The traditional Santana Madeira houses, found in the north of the island, are iconic symbols of the island’s rich cultural heritage. These traditional homes, with their distinctive triangular thatched roofs and red, white, and blue colors, offer a unique look at the history and traditions of Madeira.
More than 100 charming, A-frame homes still exist in the village of Santana, thanks to a tourism initiative. I was able to visit these charming houses and can guarantee that it’s one of the best things to do in Madeira!
Whether you’re looking for history, locations, or the best tours, I’m covering it all in this complete guide to the traditional Madeira homes.
History and Origins of Santana Houses
The rich history and origins of these traditional island homes trace back to the discovery of Madeira in 1419. Mainly rural homes used by local farmers during the settlement of the island, Santana houses are renowned for their distinctive triangular thatched roofs and colorful wooden exteriors.
Back in the day, you could easily find 3 generations living in one of these traditional houses!
Each aspect of a Santana house holds significance, from the choice of materials to the intricate details of its design. The thatched roofs, made from straw and other local materials, provides insulation and protection from the elements. Straw was one of Madeira’s most abundant natural resources. It was inexpensive and easy to find.
The triangular shape of the roofs not only ensures strength and stability but also facilitates rainwater drainage, vital in the island’s unpredictable climate.
The colorful wooden exteriors not only add vibrancy to the landscape but also represent the resourcefulness of the local people who used readily available materials to build their homes.
Inside the Houses
Inside, the houses feature a simple yet functional layout, with rooms arranged around a central courtyard. This design promotes a sense of community and connection among the residents. I was definitely surprised by the amount of available space inside.
A typical Santana house includes an attic where agricultural products like seeds were stored. The ground floor serves as the living area, often divided into two sections by a partition wall. Depending on the slope of the land, some houses also have a basement, known as a “loja.”
Access to the attic can be gained either from within the house through a trapdoor or from outside using a stepladder. The kitchen is usually housed in a separate structure, also featuring a straw roof. In addition to cooking, women manage various tasks in the kitchen, such as embroidery, sewing, spinning, and other domestic and agricultural activities.
You’ll also find haylofts in the area, which are similar structures used for storing livestock. Nowadays, the local city hall has taken steps to preserve the cultural heritage by utilizing abandoned lands for planting maize and rye. These plantations serve the purpose of maintaining the typical houses by providing a source of straw.
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Visiting Traditional Santana, Madeira Houses
While Madeirans no longer live in these small triangular houses, you can still visit the island’s casa tipicas on a trip to Madeira. Most of the traditional houses of Madeira are found in the town of Santana, a picturesque village known for its concentration of these historic island homes.
The municipality of Santana, named after Saint Anne, is a quaint municipality with less than 9,000 residents spread across 60 square miles (96 square km). The region, recognized as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2011, has a diverse ecosystem, including a mountainous landscape that covers its river valleys.
Exploring the scenic walking paths and cultural heritage of the Santana houses was one of the best things I did during my Madeira solo trip.
If you want to visit Santana’s typical houses, you’ll be able to see inside, including the quaint kitchens and where the locals stored their goods. Many of the houses have been restored into tourist sites and souvenir shops.
PRO TIP: Combine your visit to the traditional Madeira houses with a stop at Pico Ruivo, the highest peak on the island!
Where to See Famous Santana Houses
There are a couple different places where you can visit Santana’s traditional houses and get an idea of what typical homes were like back in the day for you. You may even be able to talk with some of the locals whose parents used to live in them!
There are a few groupings of colorful houses just outside the town centre. Here are my top recommendations:
Santana Old House
I highly recommend a stop by Santana Old House. This is the best place to get a local’s perspective of the picturesque houses.
I actually visited twice when I was in Madeira, once on a tour, and once with some friends I made at my hostel. The owner was present on both occasions.
He generously shared captivating stories about his parents’ experiences living in this very home. You might even have the opportunity to sample his delightful homemade coffee liquor, which we all really loved.
Keep in mind, the owner only speaks Spanish and Portuguese. Luckily, I was with people who could translate, but even without that, you can really tell how warm and friendly this guy is! I saw him using his phone to try and translate things into English for a group that came in after us.
Despite attracting plenty of tourists, the Santana Old House remains an authentic representative of traditional Santana.
Casas Tipicas de Santana
Another must-visit stop, located just a few minutes away in a residential area, is Casas Tipicas de Santana.
Situated in the heart of Santana, this is where you’ll find a charming cluster of typical Santana Houses surrounded by beautiful gardens. The area also features small shops with local vendors, food stands, and a fun atmosphere.
While it may be popular among tourists, taking a leisurely stroll here really allows you to immerse yourself in the essence of Madeira.
Getting to Santana, Madeira
Once you reach Madeira, there are a couple of ways to get from the main town of Funchal to Santana.
- Drive: You can reach Santana from Funchal on a quick 40-minute drive.
- Taxi: You can expect to pay about €30 to take a taxi or rideshare from Funchal airport to Santana.
- Tour: Joining a tour is the best way to see Santana if you don’t want to rent a car.
- Bus: The cheapest way to get from Funchal to Santana is via the line 56 bus for €2 – €4.
PS: Want to know the best time to visit Portugal? Check out my guide to the annual seasons and weather to start planning your trip.
Best Santana Madeira House Tours
Since this trip was part of my Portugal solo travel trip, visiting the Santana, Madeira houses on a tour made the most sense.
