Geography and Society

Magdalena Do Mar

Madeira is an archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, about 1100km southwest of Portugal and 500km west of the North African town of Casablanca. Its exact nautical position is 3245' north and 1700' west. The archipelago consists of the inhabited islands Madeira, with the capital Funchal, and Porto Santo. The uninhabited Ilhas Desertas and Ilhas Selvagens also belong to the archipelago that is a total of 800 square kilometers. The island of Madeira is 55km long and 22km wide stretched in a west-east direction and resembles the peak of a 4000m high underwater volcano. The highest point of the mountainous main-island is Pico Ruivo, 1861m. The climate is very moderate; the main wind direction is from northeast featuring the trade winds for about 10 months of the year. The yearly average temperature lies between 16 and 22C in Funchal. Main rainfall is in autumn and spring. Geologically Madeira consists of basalt and tufa, which are also the main ingredients in the volcanic soil of the vineyards. Madeira means wood in Portuguese and the island has been named so because of its many trees. The population of the archipelago was 275,000 in the mid 90s, 270.000 living on the main island and 5000 on Porto Santo. Many young inhabitants of Madeira emigrate from the island, but most of these come back to spend their old age in the warm climate. Madeira is an autonomous region of Portugal with its own legislature. Besides Portuguese, English is spoken and understood by many inhabitants because of the British past. Since the declaration of the new constitution in 1976, the government most of the time has been run by the Socialdemocratic party.

The economy of Madeira is based on agriculture, wine, fishing and tourism. Tourism has become more important over the last few years. Because of the growing number of visitors some traditional industries like wickerwork and embroidery employ more workers. With the help of funds from the European community the infrastructure is being improved. This includes highways, especially the Via Rapida along the south side of the island, and the expansion of the islands airport at Santa Cruz with its new runway standing on 173 huge concrete poles. Even though the island has quite a remote location, Madeira is very present on the Internet, offering lots of information for tourists and wine-enthusiasts. At the EXPO 2000 in Hanover, Germany, Madeira was one of the featured examples for a modern Internet-based community network.