Tourist and resident information on Portugal, Madeira and The Azores

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João Gonçalves Zarco Statue (Estátua João Gonçalves Zarco), Funchal, Madeira

A statue of João Gonçalves Zarco, the "discoverer" of Madeira and First Captain of the island stands on Avenida Zarco in the Zona Vehla (Old Town) of Funchal.

Estátua João Gonçalves Zarco.
The Estátua João Gonçalves Zarco in Funchal


The monument dates from 1934. The architect Cristiano da Silva designed the stone base with its allegoric figures representing the Age of Discoveries: Conquest, Evangelization, Settlement, and Wisdom. The bronze statue on top is the work of sculptor Francisco Franco.

Zarco - The Man

João Gonçalves Zarco, also just known as Zarco was a Portuguese navigator and explorer who played a significant role in the early exploration and colonization of both Madeira and nearby Porto Santo. He is considered an influential figure in the history of Portuguese maritime discoveries.

Little is known of Zarco's life. He was born around 1390, possibly 1387, in the Alentejo region of Portugal or in Tomar in Estremadura. It is also possible he was of Jewish ancestry. He first gained experience in navigation and exploration through his involvement in expeditions along the African coast. In 1419, he was appointed by Prince Henry the Navigator to lead an expedition to search for new lands in the Atlantic.

Zarco, along with his companion Tristão Vaz Teixeira with the support of Henry the Navigator, set sail in 1419 and first "discovered" the island of Porto Santo, part of the Madeira archipelago. However, the existence of the islands is thought to have been known long before by the Romans. Impressed by the island's potential for colonization, they returned to Portugal to report their findings.

18th-century portrait of Zarco.
18th-century portrait of Zarco

In 1420, Zarco embarked on a second expedition, this time accompanied by Bartolomeu Perestrelo, to further explore and colonize the newly discovered islands. During this expedition, they reached the larger island nearby, which they named Madeira due to the abundance of timber they found. They supposedly landed at Câmara de Lobos and brought tools, seeds, and rabbits with them. Zarco played a crucial role in establishing the first settlements on the islands, bringing settlers, introducing agriculture including viticulture, and overseeing the development of the colony as First Captain. This "development" also involved a considerable amount of ecological destruction as fires lit to clear the forest supposedly burnt for years and the rabbits became a plague.

Once Portuguese settlement began, Zarco ruled the island's southwest based on Funchal, while fellow captain Tristão Vaz Teixeira controlled the northeast from Machico.

Zarco's efforts paved the way for subsequent Portuguese expeditions and the eventual colonization of the Azores, Cape Verde, and other territories in the Atlantic. His discoveries greatly expanded Portugal's knowledge of the Atlantic Ocean and contributed to the country's dominance in maritime exploration during the Age of Discovery.

Despite his achievements, there is limited information available about Gonçalves Zarco's personal life. He married and had seven children, this we know. His expeditions and contributions to Portuguese exploration, particularly in the discovery and colonization of Madeira and Porto Santo, remain, however, his most significant legacies. He died in Funchal in 1467.

Banco de Portugal building, Funchal.
Banco de Portugal building, Funchal

Access - Getting There

The statue stands at the intersection of Avenida Zarco and Avenida Arriaga close to Funchal Cathedral and just outside the impressive Banco de Portugal building.

Also within easy walking distance of the monument are the Palacio de São Lourenço (Madeira Military Museum), the Museu de Fotografia da Madeira - Atelier Vicente's, Blandy's Wine Lodge, Fala Fala vegetarian restaurant, and the 3D Fun Art Museum.

Statue of João Gonçalves Zarco.
Statue of João Gonçalves Zarco

Hotels in Funchal

If you wish to stay in Funchal try the recommended Quinta do Monte. Other recommended places to stay in the city include the Hotel Quinta Bela S.Tiago or the budget Pensao Residencial Mirasol.

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