Discovery of the Archipelago of Madeira

The explorers discovered the island of Porto Santo in 1418 after a sea storm, where the vessel was cleared of its route along the coast of Africa, due to bad weather. After many days adrift at sea, a small island which they called “Porto Seguro, Porto Santo” (“Safe Port, Holy Port” in English), was spotted and saved Zarco’s crew from a disastrous destiny.

A year after the discovery of Porto Santo they arrive on Madeira Island in 1419. Its name is believed to have been assigned by Zarco, who dubbed the island of ‘Madeira’ (“wood” in English) due to the abundance of this raw material.

Around 1425, King João I ordered the colonization of the islands. From 1440 on, the regime of captaincy is established and Tristão Vaz Teixeira was nominated as captain-donee of the Captaincy of Machico; six years later, Bartolomeu Perestrelo becomes captain-donee of Porto Santo, and in 1450, Zarco was appointed captain-donee of Funchal.

The first settlers were the three captain-donees and their respective families, a small group of members of the gentry, people of modest conditions and some former inmates of the Kingdom.

To have minimum conditions for the development of agriculture on the island they had to chop down part of the dense forest and build a large number of water channels, called “levadas”, to carry the abundant waters on the north coast to the south coast of the island.

In the early times, fish and vegetables were the settlers’ main means of subsistence.
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