When you arrive at the Ponta da Calheta viewpoint, the strait at the edge of the endless beach of Porto Santo makes the sea less deep.
It paints the Boqueirão de Baixo in a resplendent turquoise blue that contrasts with the geological blackness and rawness of Ilhéu da Cal beyond.
Today, the golden and translucent look that made the large beach the main financial attribute of the island reveals little or nothing about the hardships that successive generations of Portosantenses have gone through due to the largest of its islanders.
Since the remote times of the island's colonization, the inhospitable dryness of Porto Santo – from 1940 onwards, for example, twelve years have passed without rainfall – made it impossible to grow crops and meadows that would allow for the creation of larger animals.
Any and all raw materials found there had doubled value. This was the case of limestone, the lime fountain that eventually inspired the baptism of the also called Ilhéu de Baixo.
Ilhéu de Baixo and the Era Portosantense da Cal
During the XNUMXth century, some entrepreneurs saw in the mineral diversity of the sub-archipelago of Porto Santo a wealth that made it possible to alleviate the islands' agricultural and livestock needs. Limestone quarries were installed in the still called Ilhéu de Baixo.
Extracted at great cost, from mines and galleries, the limestone was transported by boat to the mother island and, there, transformed into lime for the buildings that grew in Porto Santo, even more so on the island of Madeira, which Portosantenses became accustomed to provide in exchange for vegetables, fruits, and other groceries they had difficulty obtaining.
Limestone was cooked in large ovens with an inverted cone shape. There were seventeen. And they released an intense aroma that, at times, the natives of the island recognized wherever they went.
Even if limestone was fired at extremely high temperatures, no stage of lime production was as risky as that of extraction. There were several accidents in mines and quarries. In a single rockfall, sixteen men perished.
In recent decades, tourism has begun to make up for Porto Santo's shortcomings. Some of these ovens have been preserved as an essential historical heritage of the island.
They attract the most curious outsiders to whom the stronghold of the great golden sand, by itself, does not make for a good holiday.
Tour through Porto Santo Dourado. And for the Dramatic Legacy of Volcanism
Especially for those who come from a period spent on the neighboring island of Madeira, or from landlocked countries or with a rocky coastline, the great beach of Porto Santo appears as a kind of real mirage, like a dream of bathing pleasure with 9km of which it costs to wake up.
Carolina Freitas, the native guide responsible for showing us her island knows the way well. All Inclusive All Beach and Sloth where too many visitors spend their days. Accustomed to repeating the island's most rewarding hikes and explorations, she maintains an impressive physical vigor which, in a phase of inactivity typical of the confinement that forced the Covid 19 pandemic, forced us to redouble our efforts.
“Even being Domingo, this can never do me harm” Carolina assures us in her imperturbable good mood.
“I haven't been able to go to the gym for a while, but these walks are as good or better,” he adds, as he climbs the hundreds of natural steps of Pico de Ana Ferreira, as if his ascent were just any joyful walk.
To the Conquest of Pico de Ana Ferreira
Pico de Ana Ferreira is one of the contained elevations of Porto Santo, an island formed around 14 million years ago. It proves to be exceptional for its geological configuration, not so much for the 283 meters that constitute the zenith of the west of the island.
Tensional whims of the cooling of the magma that shaped Porto Santo dictated that this mound was made of almost perfect prismatic columns, oriented in different directions. Some appear lying down. Other obliques. Still others, with a predominance at the base, vertical, or just slightly tilted in the form of Organ Tubes, as they were nicknamed.
Carolina climbs the mugearite steps, one by one, two by two, among bushes and cactuses, still and always at the pace of a professional rail runner. Keeping on the chase of the cicerone wears us out.
We regained your company, let your heart recover from the torture we subjected it to. We then learn about the peculiar historical context behind the hill's name.
It confirms a more outspoken sector of history that, despite the nickname “The Perfect Prince”, the King of Portugal and the Algarves, D. João II, had a bastard daughter. Pressured by the court not to complicate life for her father and the kingdom, Ana Ferreira moved to the island of Porto Santo. More than settling there, say the people of Porto, that you made the island your fief.
Well, right from the first years of its settlement, Porto Santo was targeted by Berber pirates. When threatened, the people hid in Pico do Castelo, in the extreme northeast of the island. And, it is also said that, even bastard and exiled, Ana Ferreira did not mix with the populace.
Instead, he took refuge in the hill that Carolina had made us conquer, who knows if in the cave that, in the meantime, reveals to us and where it is
We spent a lot of time admiring the elliptical-shaped panorama of the island, engaged in acrobatic-photographic experiments.
The Inaugural Discovery of the island of Porto Santo
Let's diverge from conquest to discovery. It must be made as clear as Carolina left us that Porto Santo was the first of the islands that Portuguese navigators found today.
Even though, in the image of Madeira, it had already appeared on maps since at least 1339, Porto Santo was found, in 1418, by accident during an expedition commanded by João Gonçalves Zarco, in which Tristão Vaz Teixeira and Bartolomeu Perestrelo also participated.
