Santo António was the first suburban parish of Funchal and the one that rapidly developed reaching a population higher than the other city parishes. Nowadays, it is still the most populated parish of the archipelago.
If its historical evolution is marked by different regional socioeconomic conjunctures, the organisation of the territory is strongly influenced by its orography, which determines important climatic variations and a differentiated distribution of biodiversity, agriculture and even population distribution.
Santo António has become one of the most important residential areas of Funchal. Nevertheless, the marks of its historical rurality can be found in the landscape, in the heritage and in the collective memory of its people.
With an area of 22.17 km2, Santo António is an integral part of the Funchal municipality being limited by São Roque parish to the East, São Martinho parish to the South, Câmara de Lobos to the Southwest, Estreito de Câmara de Lobos to the West and Curral das Freiras to the Northwest.
Its narrow and elongated form, with a south-north orientation, is characterised by a complex terrain, with drastic altitude differences, expressed in a succession of deep valleys, steep slopes and extensive ridges or hills that were preferred sites for human settlements since the early colonisation of the island.
Its location, on the southern slope of Madeira Island, sheltered from the prevailing north winds, gives it a mild climate all year round, especially in the lower areas of the parish (below 200 metres above sea level), which shows patterns of a Mediterranean climate, marked by a well-defined summer season, with an average annual temperature that varies between 15 and 19° C.
When you go up in altitude, the temperatures are gradually lower. At the top of the slopes and peaks that border the parish to the north, near Pico do Areeiro, the weather patterns are of altitude climate. There are no dry months in the summer season and the average annual temperature is below 10° C.
In terms of pluviometry, the areas to the north of the parish register higher values of precipitation, being able to reach 2000 and 2800 mm / year. The combination of orography factors, high altitudes and predominance of North winds, gives rise to frequent fogs and orographic rains that precipitate in abundance in these areas. As we descend along the slope, the annual precipitation is progressively lower, reaching values around 800 mm / year, in the southern part of the parish.
There is a strong rainfall variability around the year, with the occurrence of more intense precipitation in the beginning of spring and autumn, contrary to the months of May to September, where precipitation is scarce.
The hydrographic network is quite young, generally characterised by a non-permanent, torrential regime. Most of the valleys are deeply embedded, V-shaped, caused by a very sharp vertical erosion.
The mountainous terrain and climatic variations in altitude, determine the existence of several levels of vegetation (bioclimatic levels) that are reflected in agricultural production. Up to 200 metres above sea level, tropical crops predominate, prevailing banana trees, and a mix of tropical fruit trees, such as cherimoya, papaya, avocado, mango trees and passion fruit trellis.
Up to 600 metres Mediterranean fruit trees, vegetables and vineyards predominate. Above this altitude, up to about 800 meters, in colder and more humid places, fruit trees with origins in regions with temperate oceanic climate, like pear, plum and apple trees, alongside a variety of vegetables, are common. Above 800 metres, agricultural production is rare. The area is occupied by exotic forest, which in the past provided firewood for the population.
From 1600 metres above sea level, the vegetation consists mainly of herbaceous and shrubby plants gathered in several rupicolous and herbaceous plant communities, with several endemic species, such as Armeria maderensis (Madeira Thrift), Anthyllis lemanniana (Madeira Kidney-vetch), Deschampsia maderensis, Teucrium francoi, Echium candicans (Pride of Madeira), Erica maderensis (Madeira Grey Heather), Orchis scopulorum, Plantago malato-belizii, Viola paradoxa among others.
The mild temperature and the low rainfall are crucial for the agricultural land from the lower areas. However, the lack of rainfall in the summer months had to be compensated by a complex system of water channels (levadas), through which the water flows, irrigates agricultural plots, and enables crops that are more profitable. The construction of terraces was also fundamental for the stabilisation of the soils, although it makes mechanisation difficult, which means that the production is mostly manual and unprofitable. Therefore, agricultural activity is generally a complement to the main occupation, and products mainly go for self-consumption.
