Some mysteries of Madeira


A mountain, in the middle of the sea

After three days of terrifying storm [at sea], during which, on several occasions, the navigators had thought themselves lost, there came upon them suddenly an unexpected calm, and a dense, dark, ashen fog, through which they could hear approaching a great thunderous roar from afar. A strong current in the sea bore them swiftly towards it.

The sailors found this more frightening than the storm: to sink is common enough sailor's fate, but to pitch over the precipice at the end of the world seemed both terrible and unknown. Tough, wiry, dry-eyed men stared intensely, white-knuckled, forwards, awaiting their fate.

Then, in the late afternoon, relief came: the fog lifted revealing a be-cliffed, steeply-hilled, thickly-wooded isle, full of game and birds, balmy of climate, rich in soil, and -- untouched by the foot of man. The roar they had heard was not, it turned out, the ocean pitching into the netherworld but -- the ocean surf crashing against her rocks!

(Tratado que comproz o nobre e notavel capitão Antonio Galvão dos diversos & disvaridos Caminhos, per onde nos tempos passados a pimenta & especcaria veio da India as nossas partes, & assim... Lisbon, 1563)

Such was the Portuguese discovery of Madeira in 1419.

Or not exactly - the discovery: it is the first of the many strange mysteries of the island that, it turns out, it had not been unknown prior to the Portuguese discovery; rather it seems to have been someone's well guarded secret, though we are not sure whose: a fourteenth century Italian navigational map has since come to light showing clearly the island's location and fairly precise drawing of its coastline. Who made it and who owned and used it and for what purpose, we do not know; but someone did.

Nor do we know why they kept it a secret, but they did.


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