Largo do Pelourinho

The term ‘square’ is a bit of a misnomer for Porto Santo’s focal hub, because Largo do Pelourinho is triangle-shaped. Also, although it is the heart of town it is often a picture of quiet repose – an old man gently tapping his toe at the café, a visitor wandering into the church, a municipal official disappearing into the town hall. Date palms provide patches of shade, and you can also see a few Dragon Trees, a curious native of the Madeiran archipelago that oozes a red sap. This ‘Dragon’s Blood’ was once used in dyes and varnish for musical instruments, as well as in medicines (it was supposed to have magical properties).

Most of the solid little Old Town Hall at the top end of Largo do Pelourinho dates back to the 16th century. Across the way is the seat of the Regional Government. Next door to the town hall, the parish church of Nossa Senhora da Piedade is on the site of Porto Santo’s first chapel, built between 1420 and 1446. This chapel was burned down by pirates in 1667, and the villagers then built the church we see today. A small gothic chapel on the south side of the building is all that remains of the original. The centerpiece of the church is a 17th-century painting of Mary Magdalene and a Deposition from the Cross. Beyond the church is the startlingly modern new town hall and Cultural & Congress Centre, often a venue for films, conferences and concerts. Behind the Congress Centre, on Rua Cristóvão Colombo, is the Capela de Misericórdia, a simple church in the Mannerist style, dating from the middle of the 16th century but battered by subsequent pirate raids. At the entrance is an old font for holy water, carved from Porto Santo stone.

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