It is widely believed that, between approximately 15 to 20 million years ago, a large number of sub-oceanic volcanic eruptions took place which led to the emergence of some islands (among which speculatively Madeira) and the destruction of others; such as the much debated continent of Atlantis.
Scientists continue to debate to this day whether Madeira was born from the lava flow or whether Madeira was already here. I am a firm believer that Madeira was already here. If the continent of Atlantis truly existed, I believe this small island is a living remnant of that ancient legend. However, I am not here to make anyone believe anything. My articles are merely to offer you some insights. Ultimately, it will be up to you, the reader, to decide what you believe and what you do not.
As a testimony to the island’s volcanic origin, there are numerous peaks with breath taking valleys. The most notorious valley is that of “Curral das Freiras”, which is a sleepy little town where, originally, in the 17th century Madeiran nuns founded a convent. Their intention was to have their own religious retreat and find refuge from the French pirates who invaded the island at the time.
Curral das Freiras is situated in the heart of a dormant volcanic crater of nearly 5 kilometres in diameter. It is surrounded by six mountain peaks, which are all composed of calcareous rock found to contain marine fossils. Coincidently, the highest peak, on the island, is Pico Ruivo, which is about 1800 meters above sea level.
In São Vicente it’s possible to visit the “caves” that stand as a witness to the original lava channels, which are still visible to this day. They are naturally preserved as part of an ongoing ecological awareness project run by the Autonomous Region of Madeira. Another testimony of Madeira’s volcanic origins can be found in Santo da Serra where there is yet another extinct volcanic crater, called “Lagoa de Santo da Serra”, which nowadays serves as a natural water reservoir.
If you have read any account of the history of Madeira, you will have learnt that
the island was discovered in 1419 or 1420 by João Gonçalves Zarco, Tristão Vaz,
(who were both members of the D. Henrique infantry) and Bartolomeu Perestrelo,
who, together, discovered Porto Santo about a year earlier. However, it is fairer to say
these seafarers only colonialised Madeira and Porto Santo; turning them into Portuguese territories. They did not discover the islands. In fact, historical evidence proves Madeira was on the map long before the Portuguese captains arrived.
There is a Portolan navigational chart, dated 1351, preserved in Florence, Italy, also known as the “Portolano Laurenziano Gaddiano of the Laurentian Library”, which clearly shows Madeira on the map and proves that Madeira had been discovered by Portuguese vessels under Genoese captains; a long time before Zarco disembarked on its shores.
Unfortunately there is a lack of sufficient concrete evidence but there is potential speculation that the Phoenicians discovered Madeira at a very early period and were regular visitors to the unchartered and hostile territory that Madeira once was.
Pliny the Elder, also known as Gaius Plinius Secundus, (AD 11 – 68 AD Approx), a famous navigator and army commander for the Roman empire talks about the“Purple islands”, which he named as such after the purple coloured dye that was obtained from the sap of the island’s dragon trees. The geographical position he gives, with reference to distances (in latitude and longitude) from Mauretania and the Fortunate Islands, (which were the Canaries), may seem to indicate Madeira.
The interesting thing to note here is that, during Pliny’s time, purple dye was quite rare. It was the most prestigious and most expensive dye that could be purchased. It was only used for dying the robes of the dignitaries. It was an old tradition said to be
found in Homer’s ancient Greece.
The general consensus is that the discovery of purple dye is accredited to the Phoenicians, which would tie in with what was mentioned above.
Another historical piece of evidence to suggest Madeira’s discovery, prior to Zarco et al, is given by Plutarch who, when referring to the military commander Quintus Sertorius, relates that after his return to Cadiz, following a military reverse in
“he met with seamen recently arrived from the Atlantic islands,
two in number, divided from one another only by a narrow
channel, and distant from the coast of Africa ten thousand
furlongs. These are called the Islands of the Blest; rains fall there
seldom, and in moderate showers, but for the most part they have
gentle breezes, bringing along with them soft dews, which render
the soil not only rich for plowing and planting, but so abundantly
fruitful that it produces spontaneously an abundance of delicate
fruits, sufficient to feed the inhabitants, who may here enjoy all
things without trouble or labor. The seasons of the year are
temperate, and the transitions from one to another so moderate,
that the air is almost always serene and pleasant.
Part 6 will follow when I have time to sit and write it :-)))