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Madeira islands

Madeira, a group of Portuguese islands in the north Atlantic Ocean, consists of two inhabited islands named Madeira and Porto Santo, three uninhabited small islands named collectively the Desertas, and another two uninhabited islands named the Selvagens.

It is a Portuguese autonomous region.

Funchal, the main city of Madeira, is on the south coast of the principal island, in

32° 37' 45'' N lat. 16° 55' 20'' W long.

It is about 360 miles from the coast of Africa, 535 miles from Lisbon, 240 from Tenerife, and 480 from Santa Maria, the nearest of the Azores.

Madeira, the largest island of the group, has a length of 30 geographical miles, an extreme breadth of 13 miles, and a coastline of 80 or 90 miles. Its longer axis lies east and west, in which direction it is traversed by a mountain chain, the backbone of the island, having a mean altitude of 4000 feet, up to which many deep ravines penetrate from both coasts. On the south there is left very little of the indigenous forest which once clothed the whole island and gave it the name it bears (Madeira means "wood" in Portuguese), but on the north some of the valleys still contain native trees of fine growth. A long narrow and comparatively low rocky promontory forms the eastern extremity of the island, and here there is to be seen a tract of calcareous sand, known as the Fossil Bed, containg land shells and numerous bodies resembling the roots of trees, probably produced by infiltration.


It has been conjectured, but on insufficient evidence, that the Phoenecians discovered Madeira at a very early period. Pliny mentions certain Purple or Mauretanian Islands, the position of which with reference to the Fortunate Islands or Canaries might seem to indicate Madeira islands. There is a romantic story, of doubtful truth, to the effect that two lovers, Robert Machim and Anna d'Arfet, fleeing from England to France in 1346, were driven out of their course by a violent storm, and cast on the coast of Madeira at the place subsequently named Machico, in memory of one of them. On the evidence of a portulano dated 1351, preserved at Florence, Italy, it would appear that Madeira had been discovered long previous to that date by Portuguese vessels under Genoese captains. In 1419 two of the captains of Prince Henry of Portugal, João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira, were driven by a storm to the island called by them Porto Santo, or Holy Port, in gratitude for their rescue from shipwreck. The next year an expedition was sent to populate the island, and, Madeira being descried, they made for it, and took possession on behalf of the Portuguese crown.

In 1868, Portugal issued postage stamps for Madeira, consisting of the current stamps of Portugal overprinted "MADEIRA". This continued until 1928, when a series for Madeira was issued; but this was the last to be produced until 1980 (stamps of Portugal having been valid in Madeira since 1898), when Portugal began issuing stamps inscribed "Portugal Madeira" that were valid in both Madeira and Portugal, similar to those issued for the Azores.

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See also: Madeira wine.