It is said that feniciens and romans knew of Madeira some 2000 years ago.
The island exits on maps and charts from the 12th century and was called Isola di Lolegname, Tree Island, by sailors from Genoa.
The Portuguese mariner Joao Goncalves Zarco is considered to be the discoverer of Madeira in 1420. Due to a storm he had to anchor his fleet at an island called Porto Santo, north east of Madeira, and from here he could see something, an island, in the horizon, Madeira. Zarco lands on Madeira 1420 and discovers that the island is uninhabited and that conditions for farming is very good. He claims the island as Portuguese territory.
Zarco, his mariner partner Tristão Vaz Teixeira and pioneers, returns to Madeira in 1425. They settle down in the area that is going to be called Funchal, fennel in Portuguese, since the land around Funchal was covered with just a kind of fennel. The pioneers then starts to grow grain and sugar canes.
From the middle of the 13th century slaves were brought from the Canaries and West Africa to work at the sugarcane plantations.
Irrigation systems, levadas, were built to transport water from the mountains to the plantations and farms downhill. Terraces along the hill sides are also built to be able to grow wine and grain. At this time Madeira is the largest vendor and supplier of sugar in Europe and that is the situation until about 1530 when Brazil becomes a big competitor.
Funchal were fortified during the middle of the 14th century to protect from attackers but in 1566 the island were attacked by French pirates. The nuns of the Santa Clara Monastery flew, to save themselves, up in the mountains to Curral das Freiras, valley of nuns.
At the end of the 14th century Portugal were in conflict and occupied by Spain. This affected Madeira since Spain also were in conflict with England who attacked Madeira for some time. The Spanish conflict and occupation lasts until 1640 when Portugal becomes a free country.
There is a certain British influence in Madeira that comes from the Napoleon wars in Europe during the early 17th century when British troops were deployed on the island and many of them stayed when the wars finished.
At some times, during the years, Madeira have had problems with their winery business and in the end of the 17th century it turned out so bad that many emigrated to Brazil. Bananas became a substitution for the wine. Later wine were replanted with more tolerate grapes.
Another wave of emigration affected Madeira during early 1930 when the Portuguese regime deployed troops on the island to beat down strikes that were directed against the regime. Many found there future in other parts of the world.
During the Great War, First World War, Funchal were attacked by German submarines and three ships were sunk in the harbour. Also some casuals and house and churches were hit. Batteries in Funchal returned the fire and forced the Germans to move. During the second war Madeira got by relatively well since Portugal were neutral.
During the beginning of 1960 the charter tourism increased in Madeira thanks to the new airport that were built and since then it has been expanded several times.
After many years of dictatorship, from the 1930 until 1974 when the Carnation Revolution took place in Portugal, Madeira became an independent region 1976 with their own government and parlament.
In 1986 Portugal, as one of the poorest countries in Europe, enters the European Union. This contributes to the refurbish of infrastructure such as roads, electricity etc. This is also seen in Madeira with all the new roads, tunnels, harbours, hospitals, schools and even the airport gets a facelift.
In February 2010 an extensive storm hit Madeira and had a big impact on Funchal and it´s harbour. Several people were killed. Houses, roads and tunnels were flooded. A mayor rebuild, in a short time, has been made since then and i.e. the seafront in Funchal has got a new look.