Sea, Sky and everything in between
Madeira is a Portuguese archipelago discovered by Portuguese sailors in the service of Infante D. Henrique (Henry the Navigator) in 1419, and settled after 1420. The archipelago of Madeira is located 520 km (323.11 mi) from the African coast and 1,000 km (621.37 mi) from the European continent. The archipelago itself is a series of oceanic volcanic islands that date back to the Miocene (about 20 millions years ago), and constructed from a hotspot in the Earth’s crust of the African Tectonic Plate. Madeira Island represents 93% of the archipelago’s area. It is the largest island of the group with an area of 741 km2 (286 sq mi), a length of 57 km (35 mi), while approximately 22 km (14 mi) at its widest point. It has a mountain ridge that extends along the center of the island, reaching 1862 meters (6,107 ft) at its highest point (Pico Ruivo). Daily life has concentrated in the many villages at the mouths of the ravines, through which the heavy rains of autumn and winter usually travel to the sea. In the south, there is very little left of the indigenous laurisilva subtropical rainforest which once covered the whole Island. The Macaronesia region harbours an important floral diversity. In fact, the archipelago’s forest composition and maturity are quite similar to the forests found in the Tertiary period that covered Southern Europe and Northern Africa millions of years ago. In the 16th century the Portuguese started building levadas or aqueducts to carry water to the agricultural regions in the south. The most recent were built in the 1940s. Many are cut into the sides of mountains, and it was also necessary to dig 25 miles (40 km) of tunnels, some of which are still accessible. Today the levadas not only supply water to the southern parts of the island but provide hydro-electric power. There are over 1,350 miles (2,170 km) of levadas.