Funchal Tourist Attractions
FunchalFunchal (from funcho, i.e. fennel), capital of the archipelago, a seat of a university, a hotel college and the see of a Roman Catholic bishop, is picturesquely situated amid rich subtopical vegetation on the south coast of Madeira.
It has a population of about 120,000 and as the only port of any size on the island, though often exposed to heavy surf, it is an important port of call for cruise ships. The town's steep streets, like most streets in the hilly parts of the island, are paved with smooth round basalt cobbles which make stout footwear very desirable. The carros de cesta, which now serve more as a tourist attraction than a means of transport, are toboggans with a basketwork frame that depend for their motive power on the force of gravity and are controlled by ropes held by two men running alongside. The ox drawn carros de bois, the other sleds that used to transport goods and people around Funchal, have become museum pieces.There is plenty to do of an evening in the island capital, with theaters, cinemas and nightclubs, and folk dancing displays almost every night in one or other of the large hotels. A traditional firework display greets the New Year. The most popular souvenirs are wickerwork and embroidery.TownscapeFunchal is ranged amphitheater like on hillslopes climbing up to 1,200m/3,936ft, with some of its outskirts as high as 550m/1,804ft above sea level, making it a spectacular sight, particularly seen from the sea. Hotels have come increasingly to dominate the townscape; almost all Madeira's 12,000 hotel beds are in Funchal, and not all of these establishments share the venerable appearance of Reid's Hotel which dates from 1891. However, around nearly every hotel, and private villa as well, there are superb parks and gardens Funchal has trees and flowers wherever you look.
Near the seafront promenade, the Avenida das Comunidades Madeirenses, is the Palácio de Sao Lourenço (16th C.; much altered in later periods), the first fort built on Madeira and now the Governor's Palace.
In front of the Governor's Palace, reaching out into the sea, is the Cais (landing stage) and alongside it the new marina.
Jardim de Sao Francisco
Over from the Governor's Palace, to the northwest, is the start of the Jardim de Sao Francisco, a park luxuriantly planted with palms and other tropical species.
On the south side of the Jardim de Sao Francisco is the theater, the teatro, built at the turn of the century.
Vicentes Photography Museum
Just east of the Jardim de Sao Francisco, and worth a visit, is Vicente's photography museum, containing the original photographer's studio founded in 1865, and hence Portugal's first, by Vicente Gomes da Silva, where many historical pictures of Madeira are also on display.
Back on the Avenida do Dr Manuel de Arriaga, this runs westward into the Praça do Infante, and above this square, to the southwest, is the little chapel of Santa Catarina (15th C.), one of the oldest churches on the island.
Rua da Pontinha
From the west end of the Avenida das Comunidades Madeirenses the Rua da Pontinha continues southwest along the seafront, passing below the Parque de Santa Catarina to the old Molhe da Pontinha, a breakwater begun in the 18th C. and several times extended, below the Fort of Nossa Senhora da Conceiçao. From the end of the breakwater there is a fine general view of the town.
Parque de Santa Catarina
Beyond the Santa Catarina, the Parque de Santa Catarina, on the site of an old cemetery, is the Cemitério das Augustas.
The pink building on the west side of the Parque de Santa Catarina is the Quinta Vigia, also known as Quinta das Angústias, where Madeira's government is based. The original Quinta Vigia was once home to the Austrian Empress Elisabeth (Sissi).
The harbor promenade east of the new marina has been given a recent facelift, and the floating cafes include the "Beatles Boat" which actually belonged to the Beatles at one time.
The old Customs House, the Antiga Alfândega, is on the other side of the Avenida das Comunidades Madeirenses from the harbor. Little is left of the 16th century original, and there was considerable rebuilding in the 18th century.
Just north of the Customs House the relatively new pedestrian precinct leads to the cathedral, the Sé, which is Manueline and was built between 1485 and 1514 the first Portuguese cathedral overseas. The interior has an interesting ceiling of juniper wood with ivory inlay.The Cathedral is a late-gothic masterpiece with Euro and Moorish influences. It is an architectural gem which is frequently missed due to cruise goers not going ashore.
To the east of the cathedral is the market, the Mercado, with fine tiling decorating the main entrance. It is at its busiest on Fridays and Saturdays when farmers bring in their produce from the surrounding villages.
Forte de Sao Tiago
Beyond the Campo Dom Carlos I, the former drill ground, to the east of the beach is the Forte de Sao Tiago, built in 1614 and named after St James the Less, patron saint of Funchal.
Nossa Senhora do Socorro (Santa Maria Maior)
Close by is the church of Nossa Senhora do Socorro, where a great procession is held on May 1 every year commemorating the plague of 1538.
The Câmara Municipal, begun in 1758, is on the east side of the Praça do Municipio, which is flanked on the northwest by the 17th C. collegiate church of Sao Joao Evangelista.
Bishop's Palace (Museum of Sacred Art)
On the south side of the Praça do Municipio (entrance at 21 Rue do Bispo) is the former Bishop's Palace containing a Museum of Sacred Art, with an important collection of Flemish paintings (expected to close soon for renovations).
Municipal Museum of Natural History
A stroll westward from the Praça do Municipio passes through the Rua C. Pestana and then on up to the church of Sao Pedro, its interior clad entirely with tiles, and the Municipal Museum of Natural History opposite, which has its own library and small aquarium.
Calçada de Santa Clara
The steep Calçada de Santa Clara leads up to the former convent church of the same name (the oldest convent on the island: it is now a kindergarten), containing the tomb of the navigator Joao Gonçalves Zarco, who rediscovered Madeira in 1419.
Quinta das Cruzes
Northwest of the Calçada de Santa Clara is the Quinta das Cruzes, set in beautiful gardens and said to have been where the Zarcos lived. The manor house (1745) is now a museum of the island's cultural history (furniture made from sugar crates, azulejos, silver from the Gulbenkian Foundation, and parts of a sunken Dutch sailing ship). The park contains carvings in stone ranging from the 15th to the 19th C. including the original town pillory (pelourinho).
Forte de Sao Joao do Pico
Continuing northwest up the Calçada do Pico and turning left along Rua do Castelo we come to the Forte de Sao Joao do Pico (1632), famed for its view. Below it lies the English Protestant Cemetery (1765).
Madeira Botanic Garden
About 4km/2.5mi northeast of Funchal center, on the old estate of Quinta do Bom Sucesso, is the very fine Botanic Garden, with a rich and varied collection of plants and flowers. From the terraces there are delightful views.
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