Where the Portuguese landed

A GUIDE BOOK to Madeira suggested that before the Portuguese set foot on Madeira, there had been others from different places. Some of these earlier settlers are said to have been travelling on an English ship from England to Portugal. However, the boat was blown off course and ran aground on the shore of Madeira, near where the town of Machico stands today. Two of the passengers on the ship were the English lovers Robert Machim and Anne d’Arfet, who were fleeing England where their relationship was not approved of. They are supposed to have died on the island. Later, their (?) graves were discovered. Fascinating as this is, the veracity of the story is questionable.

18th century fort in Machico

What is most certain is that the Portuguese Joao Goncalves Zarco and Tristao vaz Teixeira landed on the beach at what is now Machico in July 1419, and in so doing helped initiate the erstwhile worldwide Portuguese empire.

In 1440, Teixiera and his descendants were awarded the Captaincy of Machico – the first on the island of Madeira. In the middle of the 15th century, the settlers on Madeira began growing sugar cane. In those days, sugar was a valuable commodity, much desired in Europe. The prosperity of Machico increased.

Today, Machico is a pleasant town with a promenade running along the seafront. Three churches survive from earlier times. We visited the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Conceição, whose construction was completed by the end of the 15th century. Between it and the sea front, there is a small fortress – Forte de Nossa Senhora do Amparo, which was constructed in about 1706. We saw a few market stalls next it. One if them, a florist, was selling gorgeous pink proteas.

Machico is a 50 minute bus ride from Central Funchal, the city that replaced it as Madeira’s capital by the early 16th century . The journey is spectacular with great views of the sea and the mountains, but because of the incredible windiness of the roads, it is not ideal for those prone to motion sickness.

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