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The conflicting reports on the discovery of Madeira: An Introduction

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The discovery or first sightings of the island cannot be precisely determined. In a way similar to the way the Americas were discovered (or rediscovered) by Christopher Columbus where legend and sporadic evidence showed Vikings to have been amongst the first Europeans to enter the new land the same can be said for Madeira.

Records show Arabs and Carthaginians trolling the Atlantic waters from the sixth century B.C. through to the second millennium with accounts being remitted of various lands they had encountered. Some of these accounts were pointed out in the “Al Kalidat” – a record maintained by Arabic geographers. These records made several references of islands far off-shore including mention of islands that look and picture characteristics similar to that of the archipelago of Madeira.

Diodorus Siculus (Diodorus of Sicily) in circa 1450 B.C. drew on oral accounts and verbal reports that make specific reference to a densely wooded island.

Nearly a century earlier than the official date of discovery of the island a book called the "Libro del conoscimento de todos los reynos", written by an anonymous Franciscan monk in mid fourteenth century Castile (Central Spain), and republished for the first time since by Jiménez de la Espada in 1877, makes specific reference to the islands called “Selvage”, “Desierta” and “Puerto Sancto”.

The first cartographic representations of the islands are found in the “Atlas Mediceo” (circa 1352 – 1357). Here, the islands in the archipelago are referenced as “Porto Sancto”, “I De lo Legname” and “Deserte”.

Atlas of Charles V Map of Mecia de Viladestes - 1413Mecia (Matthew) de Viladestes (a Jewish/Catalan cartographer residing in Majorca during the early fifteenth century) drew a map in 1413 that showed a very close approximation of the real configuration and outlines of the archipelago. This map was published six years before the official discovery date of 1419.










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