This Eastern Madeira tour was perfect. I got to see the traditional island homes, plus visit the scenic Pico Areiro and enjoy lunch in Santana.
If you want to book a private tour for your grip, this private half-day tour is the most highly rated option.
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Use this handy map to find the exact location and parking for the Santana houses.
Santana House Preservation
The local government and community have worked diligently to protect these traditional homes and promote their cultural value. By allowing visitors to experience the charm and authenticity of Santana houses, locals have successfully created sustainable tourism opportunities, benefiting both the community and the preservation of their heritage.
In order to ensure the continued preservation and appreciation of Santana houses, it is crucial to educate visitors about their historical and cultural significance.
Tourist information centers can provide guided tours that delve into the origins and construction techniques of these traditional homes. Additionally, there are initiatives to support local artisans and craftsmen who specialize in maintaining and restoring Santana houses, ensuring the survival of these unique architectural treasures for future generations to admire.
Main Characteristics of Santana Houses
Santana houses are known for their distinctive features that represent the traditional architecture of the island. These unique dwellings showcase the main characteristics of Santana houses with their charming design and cultural significance.
1. Thatched Roof: Santana Houses feature triangular thatched roofs, which are made from local straw known as “colmo.” This design not only provides insulation but also gives the houses a rustic and traditional look.
2. A-Frame Colors: A notable characteristic of Santana houses is the presence of their tall, A-frame. These exteriors are both functional and decorative, allowing for proper ventilation and adding to the overall aesthetics of the houses with red and blue trim against a white background.
3. Wooden Construction: Santana houses are typically constructed using local wood, such as cedar, oak, or pine. The wooden framework, combined with stone walls, creates a sturdy and durable structure that withstands the island’s challenging climate.
These main characteristics of Santana houses contribute to their unique appeal and authenticity. The careful preservation of these traditional features ensures that the island’s cultural heritage is passed down to future generations.
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Dimensions and Maintenance of Santana Houses
In discussing the dimensions and maintenance of Santana houses, it is important to consider their unique characteristics which require diligent upkeep to preserve their authenticity and longevity.
- Dimensions: Santana houses are known for their distinctive triangular shape and thatched roofs, which contribute to their charm and identity. These houses typically have small interiors, with an average floor area of around 100 square meters, allowing for efficient use of space.
- Maintenance: Due to their traditional construction materials and methods, Santana houses need regular maintenance to ensure their integrity and durability. This includes periodic rethatching of roofs, maintenance of wooden structures, and preservation of the characteristic colorful facades.
- Preserving Authenticity: Maintaining the original dimensions and architectural features of Santana houses is essential in preserving their cultural heritage. Owners often engage in restoration projects that adhere to traditional techniques and materials, showcasing a commitment to longevity and cultural preservation.
Buying Traditional Santana Houses
When it comes to purchasing traditional Santana houses, there are several essential factors to consider. Here are six key points to help you navigate the process:
- Location: Santana houses are typically situated in the charming and picturesque island of Madeira.
- Architecture: These traditional homes feature unique triangular thatched roofs and vibrant colors, showcasing the local architecture.
- Authenticity: Santana houses offer an opportunity to experience the rich cultural heritage of Madeira firsthand.
- Preservation: Buying a Santana house contributes to the preservation of this traditional architectural style and supports the local community.
- Investment Potential: Investing in a Santana house can be a financially sound decision due to the growing interest in their unique charm and historical value.
- Lifestyle Experience: Owning a traditional Santana house allows for an immersive and authentic island lifestyle experience.
In addition to these key points, it’s worth noting that Santana houses hold a special place in the hearts of the locals as an important part of their heritage. These homes are not only dwellings but also cherished symbols of Madeiran culture.
Facts About Santana Houses in Madeira
✅ The traditional houses of Santana are a trademark of Madeira Island and are well worth a visit.
✅ The origins of the traditional houses of Santana date back to the century when Madeira was discovered.
✅ These charming houses are made from materials that the Madeirans could quickly obtain by working in the fields, such as wood, heather, wicker, and thatch.
✅ The traditional Santana houses have a unique triangular shape and distinctive coloring on the outside, with a loft closer to the roof and a humble living room and cellar on the ground floor.
What are the typical houses of Santana on the Portuguese island of Madeira?
The typical houses of Santana are historical buildings with thatched roofs, known for their unique coloring and triangular shape.
What are the main characteristics of the traditional houses in Santana?
The traditional houses in Santana have a triangular shape, unique coloring, and contain a loft closer to the roof. The ground floor usually consists of a humble living room and a cellar.
What are the materials used in the construction of traditional Santana houses?
Traditional Santana houses are made from wood for the structure and facades, while heather, wicker, and thatch are used for roofing and security inside.
How are the traditional Santana houses maintained?
The thatch roofing of Santana houses needs to be replaced every 4 or 5 years due to the potential damage caused by heavy rain in winter and high temperatures in summer.
Where can I find the traditional houses in Santana?
Most of the traditional houses in Santana can be found in the town center near the City Hall. You can visit the “Núcleo de Casas Típicas de Santana,” an open-air museum showcasing iconic thatched houses.
How far is Santana from Funchal?
The drive from Funchal to Santana takes just over 40 minutes and is approximately 25 miles (40 kilometers) long. Public transport options are also available.
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