Why Calçada do Pico and Calçada de Santa Clara are such important places?
Funchal’s settlement started in 1425.
Soon, a working community settled in what is nowadays known as the Zona Velha (Old Town), in the East of Funchal.
Our first Captain-donate, João Gonçalves Zarco, built his first house in the area where we have now the Parque Santa Catarina. However, when he passed away, his residence was in Calçada do Pico, an area with a privileged view over the city.
It is said that the house was still in wood when he passed away. His son (João Gonçalves da Câmara) and grandson were the ones building a bigger house, in stones, that was transformed over the centuries and got to the 21st Century as a great example of a Madeiran Manson.
João Gonçalves Zarco and his family were the first important people settling in this area and had great influence in it, as it was this family that order to built the first female convent of the island. However, over the centuries, this area housed a lot of important and wealthy people of Funchal and that is why it’s now-a-days and important Museological area.
Quinta das Cruzes, the house that belonged to Zarco’s descendents until the 17th century, is, since 1956, a museum that houses important collections and donations. Paintings, furniture, jewelry, silverware, oratories… These are some of the things you can see inside the museum.
The Garden in Quinta das Cruzes, is part of the Botanical Gardens’ network of the Island and is, as well, an archeological ground as it has some windows and gravestones that belonged to long gone mansions, including a window frame of the house that Christopher Columbus lived when he was in Funchal.
In the opposite side of the street from Quinta das Cruzes, there’s another interesting House.
The House is dated from the 19th Century and it was built by the bastard son of the Conde da Calçada, one of the richest man that lived in the area.
There’s very little left of the original house, but the collections inside are truly impressive!
They were donated by João Carlos Abreu, a man that worked more than 40 years in Tourism. He was even our Secretary of Tourism for a few years!!
João Carlos Abreu travelled all over the world and lived in a few European cities. In his travels, he acquired interesting items that are now exposed in this museum. Not only the collections are impressive, the Tea House is the perfect way to finish your visit, with a great view over Funchal!
South of Quinta das Cruzes, there’s Convento de Santa Clara, my favourite monument in this area, as its history is relevant also outside of Funchal.
Convento de Santa Clara was order to be built by João Gonçalves da Câmara, the second Captain-donate of Funchal.
This Convent was built to house the nobel daughters of Funchal and D. Filipa de Noronha, the Captain-donate’s daughter was the first Abess of this Convent. João Gonçalves da Câmara bought the lands of what is now the village of the Nun’s Valley and offered it to the Convent as the dowry of his daughter.
In 1566, the most violent privateer attack happened in Funchal. About 1300 French privateers invaded the city and stayed for 16 days, ransacking Funchal.
When the privateers arrived, the Nuns fled from Santa Clara and hid in the Nuns’ Valley for the time the invaders where in town and it was after this event that the population started calling that little village the Valley of the Nuns.
In 1834, a law created in Portugal abolished all the Religious Orders and all Convents and Monasteries were to be closed. The Monarchy allowed the nuns to stay in the convents until the last one passed away. The last nun of this convent passed away in 1890.
There were plans to built a hospital and a kindergarten here. There was never a hospital in this convent, however, it is nowadays a kindergarten as well as a museum.
I love Convento de Santa Clara because when you visit it, you can really feel how ancient it is, with its worned off tiles, chairs and oratories. When I visited the Convent, I closed my eyes and I just “saw” the nuns on their day to day life, taking care of the garden, singing in the choir, praying in the oratories… It is an amazing museum in Funchal!
The Convent’s Church was order to be built by the Discoverer, João Gonçalves Zarco, however, when visiting the whole complex, the church looks much more recent than the Convent.
Portugal fought with the Allies in World War I. Funchal was bombed twice by German Submarines.
In the first attack, 1916, only the French and English vessels in our harbour were attack, as well as the batteries in São Tiago’s Fortress and Quinta Vigia’s, that were defending Funchal.
The second attack happened in December 1917. Funchal was bombed and the bombs got as far as Convento de Santa Clara. There was a mass at the time of the attack. Some people died inside the Church, including the priest.
The church had to be rebuilt afterwards and that’s why it looks so new compared to the Convent!
About 30 meters under the Convent, there’s the Red House of Calçada de Santa Clara - Frederico Freitas House-Museum, a building that dates back to the 17th century.
Frederico Freitas was a lawyer that rented this house for about 40 years!
During his life, he collected sculptures, paintings, furniture and ceramics. His first collections were basically related to Madeira, however he ended up collecting nacional and foreigner pieces.
Frederico Freitas left all his collections to the Autonomous Region of Madeira. In 1978, the local government started the process to acquire the house so his collections could be displayed.
In Frederico Freitas House Museum there’s also an amazing tiles' collection, in which you can find tiles from Portugal, Spain and Norden Africa, from various centuries.
It is really an impressive museum and you can visit it from Tuesday to Saturday, from 10 am to 5 pm.
The last museum in the Saint Peter’s Historical Centre, is the Natural History Museum.
The building that houses this museum dates to the 18th Century. It has been the residence of a very wealthy madeiran family (the Counts of Carvalhal), it has been an hotel, a college, an international club and since the 1930’s it houses the Natural History Museum. This is the oldest museum of the island.
There’s about 41.000 species in this museum. There’s always a temporary exhibit and there’s also a small aquarium in which you can see some of the species that live around Madeira’s coast.
You shouldn’t miss out on this museum if you are interested in Fauna and Flora!
Just next to the Natural History Museum, you can see a beautiful Church, the Igreja de São Pedro.
This temple was order to be built in 1590, however it was only concluded in 1743. During its construction, the plant suffered several alterations. It turned out to be a beautiful church (the most beautiful in Funchal, if you ask me!), with its walls covered in blue and white tiles, the paintings, gold carvings and amazing ceiling!
The Saint Peter Historical Centre is definitely a place to visit and the Free Walking Tours Funchal will gladly take you there!!