The Origin of Madeira Island

by | 7 Junho 2022 | Others

Madeira Island is certainly one of the most beautiful places in the Atlantic Ocean, a pride for Portugal and very well seen worldwide. But have you ever stopped to think about how this small point in the middle of the ocean came about and its colonizing origin? Come find out the origin of Madeira Island!

The Archipelago of Madeira has 7 islands in total,  Madeira, Porto Santo, Desertas and Selvagens. Of the 7, 4 are inhabited, 2 of which only have nature watchdogs to protect and preserve the ecosystem. The oldest ones, dated to 27 million years old, while the most recent ones are 3.6 million years old, but when compared to the age of planet earth.

However, if we make a dynamic geological analysis, the Madeira archipelago is located about 1600 km from the Atlantic Oceanic Riftle, ​​640 km from the African continental margin and 500 km from the Azores.

Madeira Island corresponds to the emerging part of a large 7-million-year-old shield-type volcanic edifice erected on an oceanic crust on the African plate with an approximate age of 115 million years.

To know the origin of Madeira Island we have to know that everything started. It all started with volcanic activity on the ocean floor, about 3400 m deep by stacking fissure-type eruptions along the main axis in an east-west direction.

The last eruption that has been recorded based on a study of the carbonic presence of the rock in Madeira, is approximately 6850 years old, and to this day some secondary effects are still present, such as the release of gases in some areas and terminal waters. Despite everything, the possibility of an eruption is very low but not zero.

Speaking a little of Porto Santo Island, it is practically twice as old as Madeira. It started its volcanic activities between 18M to 19M years ago and its emerging part started around 14M years ago.

Porto Santo has several rock formations such as dunes, sand, basalt, volcanic tuff, trachyte, and other different volcanic rocks. The last recorded eruption of Porto Santo will be between 9M to 8M years old, concluding that it is extinct.

The discovery of Madeira

Madeira Island before being colonized by the Portuguese, had already been referenced in some works and geographical maps.

But only in the 15th century, specifically at the time of the Portuguese discoveries in 1418, the island of Porto Santo was rediscovered by João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira due to a storm that occurred on the high seas, the vessel was removed from its usual route and diverted closer to the African coast and after many days on the high seas adrift they spotted a small island that saved them from the worst possible fate.

Only the following year on July 1, 1419, the same two accompanied by Bartolomeu Perestrelo arrived at the iconic Madeira Island. This island had a great strategic position as well as offering a strong economic potential due to the climate and fertile soil for agricultural exploitation.

The economic and population development of Madeira

Both Madeira and Porto Santo were donated by the Crown of Portugal to Infante D. Henrique. Approximately in 1425, the settlement of the 2 islands began, by an initiative by D.João I, king of that time, so at this stage it was intended to encourage the people as well as economic exploitation, so from 1440 it was established with the first captaincy in Machico given to Tristão Vaz Teixeira.

Then in 1446 Porto Santo received the captaincy of Bartolomeu Perestrelo and finally in 1450, João Gonçalves Zarco received the captaincy of Funchal.

To have the conditions for economic and agricultural growth and development, they had to cut down some part of the Laurissilva Forest to build the traditional water pipes, known as levadas, which brought water in abundance from the northern part to the scarce southern part.

In the early days, fish and agricultural products were the main source of food for the people who lived there. The first large plantations were wheat and sugar cane, which was sometimes exported to Portugal or even abroad.

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