The history of Funchal

Thanks again to Peter who alerted me to an interesting section of the Official web site of Câmara Municipal do Funchal. I was aware of part of the below, which is really comprehensive, but I particularly like their choice of old pictures to accompany the text – all of which you can relate to in present-day Funchal.

The settlement of Madeira started in 1425. After its discovery in 1419, the island was divided into two captaincies, with Funchal being João Gonçalves Zarco, where settled with his family. The original small town, located "in a valley of beautiful natural grove, full of fennel to the sea," as described by the first chroniclers, quickly became the main population centre of the archipelago. The best port and mild climate combined with the excellent geographical position on the south coast – the most productive of the Island – Funchal quickly allowed a dominant urban development, rapidly overtaking the other island towns that began to gravitate around it.


Between 1452 and 1454, in the reign of Prince Henry, Funchal was given its first charter, which amounted to a town.From 1480 there came to be represented in city council city council of trades (around 24).

With the development of the second half of the fifteenth century, sugarcane plantations proliferated throughout the south coast, from Machico to Fajã da Ovelha, giving Funchal, thanks to its location, the most important dividends of this economic boom. Funchal then became a central point in the Portuguese trade routes then, which were transferred to large commercial interests in Europe. Here settled adventurers and traders of the most remote origins in search of better conditions of work and life, as was the case of Christopher Columbus of Génova, his friend João d’Esmenaut Picardy, Lomelino of Génova, the Acciauoli of Florence and the Bettencourt from France, among others.

In the late fifteenth century, D. Manuel, Duque de Beja, who seized control of the Order of Christ, encouraged the planning and structuring of the progressive and prosperous village. He sent up the Town Hall and Notaries in 1491 and built a new church which was later elevated to the Sé Cathedral in 1514, and about the same time, ordered the building of a new hospital and customs office for Funchal. In the early sixteenth century (1508) Funchal was elevated to city status a few years later the seat of the bishopric and later, after the creation of Diocese of Angra, Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Goa, the archbishop took resposibility for these subsidiary dioceses.


1570 – Map of Matthew Fernandes

The city has developed and expanded in new areas of Santa Maria, Caixeiros, Alfândega e Mercadores (see above). From that were born other perpendicular streets, bypassing the three streams that cross the broad valley and head for the hills. The first and foremost was the Rua Direita, born at the mouth of Ribeiras de João Gomes and Santa Luzia. This was followed by the Caminho do Palheiro the path connecting to Monte, the path connecting the Santa Luzia, and Calçada de Santa Clara and so on.


Alongside the main street riverside arose others, such as along the rocky, Rua da Praia, and between Ribeiras Santa Luzia and São João, the Rua da Carreira, "for horses that tend to run it", as the chronicler Gaspar noted.


In the seventeenth century with the rise of commercial treaties with England, “important” English merchants began to settle on the island and, little by little, eventually controlling the increasingly important wine trade island. This increase led to a new city, urban mansions, equipped with a main floor for housing, often articulated with balconies with bay windows, a walk through of services, a ground floor for storage rooms and cellars, and a tower, in addition to working as an emblem master, it was imperative to see the movement and control of the port arrivals and departures of ships coming to load the casks of Madeira wine.


From the late eighteenth century the city spilled over the hill, to Monte, with small manor houses, endowed with parks with exotic trees and lookouts on the roads, with the "houses of pleasure" leaving central Madeira townhouses for essentially commercial functions .


However, throughout the nineteenth century, Madeira and Funchal became “romantic myths” of Europe, with the passage by the Isle of figures such as Empress Sissi of Austria, Queen Adelaide of England, Empress of Brazil’s widow and her daughter Princess Maria Amelia, the future emperor of Mexico and his wife, Princess Charlotte of Belgium, and many other big names of European nobility. The gentle slope of Funchal became known as a therapeutic resort and the city was included, almost necessarily, in the “Grand Tour in the nascent international tourism”.

7The late nineteenth century and early twentieth century were marked by international maritime transport revolution and then air. Thus were created the new facilities of the port of Funchal, after the airport of Santa Catarina, with Funchal to become a centre of international tourism, with a major hotel complex.

Translated from the website of Câmara Municipal do Funchal

9 thoughts on “The history of Funchal”

  1. At Last! We are back….on line!
    Thanks to everyone for their concern and wishes – VERY appreciated.
    I will post relevant info later – suffice to say that we are fine, the scorched garden has green shoots and the guttering is being replaced … we were very fortunate compared to others, the community spirit has been overwhelming and the elec/water and phone companies have made supreme efforts to re connect us all,,,,,just got the phone lines sorted! Festa in the village this weekend – thinks it’s going to be big and noisy – well, I will be! Glad to be……..and I will be buying many beers for our neighbours who prevented our actual house from burning…..Thanks to all for EVERYTHING.

  2. Peter,
    The CEHA (Centro de Estudos de Historia do Atlantico) website has articles on the History of Madeira written in English. For example, the Digital Library section has the following articles:

    Madeira Island

    ■Vieira, Alberto: SUGAR ISLANDS: The Sugar Economy of Madeira and the Canaries, 1450–1650
    ■Vieira, Alberto: HISTORY OF MADEIRA, Brief Reference.
    ■Vieira, Alberto: COLUMBUS IN PORTUGAL – The Fascination of the Islands
    ■Vieira, Alberto: SUGARS ROUTE IN MADEIRA


    ■Vieira, Alberto: THE FORTUNE OF THE FORTUNATES,The islands and the Atlantic system.


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