Aviva Directory » Local & Global » Africa » Madeira & Savage Islands

Topics related to any of the islands of the Madeira Archipelago or of the Savage Islands are appropriate for this category.

Madeira is an archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, situated about 250 miles north of the Canary Islands, about 450 miles off the coast of Morocco, and 500 miles southwest of the mainland of Portugal. Madeira is an autonomous territory of Portugal and includes the islands of Madeira, Porto Santo, and the Desertas.

The Savage Islands, about 200 miles south, are a separate archipelago, but administered by Madeira. The Savage Islands are known also as the Selvagens Islands or, as translated into English, as the Salvage Islands or the Dry Salvages. The Savage Islands are made up of two main islands and some smaller islets, the islands being Selvagem Grande and Selvagem Pequena. The Savage islands are about 135 miles north of the Canary Islands, and 375 miles off the coast of Morocco.

Writing in 75 AD, Plutarch describes islands that are thought to have been a reference to the Madeira islands, and there is evidence that the islands were visited by the Vikings, but their discovery wasn't recorded until 1418, when two Portuguese sea captains came upon Porto Santo in a storm. The following year, an expedition organized for that purpose discovered the larger island of Madeira also and claimed the archipelago for Portugal.

Portuguese began settling the islands, which were otherwise uninhabited, in the 1420s. Portuguese settlers grew grain, and then sugarcane on the islands. African slaves were brought from mainland Africa to cultivate the crops.

In 1617, Barbary corsairs from North Africa captured 1,200 people, including Portuguese, to sell on the slave market. Soon afterward, Portugal quit its sugarcane production on the islands, and its economy shifted to wine.

The British occupied the islands for about a year in 1801, withdrawing in 1802, returning in 1807, and remaining until the conclusion of the Peninsular War in 1814. During World War I, three Portuguese ships were sunk by a German U-boat in Funchal Harbour in 1916 and then bombarded Funchal for two hours. In 1917, two German U-boats bombarded Funchal, this time for about thirty minutes.

Throughout the British occupation, Portugal did not cede its claim to the islands. Following a revolution in 1974, Portugal granted political autonomy to Madeira. In recognition, July 1 is celebrated as Madeira Day on the islands. The Madeira islands have their own government and legislature, although they remain a Portuguese territory.

With a population of about 250,000, Madeira is organized into eleven municipalities. Funchal is the capital and principal city of the Madeira Islands. Other municipalities include Santa Cruz, Câmara de Lobos, Machico, Ribeira Brava, Calheta Ponto do Sol, Santana, São Vicente, Porto Santo, and Porto Moniz. The islands also house thousands of legal immigrants from several countries.

Madeira has been a recipient of significant aid from the European Union. Otherwise, its economy is largely based on tourism, particularly whale watching, and it has recently been offering tax incentives, infrastructure improvements, production facilities, and services for small and medium-sized industries.

The Savage Islands were discovered in 1436 by a Portuguese navigator. Despite their proximity to the Canary Islands, the Savage Islands are not believed to have been inhabited or even visited before the Portuguese explorations. The Portuguese made an attempt to settle the Savage Islands in 1436, but that settlement is thought to have failed, as the oldest record of a settlement there was from 1463, when the islands were only sparsely settled and were the property of the Order of Christ, a Portuguese successor to the Knights Templar.

By the 1500s, they were owned by a family from Madeira, but it is unknown how they came about the acquisition. Not much use was made of them, however. Between the 1400s and the 1800s, the islands were used for the collection of shells and mollusks, as a waypoint in fishing expeditions and goats were kept on Selvagem Grande. The islands gained a reputation as a place where pirates were to have buried their treasures, leading to numerous treasure hunts, but none are known to have been successful.

In 1904, the islands were sold to Luis Rocha Machado, a Portuguese citizen, and the Permanent Commission of International Maritime Law gave sovereignty over the Savage Islands to Portugal in 1938. Today, the islands serve as a Nature Reserve, its only permanent population being the wardens who staff Madeira Nature Park, including a research station on Selvagem Grande, and the Zino Family, descendants of Paul Alexander Zino, a British ornithologist, born on Madeira, who took part in a 1963 expedition to the Savage Islands, and built a home there.



Recommended Resources

Search for Madeira & Savage Islands on Google or Bing