Farms are usually very small and fragmented, because of a long process of division and sharing of the land over generations. Also because some of the best areas for agriculture have been, over years, taken over by urban expansion, especially in the lower areas of the parish.
Due to these reasons, the territory is organised accordingly to the characteristics of terrain that implies climatic variations and a differentiated distribution of biodiversity and human occupation.
In the northern areas, where the highest points stand, the territory is mountainous and consists mostly of forested areas with great natural and scenic interest. There the visitor can enjoy landscapes of great natural beauty and walk along pedestrian paths.
In the middle area, the succession of mounds, parted by deep valleys where the streams run, serve as the backdrop for a superb humanised landscape with agricultural terraces and dispersed households at the top of the hills that become denser as the slope descends.
To the south, the milder terrain and closeness to the centre of Funchal gave place for the more dense urbanized area with a greater concentration of services and landmarks, which preserves the inheritance of a rural past and reflects simultaneously the current socioeconomic tendencies.
With a population of 27,383 inhabitants (2011), Santo António parish is the most populous of the Madeira Archipelago and one of the most densely populated, with 1,235.1 persons per sq. km. The evolution of the number of residents has increased regularly since 1864, except in 1960, when the parish lost 306 inhabitants and, in 1991, when it lost 282 inhabitants.
This almost continuous growth of population can be explained by the appeal of this parish, which has long welcomed people from all over the island seeking better living conditions in Funchal. The occasional situations of loss of workforce are due to specific phenomena of mass emigration and to the decrease in births that have occurred in the last quarter of the 20th century.
In Santo António, until the 1960s, as it was all around Madeira, the population was predominantly young, with high birth rates, resulting from the predominance of an agricultural economy, where the children were seen as a source of income, working in fields from a very early age. This phenomenon was also associated with the absence of obligatory schooling, which resulted in high illiteracy rates, a strong religious influence alongside weak dissemination of contraceptive methods and low participation of women in the labour market. On the other hand, poor living conditions, lack of health and medical care were responsible for a low average life expectancy, which lead to a reduced number of elderly people.
From 1950, the rural exodus towards Funchal intensifies, being particularly expressive in the ‘60s and ‘70s. A strong migratory flow also contributed to a reduction in birth rates and, consequently, to a decrease in the number of young people and young adults, that resulted in the aging of population.
However, the geographical position of Santo António has long been an attractive for internal migrants, who chose this parish, among other things, for the price of land, proximity to the labour market of Funchal and the pleasant climate. As a result, in the second half of the 20th century, there is a dispersion of small households, which begin to be more frequent in the lower areas of the parish and along the hills. Over the years, this occupation grew taking over a great part of the hills, until an altitude quota of nearly 750 metres.
On the other hand, the occupation of the city centre by specialised services, business centres, industries and new forms of commerce, which intensified at the beginning of the 21st century, led many families to move to the outskirts of downtown Funchal, and Santo António became a favourite area of residence. Between 2001 and 2011, population growth was of 24.8%, which in the lower areas of the parish resulted in the replacement of many single-family houses with apartments, which contributed to a significant increase in population density. This phenomenon has been associated with the proliferation of small commerce and services, which contributed to the socio-economic dynamism that this parish currently has.
“Arraiais” are traditional religious festivities in honour of the parish patron saint. After the mass in honour of the Saint, several men carry His image through the streets in the traditional processions. For the celebration of the Blessed Sacrament, the population prepares a carpet of natural flowers through which the procession passes. This kind of events has become a hallmark of local identity.
Around the churches, the streets are decorated with traditional flags and colourful lighting. The entertainment programme includes music and philharmonic bands, fireworks, traditional gastronomy and several stalls selling handicrafts and other local products.
The traditional festivities in Santo António parish:
Parish of Santo António
The feast of St. Anthony, the parish patron, is celebrated on June 13, followed by the celebrations of Our Lord on the third Sunday of June. A celebration in honour of Our Lady of Guadalupe takes place on the last Sunday of October.
