It was on this atoll that the discoverers, in 1419, took refuge before stepping onto its neighboring Island of Madeira.
The crux of the Fort remains in immaculate, immemorial conditions with sun rays protruding from the Fort portholes and serving as light. Taking one whiff of this aged Fort empowers any guest to travel back in time when swords clashed and sailors took to sea. This makes it the first and the oldest dwelling in the Atlantic thanks to the strong devotion and compassion of its actual owner.
On the islet the stoned steps can still visibly be seen sculptured from the rock. Not far away, the stoned triangle, amidst the deep blue sea, stands as a remembrance of when the discoverers anchored their ships. This triangle has instigated many queries amongst archaeologists for the fact that it is not the most feasible or suitable means of anchoring a vessel or caravel. Might this be Columbus route? Might the Chancellorship of the first world treaty, established amongst countries, be that of the treaty of Tordesilhas? Or might it be pointing in the direction of the sea route to India or America?
One of the vertices points towards Sagres from where the courageous discoverers had parted. Another one points towards Africa, while the third is directed towards Antilles. Then the question remains … might there have been another military or civil meaning to all this?
Since Funchal was the first city in the Atlantic this islet was undoubtedly the first Port of this great ocean and the most Occidental, or western, of all of Europe, having taken on an important role in European maritime expansion. This hoary isle was for many years a podium for the ingress and egress of everything which Madeira imported and exported including the fifteenth century white gold of Madeira (sugar), and later the eighteenth century wine. As quarantine was mandatory for everyone who visited this island, legend has it that the great discoverers would also reside in the Fort due to the safety which it offered to its guests. Christopher Columbus and Captain Cook are just a few of the illustrious figures mentioned here. Other distinguished guests included pirates, military personnel, artists, politicians, among others.
Until 1776, this islet was documented, on the official maps, as the Islet of Diogo (name of Christopher Columbus son). From then onwards, and by the provisão régia (Royal Charter) it was physically linked to the island of Madeira having been concluded during the reign of D. José, from which the name is dubbed after Fort of São José.
Between 1801 and 1807, the British occupation used the Fort as a military stronghold and penal complex.
In 1888, the government decided to lengthen the Port of Funchal and as a result, the Fort of São José had been forgotten by the Madeirans once again.
In 1903, the government puts the Fort up for sale in the public marketplace due to a great governmental crisis and uses the money of the purchase to conclude and recuperate the N.S.C. Fort
In later years the Fort of São José would be used as a coal depository and warehouse. It was considered one of the most important reference points in Europe and of the New World in 1921.
In October 2000, the Fort of São José was purchased by a Madeiran whose intention was to restore all of the dignity for which the Fort was worthy of, having been once considered a laudable contribution to the world.
In order to recuperate the Fort archaeological work is currently being carried out at the premises and visits are now allowed. The tour includes four small partitioned areas, the natural conduit and the solitary confinement.
This islet, located in Europe, had once been subject to communitarian inquiries and as a result, Portugal had received funding; funding which had never been granted to its present-day owner for the fact, that the Fort had never belonged to the European Union. Nevertheless, after almost six centuries the Islet remains sturdy and upright, without any governmental funding to back it up!