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My Escapes Portugal Madeira Escape to Lush Green Madeira Funchal's Fortresses

Funchal's Fortresses

January 23, 2014
January 20, 2015

Some of Funchal's best assets are its fortresses.
There are 4 of them and all of them quite interesting. Although, most people can only notice one of two of them, if you dig deep, there are four!

If you are in Funchal, do the fortress tour, trust me - it'll be a great experience!

It's also because of the beautiful views you'll get to see from some of them. But if you like strongholds, then it'll be an even more enjoyable experience.

If you'd considering to visit Madeira, then hopefully this article can inspire you!

São João Baptista do Pico Fortress

Or simply: either São João Fortress or Pico Fortress. Both names are used by locals, never the long original name.

It takes a while to climb up to it, but it's a minimal effort.
What's great is that the crowds generally don't venture up here. I only met a German couple when visiting it.

São João Fortress

My first sight of the São João Fort from the Port

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When arriving back to Funchal from the Curral das Freiras tour, I asked the driver (Eduardo) to let me get off the bus at a nearby spot, so that I can find my way up to the fortress.

Eduardo dropped me off slightly north of the Centro Comercial Dolce Vita, after we got out of a tunnel.

Pico fortress from the distance

It was clearly visible where I had to go...

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It's quite easy to find the rectangular fort.
I passed a few old houses, then I was slammed by a disgusting stinch emanating from an abandoned house (it was apparently being used by some locals as a garbage dumping ground).

Old Houses

Houses along the road, as I was walking to São João do Pico

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It's not known exactly when the Pico fortress was built, but experts believe it was finalized some time towards the second half of the 1600's.

Here below you can see a view towards the port area. There were lots of green plants up there, I had to cross a tiny jungle to take this picture.

Pico Fortress view towards the Casino

The Casino and the port area viewed from the base of the fort's walls.
It's a totally different picture from up here! Funchal looks like a jungle.

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São João was the original name, then it became São Filipe in the 1600's already, then in the 19th century is was Christianed São Miguel and, after that it regained its original name of São João.
..."Saint John the Baptist of the Peak", if we translate it's full current (and first) name.

Central Funchal

View towards central Funchal. Hey, my hotel was near the Cathedral's tower!

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I liked this stronghold, but I think the views topped it. These were probably the best views I ever saw of Funchal.

The Pico Fortress is the best viewpoint that I was able to find in all of Funchal. Even better than the Monte, because the place is still rather close to the city centre and one can better observe it from here.

Central Funchal zoomed in

Here's a zoom-in of Central Funchal

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I first I walked around its huge thick walls, then I found the entrance and went in.

Of course, the views from "down there" (from the base of the walls) were different from what I was able to see from "up there".

Ship from Pico fortress

Funchal, a ship and the port through grinds of rusty ancient iron

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If you enter the fort, the firing post spaces will be pretty much the only way to stare out. Of course, you get a narrow field of view through them, but it was nice watching a cargo ship edging towards the port.

Photo through a firing post

The cargo ship was sailing surprisingly fast towards the port.
The uninhabited Desertas Islands appear pale in the far background.

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São Tiago Fortress

It's the yellow fortress found on the shore.

Honestly, this is one of the most beautiful fortresses I've ever seen!

This one's exact construction year is also uknown, but the finalized work was standing already in the second half of the 1600's.

After an attack by 1,200 French pirates lead by Bertrand de Montluc in 1566, Funchal was almost totally undefended. The sackings and killings lasted for 15 days.

So, they built this yellow fort. This was only light fortress in Funchal until the year 1614.

São Tiago Fortress

The São Tiago Fortress

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The Pico Fort was added later. With its thicker walls and better strategic position, it improved the city's defenses significantly.

Interesting to note that during the FRench pirate sacking in 1566, the nuns of Funchal and other nearby towns escaped to a valley in central Madeira - the place which later became known as the ominous "Valley of the Nuns".

São Tiago Fortress and palm

The palms blend in with the yellow fortress

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I visited São Tiago 2 times. First, during the daytime, the latter visit on an evening when a musical event was being held in the fort.

Ironically, I got stuck in the fortress.
After having entered, having explored the balconies, having climbed its walls, I almost could not get back in to the internal yard (where a concert was being held).
Huge loudspeakers and other objects barricaded the exit. Eventually, someone came help remove a massive loudspeaker, so that I could get out.

Apparently, they weren't expecting anyone to be inside the fortress during those hours...

In the internal yard, musicians were perfoming in front of a sizeable crowd of around 200-300 people.

I ironically, the only way I could get out was across the stage and not behind the band, but in front of them.

They just started playing and I could have waited for hours until they finished, so I took the risk and galloped across the stage in front of the band...

The crowd exploded in laughter as I stepped onto the stage (avoiding the musicians as best as I could) and ran across towards the exit.

São Tiago in the evening

I actually grabbed a fat green olive from one of those tables!

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São Lourenço Palace-Fortress

It's rather a palace, if you look at it from the front, but if you walk around it, you'll notice it's a fortification. In fact, quite heavily fortified.

The building in located in downtown Funchal, right on the beach, not far from the São Tiago Fortress. You can't miss it, when you're there!

The São Lourenço Palace

The São Lourenço Fortress is right on the coast

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The São Lourenço Palace was actually the first fortification in Funchal.

Raised between 1529-1540, it was still too light and could not withstand the mentioned French pirate attack in 1566.

It has a permanent museum part, which you can visit. But from what I've heard, part of it is being used by some governmental institution(s).

The interiors are very beautiful, worth visiting. Unfortunately I didn't have the time...

Molhe Fort (Fortaleza do Ilhéu de Nossa Senhora da Conceição)

It's small, but heavy fortification, today part of the port of Funchal. It is completely integrated into the pier and even I didn't see it for a while.

The fortress was build on an islet not linked to the land, but was later connected by a concrete road and walls.

This fort is often unnoticed by visitors because it blends in with the pier.

Molhe Fort

The Molhe Fort is totally embedded into the port's infrastructure

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Its construction was finished in 1654 and in 1682 they even built a chapel inside it - therefore the Nossa Senhora da Conceição name.

In fact, there was a smaller islet near the one upon which the fort was built. The two were joined together in 1888;

For more than 300 years, the Molhe Fortress served military purposes - protecting the port area.

Today, three different clubs function in it (they host parties, musical events, mostly). In addition, a restaurant was also established at the building's top.

Today, all cruise ships stop in front of the Molhe Fort and passengers pass through the tunnel under it, after having disembarked.

Escape Hunter

About the Author:

Escape Hunter, the young solo traveler in his early 30's explores the World driven by curiosity, thirst for adventure, deep passion for beauty, love for freedom and diversity.
With a nuanced, even humorous approach to travel, an obsession for art and design, Escape Hunter prefers to travel slowly, in order to learn and "soak up" the local atmosphere...


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