Four (web)pages article about Madeira … its history, culture, traditions and various aspects of daily life. Written by Barbara Bell for The New York Times.
Madeira has been Portuguese since the days of Prince Henry the Navigator, who sent two lieutenants, Joao Goncalves Zarco and Tristao Vaz Teixeira, on an expedition that reached Porto Santo in 1418. Returning the following year, Zarco and Tristao Vaz landed on a bigger island 25 miles to the southwest and named it Ilha da Madeira, or island of wood, for its thick forests. Theories abound about supposed earlier discoverers of Madeira – possibly Phoenicians, a sixth-century Irish monk or a pair of shipwrecked English lovers – but there were no inhabitants when the Portuguese arrived. To clear the land for agriculture, they set fire to the dense forests. The island is said to have burned for seven years.
Several peculiar forms of transportation evolved on Madeira over the centuries: the hammock, the ox cart and the wicker basket chair. To recline in a shaded cloth hammock suspended from a long bamboo pole and be carried by two white-suited gentlemen to see Madeira’s sights must have been rather idyllic. Unfortunately, this mode of transport is confined today to postcards.
Sweeping panoramas of mountains and seacoasts continually surprise travelers on Madeira, who are often startled by the sensation that they are overlooking the landscape from the air. Although few serious accidents are reported, drivers who suffer from vertigo are warned that they should not consider renting cars on Madeira.