Funchal, Madeira – 2022
On October 18 we finally stepped off the ship in Funchal, the capital of the Portuguese island of Madeira near the coast of Africa. We have visited here twice before and you can learn more about Madeira in these posts.
Last time we were here we planned to take the cable car up to Monte, a mountain above the town, and visit the church and gardens up there, but the top was covered in clouds so there was no point in doing that. This time we planned to finally do that, but guess what? Monte was covered by clouds again, so no go. Maybe next time.
So instead we took the shuttle bus into town and walked to the Municipal Gardens. It is filled with many varieties of flowers and trees. There is also a pond with a fountain and a sculpture; last time it had swans but not today and the fountain was off. Oh, well, the gardens are still beautiful.
One feature of current and former Portuguese cities that we always enjoy is the mosaic sidewalks and plazas. We have seen these throughout Brazil as well as here. Made with about two inch square stones these often have intricate designs and even pictures. It must be a lot of work to create and maintain them because it is all done by hand. We saw a fellow today who was trimming small white stones in preparation of restoring part of a sidewalk, sitting on the ground with a hand chisel and large piles of stones on each side.
We walked down to the center of town where a large Jesuit church sits on one side and the city hall on another. Currently called St John The Evangelist Church, this was originally built by the Jesuits in 1640. The paintings and sculpture inside are also from the mid 17th Century. Deceptively plain on the outside, this church is surprisingly elaborate inside. A man was playing the pipe organ located above the entrance, a nice extra.
The town hall was built in 1758 and renovated in 1940, the year the blue tiles on the walls were created. The fountain sculpture in the interior courtyard dates from 1880 and originally stood in a fish market. During our first visit here a small labor demonstration was in progress outside this building but today all was quiet.
We walked on to the cable car station, hoping the clouds would clear in time for us to go up to Monte. But no luck and the cable car costs too much to just take a flyer on it being clearer from the top. So we walked back toward the Mercado dos Lavradores through the Zona Velho, a neighborhood of shops and restaurants on narrow cobblestone streets oozing character. It is known for painted doors and windows on many of the buildings.
We went into the Mercado, a delightful market in the interior courtyard of a building open to the sky. Usually the street level is filled with umbrellas over vendors’ carts but this was a rainy day so no umbrellas were there. Still there were many stands under partial roofs on both floors displaying colorful flowers and produce. It rained cats and dogs while we were there & we had to wait a few minutes after our visit before we could venture back out onto the street. There is more Portuguese tile work on the walls in the market.
Continuing back toward the port we came to the Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption. It was built in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. We had been here before but had never been able to see the inside. Today we did.
It was drizzly and gray as we headed back to the drop off for the shuttle to the ship, but there was one more thing we wanted to see. Those who have followed this blog at all know that Mary is a retired librarian with a great love of libraries. We always visit them when possible and we have seen many beautiful ones on our travels. But the one in Funchal, a steep uphill walk at the end of a full day, was not one of those. Sadly, the only part of the library visible to the street was an entrance to what looked like a office, tucked away behind a row of parked busses under a car park garage. Rather a disappointment but here it is. On top of a hill across the street we spied the Fortress of S. João Baptista do Pico, built in the early 17th century, of which we had not previously heard. It looks pretty formidable and was part of the defense of the city from pirates.
We returned to the ship after our first port on this voyage, tired but looking forward to visiting another in the morning.