Poço de Neve – Madeira – Ice well

Poço de Neve – Madeira – Ice well

Did you say Ice in Summer?

There are things that we take for granted today such as opening the freezer at home and grabbing an ice cream.  However, in times not so long gone, it was impossible to have ice all year around.

Poço de Neve Madeira Portugal Snow well Snow Pit

Now imagine yourself 100 years ago or more.  How would you get ice in the Spring, Summer or Fall? This feat was only possible if ice (snow and hail) collected during the colder Winter months at high altitude was stored.

Poço de Neve

The ingenious Madeiran people built reservoirs to store and preserve the ice, snow and hail collected during the Winter.   The last remaining Poco de Neve or Ice well has a round shape with a diameter of 7.5 meters and a height of 8 meters.  The shape of this well makes one think about igloos. The dome as well as the walls is made of carved basalt stones.  Below the dome is a large excavation which can hold 256 cubic meters of ice.  Thanks to the high altitude and the deeply dug reservoirs, the temperature inside the Poco de Neve remained low.

Poco de Neve Madeira Island

Summer Ice Cream

In Summer, men carried the ice pieces on the backs either in leather bags or pouches or in wicker baskets.  These agile men descended rapidly by foot all the way to Funchal.  Ice was then deemed a precious and rare resource.  The clients were hotels, ice cream manufacturers, and hospitals. 

Origin Mystery

Two diverging stories talk about the creation of these wells.  The first one says that an English family was at the origin of these pocos de neve.  The second one attribute the origin to an Italian Ice Cream maker in 1813.  In the end it does not really matter which version is right.  It could also be that both are correct since there were several of these poços around.  Some might have been built by the English family while others were built by the Italian one.

Living Heritage

This snow pit is the only construction of its kind among the many units which existed which survived in good condition.  The view from there over the city of Funchal is definitely worth a stop.

How to find the Poço de Neve

The Poço da Neve is on the same road as the Pico do Arieiro viewpoint. Take the ER103 from Funchal and follow the signs for Pico do Arieiro; the ice igloo or poço de neve is 1.6km before the viewpoint.