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Madeira Geography

Globe Open Map The Madeira archipelago is located about 360 miles west of Morocco (in northwest Africa) in the Atlantic Ocean (Madeira Islands, 2004).  It is about 535 miles from Lisbon.  The archipelago is comprised of Madeira and Porto Santo, as well as the Desertas and the Selvagens island groups, which are deserted.  The total land area is 308 square miles with an estimated population of 255,403 people (UK Trade & Investment, 2005).

Madeira, the largest island, is home to Funchal, the capital city (UK Trade & Investment, 2005).  Madeira is also known as Pérola do Atlântico (Atlantic Pearl).  Before his famous trip to the New World, Christopher Columbus lived on Porto Santo where he started a family.  He was married to Felipa Moniz Perestelo, the daughter of Porto Santo’s Governor, Bartolomeu Perestrelo, a sea explorer and one of the discoverers of Madeira. The Columbus estate has become the Christopher Columbus Museum of Porto Santo (Maderia-island.com, n.d.).


Madeira has a tropical climate mainly characterized by its very mild summers and winters. Temperatures range from 22° C (76° F) in the summer to 16° C (61° F) in the winter (Madeira, n.d.).


In 1418, João Gonçalves, Tristão Zarco and Vaz Teixeira discovered the uninhabited island of Porto Santo accidentally while exploring the coast of West Africa for Prince Henry the Navigator (Madeira-web, n.d.a). The story goes that a storm blew them into the port, and hence, they named it the “Holy Port” or Porto Santo.  Prince Henry immediately sent Bartolomeu Perestrelo, a very knowledgeable cartographer and navigator, to settle the island. Christopher Columbus married Perestrelo’s daughter and lived in Porto Santo for a short while (Madeira-island, n.d.).

Within a year, Zarco and Teixeira discovered another uninhabited island, which they named Madeira. Prince Henry set forth to settle this island with people from the Algarve region of Portugal (Madeira-web, n.d.b). This island, along with Porto Santo and the uninhabited Desertas and Selvagens (clusters of tiny islands), became known as the Madeira archipelago (Madeira-web, n.d.c).  These discoveries became the first of many as the Portuguese went on to reach the East Indies.

On the island of Porto Santo, grape and grain farming became important as well as cattle breeding (Madeira-web, n.d.a).  Madeira became known for grain and sugar cultivation. Later, the islands became a tourist destination and remain so today (Guia Madeira, n.d.).

Political Organization

Flag of MadeiraIn 1976, Madeira became an Autonomous Region of Portugal with a government lead by an elected President and a legislative branch known as a Regional Assembly (Madeira Islands, 2004).  The respective Presidents and the members of the Regional Assemblies are elected by popular vote.  The Portuguese government appoints a Minister of the Republic to represent the central government in the Autonomous Regions (Symington, 2000).


Madeira, also an important tourism destination, produces wine, flowers and embroideries for export (Madeira, n.d.).

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