Álamos Parish Church
The feast of St. John the Baptist is on June 24, if it coincides with a Sunday, otherwise the celebration takes place the following Sunday. Our Lord festivities take place on the first Sunday of July.
Santo Amaro Parish Church
This parish honours Saint Amaro on the first Sunday after January 15. The day of St. Anthony the Abbot is celebrated on the first Sunday after January 17. Celebrations in honour of Saint John the Baptist take place on June 24, if it coincides with Sunday, otherwise the celebration takes place the following Sunday. Our Lord festivities take place on the first Sunday of August.
Nossa Senhora da Visitação Parish Church
Celebrations in honour of Our Lady of the Visitation take place on the last Sunday of July. Our Lord festivities take place on the first Sunday of August. The festivities of the Lord of Patience, at the Monastery of Lombo dos Aguiares, take place on the second Sunday of September.
Nossa Senhora da Graça Parish Church
Honours Our Lady of All Graces on the first Sunday of June. Our Lord festivities take place on the second Sunday of July.
Do you know what “descansos” are? There are more than 50 in Santo António parish!
“Descansos”, literally translated as “rests”, were stopping points used to rest the goods that people carried on their backs right down from the high areas of Santo António and Curral das Freiras, to sell their goods in Funchal centre.
Did you know that Santo António used to have a football club named Mataró FC?
Mataró FC was created by amateur players, who played in organised tournaments between neighbourhoods, in the “Eucalyptus Stadium”. The “Stadium” got its name after some eucalyptus growing on the field.
Did you know that in the 1930s there was a cinema in Santo António?
At the time of the creation of the “Casa do Povo” (lit. “People’s House”, a place which promotes local cultural heritage), in 1937, a cinema was created in a large warehouse with capacity for hundreds of people and films were shown at the weekend. The cinema closed in 1970.
Do you know who were the “magotes” (bundles)?
They were the groups of people from the higher parts of Santo António that, before the existence of public transport network, would descend every morning on foot from the hills of the parish, to work on the farms and commercial businesses in the centre of Funchal. At night, they would go back the same way to return to their homes.
Did you know that the building of Casa do Povo of Santo António is not the original one?
The original “People's House” was located in Caminho da Ladeira, in Terra Chã. It was created in 1937, and later was sold to businessman João Jardim for 240,000 escudos (€ 1070). With this money and with the help of the population, the new House was built which nowadays continues its work in the same place. Currently, the grounds of the former People’s House is a residential area.
Did you know there was a fountain in Santo António that cured malaria?
The fountain of Água Férrea or Jamboto is one of the best known and most celebrated of the parish. The name “Água Férrea” (lit. Iron Water) was given to the fountain because it was believed to have therapeutic qualities for the treatment of several diseases. Funchal City Council hired the analyst Charles Lapierre to run the research of the chemical and bacteriological qualities of the water, and he concluded that from a chemical point of view the water belonged to the hypossaline, chlorinated and ironed waters group. The water was rich in sodium chloride and sodium bicarbonates minerals; magnesium and lime bicarbonates was also present alongside small amounts of sulphates and nitrates, and lack of ammonia and organic matter, indicating the good qualities of the water. From the bacteriological point of view it is a very pure water, hence it was believed to cure malaria.
Did you know that international football player Cristiano Ronaldo (CR7) is from Santo António?
The Portuguese international player Cristiano Ronaldo was born in Santo António, and lived part of his childhood in number 23 of Quinta do Falcão neighbourhood.
Did you know that there is the ongoing beatification process of a Nun born and raised in Santo António?
Mother Virginia Brites da Paixão, born on October 24, 1860, had her first contact with the divine at the age of 7. At the age of 9, during her First Holy Communion, she had another revelation from Jesus who asked for her heart. She entered the Nossa Senhora das Mercês Monastery at the age of 23 following a religious career.
Her fame of virtue, penance and beatitudes lead to her adoration that still prevails in the present day. Her beatification and canonisation process is open.
Santo António Monastery was built at her parents’ old house. There you can visit the chapel, where the image of Our Lord of Patience stands, and the room of mother Virginia.
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