Infante Dom Henrique had instructed navigators in the service of the crown to find new territories west of Africa. As they guided the return through the Return from the Sea, a storm caused the ships to deviate from their usual course.
Unbeknownst to him, the storm pushed the boats into a sheltered cove. The double fortune of finding shelter and a territory that, unlike the Canary Islands, the Castilian rivals had not yet claimed, he gave rise to the religious baptism of Porto Santo.
Let's return to our own discovery of the island. In the time we dedicated to it, we were dazzled by countless coves that volcanism seems to have made inaccessible, at least by land, one of the most impressive to us, at the bottom of the Morenos cliff.
Others, around Furado do Norte and Ponta da Canaveira, overlooking the Ilhéu de Ferro, approached by a narrow trail on top of dizzying cliffs that Carolina investigates out of nowhere in a rush.
We took a peek at Zimbralinho cove, this one, accessible, owner and lady of a raw and dark look with a lot of Icelandic. We still move to the northwest of the island where we descend to the rocky and intricate seaside of Porto das Salemas.
We arrived at low tide, as advised.
A very stiff sign, stuck among large pebbles and next to a single example of a yellow sun lounger, makes it clear that this is a Beach Not Watched.
At that late hour, not only did no one watch her, but no one else attended her.
Dazzled by its rocky eccentricity, we circled from puddle to puddle, studied salemas, limpets and whelks.
And we contemplate the distant cliff of King Kong, long conformed to the marine solitude to which it was devoted.
Vila Baleira and the Inescapable Presence of Christopher Columbus
We return to the outskirts of Vila Baleira, despite having less than 6.000 inhabitants, the capital of the island of Porto Santo.
We walk along the beach. We divert to its golden dunes. From the top of one of them, we find the snail vineyards spread out over the sandy soil, between hedges with crochet walls, reeds and bushes.
We admire the beauty of those almost playful vineyards that, every year, renew the peculiar wine of Porto Santo, refined in the six centuries of the island's always challenging settlement.
From the dunes and their vineyards, we enter the alleys of Vila Baleira. In one of them, we come across the house where Christopher Columbus, from an early age, well connected with the court and with Portuguese nobles, deigned to live in the city.
Circumstances dictated that, following the discovery of the island, Bartolomeu Perestrelo was appointed the first Captain-Donator of Porto Santo, in 1445.
As others determined that, in 1479, three years after settling in Lisbon, the Genoese navigator would marry in Vila Baleira Filipa Moniz Perestrelo, daughter of Bartolomeu Perestrelo and granddaughter of Filippo Pallastrelli, a nobleman of Italian origin who, after move to Lisbon and live in Porto, he saw the Portuguese nickname.
The Marriage Link between Columbus and Perestrelo, the Pioneer Family of Porto Santo
Up to two years before her marriage, Filipa Perestrelo remained commander of the Mosteiro de Santos, in Lisbon, an exclusive monastery of the high nobility, frequented by King João II and by Cristóvão Colombo, who used to go to mass there. It is estimated that between repeated conversations and interactions with Filipa Perestrelo, the wedding was scheduled, which was convenient for both of their life plans.
In 1478, Columbus had secured a foothold in the export business of sugar produced in Madeira, estimated to be from Paolo di Negro, an Italian merchant.
By that time, Columbus was already aiming to become a reputed discoverer. Filipa Perestrelo would open the way to her father's influence and nautical knowledge. Some historians even guarantee that Columbus' mother-in-law gave him Bartolomeu Perestrelo's maps and cartography documents.
It was in Porto Santo and Madeira that Columbus devised a good part of the project of reaching the West Indies, a project that the Portuguese Crown, however, refused to support.
Christopher Columbus he ended up unveiling the Americas to the Old World, in October 1492, twelve or thirteen years after his marriage in Lisbon.
From Challenging Subsistence to Mainly Tourist Prosperity
In the half-millennium that has just passed, the intrepid settlers of Porto Santo did everything to overcome adversity, especially the repeated droughts, aggravated by intensive deforestation, necessary for firewood and the construction of a little bit of everything.
And because of the uncontrolled reproduction of the rabbits that we see jumping around the island, it is said that they are descendants of a single pair of rodents released by Bartolomeu Perestrelo, aware that it would be difficult to attract and keep villagers if they had to subsist only on fishing, on capture of the island's prolific birds and snails.
Better or worse, over time, the Prophets – as the Portosantenses are also called – ensured their life on the island and perfected fascinating and now famous means of what began as mere subsistence.
This is the case of the architecture of the Casas de Salão and the matamorras where they sheltered from the pirates. And, in a gastronomic context, wine, corn porridge and fried corn, also the bolo do caco that Carolina Freitas and Portosantenses in general defend tooth and nail to have been raised in Porto Santo, not Madeira.
Today, Porto Santo offers much smoother landings than its neighbor and memorable Atlantic retreats. We will return as soon as possible.
To book activities in Porto Santo contact DUNAS VIAGENS E TURISMO
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