

Today Madeira Island relies on tourism. It is famous for it's fine wines and is a glorious place to visit.
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