Madeira is a Portuguese archipelago that lies between 32°22.3′N 16°16.5′W and 33°7.8′N 17°16.65′W, just under 400 kilometres (250 mi) north of Tenerife, Canary Islands, in the north Atlantic Ocean and an outermost region of the European Union. The archipelago comprises the major part of one of the two Autonomous regions of Portugal (the other being the Azores located to the northwest), that includes the islands of Madeira, Porto Santo, and the Desertas, administered together with the separate archipelago of the Savage Islands.
Madeira was claimed by Portuguese sailors in the service of Infante D. Henrique (Henry the Navigator) in 1419, and settled after 1420. The archipelago is considered to be the first territorial discovery of the exploratory period of the Portuguese Age of Discovery.
Today, it is a popular year-round resort, being visited every year by about one million tourists, noted for its Madeira wine, flowers, landscapes and embroidery artisans, as well as for its annual New Year celebrations that feature the largest fireworks show in the world, as officially recognised by Guinness World Records in 2006. The main harbour in Funchal is the leading Portuguese port in cruise liner dockings, being an important stopover for commercial and trans-Atlantic passenger cruises between Europe, the Caribbean and North Africa.
On 1 July 1976, following the democratic revolution of 1974, Portugal granted political autonomy to Madeira, celebrated on Madeira Day. The region now has its own government and legislative assembly.
When the Portuguese discovered the island of Madeira in 1419, it was uninhabited by humans, with no aboriginal population. The island was settled by Portuguese people, especially farmers from the Minho region, meaning that Madeirans (Portuguese: Madeirenses), as they are called, are ethnically Portuguese, though they have developed their own distinct regional identity and cultural traits.
The region has a total population of just under 270,000, the majority of whom live on the main island of Madeira where the population density is 337/km²; meanwhile only around 5,000 live on the Porto Santo Island where the population density is 112/km².
The setting-up of a free trade zone has led to the installation, under more favourable conditions, of infrastructure, production shops and essential services for small and medium-sized industrial enterprises. The Madeira Free Trade Zone, also called the Madeira International Business Centre, being a tax-privileged economic area, provides an incentive for companies, offering them financial and tax advantages via a whole range of activities exercised in the Industrial Free Zone, the International Shipping Register organisation, and the International Service Centre.
The services sector makes the largest contribution to the formation of the regional gross value added as opposed to the agricultural sector, for which the share has continuously declined in the regional economy.
Over the last few years, the regional economy has managed to open up and establish more internal and external competitiveness, so that its companies have become competitive internationally. The largest industries are by sector food, beverages (especially Madeira wine), and construction.
Funchal, Capital of Madeira
Funchal is the largest city, the municipal seat and the capital of Portugal’s Autonomous Region of Madeira. The city has a population of 112,000 and has been the capital of Madeira for more than five centuries.
Funchal is located inside a natural amphitheater-shaped valley, with gentle slopes beginning at the coast which rise to 1200 meters, that provided a natural shelter for early settlers.
In addition to the urbanized area, the municipality includes the Ilhas Selvagens (English: Savage Islands, a nature reserve located 160 km (99 mi) south of the capital.
Funchal has a mild Subtropical climate with evenly temperatures all year round. The climate can be separated into two main seasons: a rainier and slightly cooler season from October through March with average daily high temperatures ranging from 20 °C (68 °F) to 25 °C (77 °F) and a drier and warmer season from April through September with average daily high temperatures ranging from 21 °C (70 °F) to 26 °C (79 °F). Humidity levels remain constantly high at about 70%. Sea temperatures range from a low of 18 °C (64 °F) in February–March to 24–26 °C (75 °F) in August–October.
Since the city rises from the sea up to altitudes of 800 meters on its northern slopes, it is quite common to experience cloudiness, fog and rain on those northern suburbs while clear skies remain nearer to the sea. Temperatures also tend to be slightly lower at the higher altitudes.
Early summer, specially June, tends to be quite infamous due to a phenomenon where persistent cloudiness covers the entire bay area of Funchal, locally nicknamed “Funchal’s helmet”. The length and severity of the rainy season varies greatly from year to year.