Since 2016, the building hosting the legislative assembly of the autonomous region of Madeira cooperates with “Madeira Heritage – Sharing our Legacy”, a project run by the University of Madeira Students Union, joining cultural and touristic offers.
The sixteenth century building, now hosting the Assembly, was built in four phases and used to serve as the New Customs of Funchal.
Madeiras first customs were built in the 15th century (1477) under the order of Lady Beatriz, Duchess of Viseu, and answered to the increasing need of control over the sugar trade. Custom houses existed in Machico, in Santa Cruz and in Funchal, next to the Pelourinho square, where nowadays the ruins of the São Filipe fortress can be found. They served to control the custom duties the Duque introduced on the goods entering and leaving the city through the piers.
Funchal has always been an important crossing point for the upkeeping of the territories in North Africa, as well as for the explorers of the Orient and the trade of cereal, sugar, wine and other goods.
The economic aspects of the island started to deserve special attention by the monarch, because of the wealth produced by it and the financial benefits to the crown. To control these movements, King Manuel I decided to send a one and only custom house to the island which would be the administrative center of the island, which was Funchal, the first city in the Portuguese overseas territory (given city rights in 1508).
The guided visit is an informative tour through the building, accompanied by one of our guides. They are carried out on Fridays at 3pm and take approximately one hour.
The Visit can be done in Portuguese, English, French, German, Spanish and Polish. For scheduling your visit, you can contact the shops of the Students Union, being Naturalmente Português (1st floor in the La Vie Shopping Center) and Gaudeamus (Rua dos Ferreiros, Administration of the University of Madeira), call us (+351 291 705 060) or send a mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The New Customs became National Monument in 1940. Throughout the 20th century various restorations had been carried out in order to host either the Regional Archives, the Museum of Natural History or the Regional Museum. In the end, the Regional Legislative assembly, the most important organ for Madeira’s sovereignty moved into the building.
The visit begins in the Noble Room, where dinners, concerts and official ceremonies are held. It was here that Cristiano Ronaldo received, in 2014 from the president of the Assembly, the highest prestigious award of Madeira, the Cordão Autonómico de Distinção.
The space outside of the room is part of the second construction phase from 1654, executed by Bartolomeu João.
Up the second floor we find the library, which used to be where the main customs house officer (Provedor) worked. The room has a magnificent wooden ceiling carved in 1516. This room and the Noble Room were connected with the outer staircase. The library had also a window over 4 metres high, which led to the sea. In the display case are Laws of the Diocese of Funchal from 1601 (Constituições Sinodais do Bispado do Funchal) approved by the Inquisition’s General Council. The document holds some rules to be followed by the clergy and the general population. These exact ones where published Luis Figueiredo de Lemos, the bishop of Funchal who used the previous edition written by his predecessor Jerónimo Barreto (1585), adding some extra laws known as Extravagantes.
Both the meeting room and the President room can be visited, containing caixa de açúcar cupboards – have this name for being the boxes used to carry the sugar (caixas de açúcar) reused to build the cupboards - , a large chair with claw and ball feet, two Contadores (sort of archives), a chest with drawers in the Portuguese style, and Flemish style tapestries of the 17th century, one of them portraying the Portuguese empire and expansion
Going back to the lower floor, we are able to see Plenum, which is part of the last construction phase of the building and was raised in the pit of the old defensive battery of the customs house. It is a work of Raul Chorão Ramalho, well-known Portuguese architect, and it is where the 47 elected members of Parliament of Madeira meet.
The visit ends in the chapel of Saint Anthony, built during the 18th century (1715) by Inácio Gomes Fragoso. It is called Saint Anthony da Mouraria, referencing the time he was in the North of Africa, where he tried to convert Moors. The chapel was built on the orders of the will of the old customs house judge João de Aguiar, who was buried in here. His corpse was later moved during the renovation works of the chapel in September 1977, works which were done for 500 years celebration of the customs house of Funchal.