Monday, 2 April 2012



Funchal is the largest city, the municipal seat and the capital of Portugal's Autonomous Region of Madeira. The city has a population of 111,892 and has been the capital of Madeira for more than five centuries. The name Funchal, was applied by the first settlers that landed on its shores due to the abundance of wild fennel where, as tradition goes, the primitive burg was built. From the Portuguese word "funcho" (fennel) and the suffix "-al", to denote "a plantation of fennel":

This settlement began around 1424, when the island was divided into two Captaincies, and the zones that would become the urbanized core of Funchal would be founded by João Gonçalves Zarco who settled there with members of his family. Owing to its geographic location, the site became an important maritime port, while its productive soils became a focus of new settlers. Its coastal position, the most productive on the island, quickly permitted Funchal to develop an urban core and surpass the populations of other settlements, which slowly gravitated around it. 

Christopher Columbus was one of the early settlers, but later many of the merchant families established commercial interests on the island, including: João d'Esmenaut from the Picardy region, the Lomelino from Genoa, the Mondragão from Biscay, the Acciauoli from Florence, the Bettencourts from France, the Lemilhana Berenguer from Valencia and many others.
During the second half of the 15th Century, the sugar industry expanded significantly along the southern coast, from Machico until Fajã da Ovelha, making Funchal the most important industrial centre of the industry.

João Gonçalves Zarco
The Funchal city of today is very different from its fennel growing, pirate days of old. It is in fact a modern, cosmopolitan, rejuvenated city, well known for its many top class restaurants, stunning new 4 & 5 star hotels and warm all year round climate and of course its most famous export, world class footballer Cristiano Ronaldo. In short, it is now known for its style as well as its substance.

The city itself is nestled in a great natural amphitheatre, facing the blue Atlantic with a backdrop of dramatic mountains. Located in the stunning south of Madeira, on it’s sunniest coast amidst banana plantations and wonderful gardens where flowers bloom all year round in the shelter of the verdant mountains, it is an extremely lush, green and relaxed city by day but scratch Funchal’s surface and you will find it to have a vibrant and varied nightlife scene with multiple personalities.

Funchal has also for many years been one of the Atlantic Cruise-ship’s main ports of call; with the Liner harbour right in the middle of the town. The approach to Funchal Harbour is well documented as one of the two most spectacular in the world, being on a par with Rio de Janeiro. It has now become a tradition that most European Liners, on their maiden voyage, call here; it is quite usual to see upwards of four cruise ships in at any one time. Once ashore, the cafés, restaurants and history that mark this famed capital are just a stroll away.

Tourists in Funchal also roll up to enjoy activities such as diving in the crystal-clear waters, surfing the waves, boat trips, swimming with dolphins, spending the day at sea ‘whale-watching’, taking day long excursions along the coast and through the eucalyptus smelling mountain woods, paragliding on the coast, enjoying spectacular rounds of golf on the famous courses or simply to just enjoy a snack at the numerous “people watching” cafes and outside garden venues.

Take a stroll along Avenida do Mar, where you will be enchanted by the atmosphere; the various boat restaurants which line the shore, such as the Beatles Boat (The Vagrant), are lit up at night. Hop off at Estrada Monumental for a choice of restaurants and an assortment of shops. Those with a head for heights who wish to take advantage of spectacular views of the city should ride the cable car or Teleferico. Hop off at Rotunda do Infante and discover one of the most historic spots in the island – the statue of Portuguese navigator Infante D. Henrique.  

Funchal offers a variety of restaurants serving Portuguese, Madeiran, Italian, Mediterranean and French cuisine. As the sun goes down, there are plenty of places to unwind. You can enjoy live music and a drink ‘al fresco’ on a nice esplanade or by the harbour. Dance the night away at one of the discotheques located in the centre of Funchal or take your pick from a row of clubs opposite the freight harbour. Some venues also offer folklore evenings or if you want to try your luck, you could pay a visit to Madeira’s Casino.

                                                        Funchal’s Top 5:
  1. The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption in the Sé area of the city, is the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Funchal, which encompasses all of the Autonomous Region of Madeira. The late fifteenth-century cathedral is one of the few structures that survives virtually intact since the early period of colonization of Madeira. 
    The cathedral is designed in a Gothic style and has three naves. The roof of the cathedral features a Mudéjar-inspired design and is of cedar wood. The exterior walls are made of stone from Cabo Girão. The cathedral contains a silver processional cross, donated by King Manuel I of Portugal, considered one of the masterpieces of precious metalwork of Manueline Portugal.A statue of Pope John Paul II is located outside the cathedral, which was moved to its current position after formerly being installed in the urban area of Funchal adjacent to the waterfront. 
     The cathedral was structurally complete in 1514. Prior to completion, however, by 1508, when Funchal was elevated to the status of a city, the cathedral was already being used for the celebration of Mass. The spire of the bell tower and a few additional details were finalized in 1517-1518.
  2. The Madeira Story Centre, Funchal’s latest visitors’ attraction, where you can learn everything about Madeira’s history and development up to the present day, is located in the Old Town, in the Largo Almirante Reis, opposite the Monte Cable Car Station.
    This spectacular, interactive museum allows the visitor to go back in time on a virtual journey and ‘relive’ in chronological sequence the archipelago’s great historic events, from its volcanic birth 14 million years ago to the first hydroplane landing in Madeira, from the times of the Infant D. Henrique to Napoleon and Churchill. The permanent exhibitions feature the themes: Volcanic Origin, Discovery Legends, Discovering Madeira, Turmoil and Trade, Strategic Island, Flourishing Madeira, Post-navigation Era and Exploring Madeira. Taking you on an extremely fascinating voyage through times, some departments of the exhibition summarize whole centuries, while others tell in details about one specific event only. 
  3. Madeira Wine Museum. If you want to know more about Madeira Wine, this museum is a ‘must see’. You will find anything from pictures to machinery, all related to the culture and production of wine. In the oldest Madeira Wine cellars you can see documents, books and machinery testifying the old days of Madeira Wine production.
  4. Volcanism Centre & Caves of São Vicente. The Volcanism Centre is located in São Vicente, a charming village on Madeira’s north coast, sitting at the end of the valley where the formation of the island started. This centre manages to convey culture and education in a very entertaining way by providing the visitors with audiovisual demonstrations of volcanic eruptions and the birth of an island. Here, you can also visit São Vicente’s famous volcanic caves (already existing and now included in the Volcanism Centre) and stroll through the beautiful gardens featuring Madeira’s endemic flora. Of volcanic origin, the caves are composed of a series of lava tubes, result of an eruption that happened 400 thousand years ago. This complex of ‘volcanic tunnels’ represents a development of over 1000 meters length and so far it is the biggest known on Madeira Island. The pedestrian course has a length of 700 meters that takes around 30 minutes to view. A truly amazing walk through the entrails of the earth during which you will be able to admire volcanic stalactites, lava accumulations, known as ‘lava cakes’, and the ‘erratic block’ (a stone carried by the lava that got stuck in one of the lava channels because of its dimensions).
  5. The Funchal Passenger Ropeway is a gondola lift that transports people from the lower section of Funchal to the suburb of Monte. Construction of the ropeway began in September 1999, was inaugurated in November 2000, and has been in operation since November 2000. The departing station is located at Parque Almirante Reis in central Funchal. The length of the cable car line is 3,718 m and the height difference 560 m; the trip takes approx. 15 minutes. The line has over 39 cabins with 8 seats each, carrying 800 passengers per hour.
Madeira Wine Museum

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