It was both a surprise and delight to be invited by Renato Barros to write this preface for his new book. As a long-stay visitor to Madeira I have learned much about the exciting progress here since 1420 and the excellent development in recent decades. Whilst Zarco and Vaz are rightly the pioneering heroes of this continuing story I quietly hold the view that one day Roman pottery may be found on the banks of the Ribiero Machico.
I must congratulate Renato on this compilation. Apart from the historical events and his own ideas, the book contains a unique collection of very fine prints and photographs never before published inside one cover. Here is defined the Island´s progression from fort to prison, to customs-house, to major store-house and to harbor and more recent events. These encapsulate an important part of the military, social and industrial history of Madeira. Renato has clearly understood all this and even used his family savings to purchase the ancient fort for prosperity, with the protection of a Royal Charter dated 1903.
The fort of St. Jose was certainly an important part of the defensive works that protected Funchal and its vital harbor. Without such defense the City would have been at serious risk and open to attack (as in 1916-17). The fort served as an artillery platform and was naturally taken over as a control-base by the English army of occupation in 1801.
Shockingly, half of St. Jose was destroyed in the late-19th century in the doubtful cause of “progress”, rather similar to the wide-spread destruction across much of Europe. In Funchal this destruction extended to thousands of meters of strong town wall, several important gatehouses and many original buildings. In particular, that of Joao Esmeraldo was destroyed in 1876. Indeed, my near Kent neighbor historian and national leader, Sir Winston Churchill, on return from one of his trips to Camera dos Lobos, may have muttered “A country which destroyed its past deserves to have no future”. Nor can we escape from history (Abraham Lincoln).
Such destruction is not acceptable today! The progressive view, now 20 years advanced, is that the best of the ancient heritage must be preserved alongside any essential development. The two ideals are easily compatible, given goodwill and responsible planning. Nor is it too late. It seems highly probable that the area within the ancient City walls still contains the remains of early walls, foundations, cellars and thousands of artifacts. All that is needed is some clear official understanding of the potential and a small team of efficient rescue-archaeologists, already perceived in nearby Machico.
Whilst Madeira is clearly 20 years behind the U.K. in terms of preservation and presentation, its seems well ahead in every other sphere. The strong family ties, the clean streets, the low-crime levels, brilliantly designed modern hotels, varied esplanades, excellent bus and taxi services and generally considerate driving. Contrast all this with the U.K. with its growing decadence, dangerously changing population, a benefit culture, bonus bankers and long cold winters.
But in Madeira there are the added blessings of constant sub-tropical weather, wonderful flowers and trees, multi-crops, distant mountains and Atlantic Ocean. All this I whisper to my family and friends. A secret Island paradise where July is never more than three hours flying-time (via Gatwick) from January.
Director Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit,
Roman Painted House , Dover, Kent