The sub-tropical archipelago of Madeira lies some
580 kilometres (360 miles) west of Morocco and Casablanca, and north
of the Canary Islands. These islands were known to the Romans as the
Purple Islands, and were probably known during the Middle Ages, before
being 'rediscovered' by João Gonçalves Zarco in 1418 and colonised
A small atoll sits just outside Funchal, the
capital of Madeira. A large basalt formation, it is detached from
the mainland by about a hundred metres (109 yards). As such it
technically formed a separate island, therefore being one of a
scattered group in the Madeira Archipelago. It has since been joined
to the mainland by the harbour causeway.
It was on this atoll that the fort of São José was
constructed. It was also here that in 1419 the atoll's discoverers
took refuge before moving on to Madeira itself.
The fort itself appears to be at least 300 years
old and has a long and regionally important history. Shown complete
in many early paintings, prints and photographs, sadly it was partly
destroyed when the harbour road was widened in around 1950. It is
built of mortared masonry on three levels and still contains a fine
stone staircase, a vaulted ceiling, doorways, a well, and several
other less easily accessible features.
The heart of the fort remains in immaculate condition,
with sunlight pouring through the portholes. It is the first and the
oldest dwelling in the Atlantic thanks to the devoted conservation
efforts of its current owner.