João Esmeraldo, Jeanin Esmerandt or Esmenaut, born in Bethume in the county of Artois, came from Bruges to Lisbon in 1480, as an employee of Despars trading house, based in Bruges. This company was dedicated to business with sugar from Madeira.
The farmer and trader Esmenaut or Esmeraldo, built a house that has become very popular during the sixteenth century due to its richness and dimension.
Their homes in Funchal won more fame for having received Christopher Columbus when he went to the island, probably to conduct business related to sugar or when passed here on his third journey to America.
But if everything has its high points, also has its less famous times, and formerly famous houses were eventually demolished on 9 November 1876. At this time, the houses were occupied by warehouses of cereals.
Following the general degradation of the buildings on the block between the Customs streets, João Esmeraldo, Christopher Columbus and soap, the City Council decided to recover this whole area as a square. However, given the opportunity to meet important archaeological elements, was invited qualified staff for the excavations. Some of the material found is currently on display in the municipal thematic nucleus dedicated to sugar (Museum Centre of Sugar City, Columbus Square).
In marketer condition, João Esmeraldo moved several times to Madeira to settle here permanently. It becomes even sugar producer by acquiring Rui Gonçalves da Câmara the large estate of the Spine in Ponta do Sol, Madeira, where even today, despite major changes, there is the Solar dos Esmeraldos.
In 1498, Christopher Columbus, elevated to the status of Admiral and Viceroy of the Indies, en route to his third trip to America, go through the wood. A tradition nurtured for centuries says he spent in the house of Funchal João Esmeraldo the six days of their stay. The João Esmeraldo’s house was built around 1495 by the mason Gomes Garcia. Unfortunately it would be destroyed in 1876.
Following the general degradation of the buildings on the block between the Customs streets, João Esmeraldo, Christopher Columbus and soap, the City Council decided to recover this whole area as a square. However, given the opportunity to meet important archaeological elements, was invited qualified staff for the excavations. Some of the material found is currently on display in the municipal thematic nucleus dedicated to sugar (Museum of Sugar City, Columbus Square).
Archaeological excavation – House of João Esmeraldo
The first archaeological excavations of Funchal, were carried out between July and October 1989 with the aim of finding the structures of the houses, built in the late fifteenth century, belonging to the Flemish merchant João Esmeraldo. These homes entered in ruins in the mid-nineteenth century and unanimous city council decision, it was demolished in 1876 to connect the Esmeraldo Street to Soap Street. In 1989, the City Hall of Funchal, not to fall into similar error, determined that if they did previous excavations to detect traces of these fifteenth homes and recover the so-called Well of Columbus. For this purpose was organized a specialized team, made by archaeologist Mário Varela Gomes, by Dr. Rosa Varela Gomes, an expert excavation, Francisco Serpa, with the support of the historian Rui Carita and other experts in research in order to intervene in that urban area. The booty found is a rather significant sample of life on the island between the end of the fifteenth century until the eighteenth century.
The first pieces recovered this archaeological intervention have been restored in the Municipal Archaeology Museum Silves, with the support of the local Chamber. Later this work was continued, running by the head of the Archaeology Office of the Municipality of Funchal. They found large amounts of Portuguese pottery fragments from the XV / XVI and XVII, as anforetas, pitchers, platters and bowls. Still pipes, seals, coins, buttons, musket balls, strings of beads and others exhumed mostly Colombo Pit.
It was also possible to locate in this area buried barns, silo type, with materials of the XV / XVI and XVII. These already account for an abandonment phase of its primitive use. Still appeared several types of flooring, demonstrating a diachronic occupation. In the yard of the old house it was located a necropolis, probably prior to its construction and even the Cathedral.
This block has excavated north to Christopher Street Colombo, the South Customs Street, to the east the Esmeraldo Street and to the west the Soap Street, measuring approximately 750 m2. The structures laid bare were being simultaneously recorded through plans, sections and elevations, having made a photographic coverage of the main aspects, artifacts and results of the work.
The exhumed materials were referenced in terms of sectors, squares and stratigraphic units of provenance. The removed land were fully screened. The human osteological estate, the mamalógica fauna and malacológicos and plant remains were studied by experts.
This excavation in 1989, was a rare opportunity for an archaeological and scientific way exploit the soil of Funchal, which now celebrates 500 years.
Archaeology helps to provide details of everyday life of our ancestors, that is rarely referenced in other research supports. Provides an active dialogue with history, it is essential as patrimonologia element.