THE DISCOVERY AND SETTING OF THE AZOREAN ISLANDS: SOME HISTORICAL FACTS
The exact date of discovery of the archipelago is unknown. Historic accounts indicate that the islands of Santa Maria and São Miguel were the first to be discovered by the Portuguese navigator Diogo de Silves circa 1427.
A few years later on the August 15, 1432, Gonçalo Velho Cabral, with a dozen crew members on a small sailing vessel, disembarked on the island that he named Santa Maria paying homage to the day of the Ascension of our Lady.
In 1439, the village “Praia dos Lobos” which is founded along the “Ribeira do Capitão” (Captain’s Stream) was settled. Later, Gonçalo Velho’s nephew and heir, João Soares de Albergaria, brought to the island some families from the Algarve (southern continental Portugal) to give an impetus to the settling of the island. Henceforth major development occurred and brought about the first town charter, naming the area “Vila do Porto”, which today is the most important urban centre of the island.
On his return voyage from America, in 1493, Christopher Columbus stopped in Santa Maria close to the “Anjos” area. Hearing mass in the Church of Our Lady of the Ascension he fulfilled a promise he had made at sea. Mistaken for a pirate, Christopher Columbus was taken prisoner upon order of the Governor of the island, and was liberated only after justifying his landing.
According to certain historic reports the island of São Miguel was populated in 1444. The populace that disembarked in Povoação came from the “Estremadura”, “Alto Alentejo”, “Algarve” (all continental Portugal), and other foreign countries, specifically France. Gonçalo Velho Cabral was the dominant force in bringing these people to São Miguel. They spread themselves along the coastline in areas where conditions of accessibility and farming were best.
The fertility of these islands in the middle of the Atlantic contributed to the strong economic expansion in São Miguel. Production and export of wheat to the Portuguese garrison in North Africa and of sugar cane and dyes to Flanders gave the primary commercial impetus. Later oranges were grown and exported to England.
At the end of the sixteenth century and the beginning of the seventeenth century, São Miguel provided the centre stage for French, English, and Algerian pirate attacks. In 1582 the island was occupied by Spanish troops which succeeded in defeating the French army.
Although the French were fighting with the help of the Portuguese troops led by Dom António, prior of Crato (His Priorship-candidate for the Portuguese throne), they failed to suppress the attack. Finally in the month of December in 1640, national independence was restored and the islands were returned to the Portuguese monarchy.
The first capital of São Miguel was Vila Franca do Campo. Due to a violent earthquake in 1522 that buried the town of Vila Franca, Ponta Delgada was designated capital of the island. Ponta Delgada, 25 kilometres west of Vila Franca was already the centre of the municipality and became the first city on the island in 1546.
The settlement at Ribeira Grande, situated 18 km from Ponta Delgada, received the charter of town in 1507 by Dom Manuel (King of Portugal). In 1981 Ribeira Grande was designated a city.
The third island to be discovered was initially called Island of Jesus Christ, later adopting the name of Terceira (third island). The concession of the Captain ship was made by King Infante Dom Henrique to the Flemish, Jácome de Bruges who, during 1450, initiated its’ colonisation. The first settlers settled in Porto Judeu and Praia da Vitória and along the coastline.
Terceira represents an important landmark in Portuguese history. Upon the succession of the Portuguese throne to King Philip II of Spain in 1580, the residents of Terceira took a firm position behind Dom António prior of Crato, as the legitimate successor to the throne.
At the Battle of Salga, in 1581, the islanders bravely defeated King Philip II’s troops. It was not until two years later, after violent combat, that Dom Alvaro de Bazan and his Spanish troops (with a much superior contingent) defeated and occupied the island. Terceira represented the last Portuguese territory to surrender to Spanish sovereignty.
Terceira, currently being used as a port of call for Portuguese vessels sailing from the Indies, began to serve as a port of call for the Spanish galleons during the period of Spanish control from 1583 to 1640. These galleons transported fabulous riches in gold and silver from Peru and Mexico to Cadiz. A very important relationship was established between Spain and the island that lasted throughout the years of Spanish domination.
During the first half of the 19th century Terceira resumed a leading role in the history of Portugal. Supporting the liberal cause since 1820 the people of Terceira defeated the Absolutists under Dom Miguel de Bragança’s in 1829 after a violent battle at the “Vila da Praia” bay, where the Absolutists troops were trying to land on the island. At this time the “Vila da Praia” was renamed “Praia da Vitória”, and the city of Angra was renamed “Angra do Heroísmo” to celebrate the great victory and heroism demonstrated. In addition the seat of the throne was installed in Angra. After reconquering the remaining islands in 1832, the Portuguese troops returned to the continent. Disembarking in “Mindelo” the Constitutional Charter was proclaimed.
“Angra Heroísmo” the first city of the Azores and seat of the diocese, possesses a large and valuable architectural patrimony. In consequence an area of 6 km2 of the city was included in the UNESCO list of World Patrimony in 1983. On January 1 1980 Angra’s heritage suffered greatly due to a violent earthquake that destroyed a large part of the old city. The initial structures of the buildings and monuments were preserved due to the diligent effort of the Azorean Government and other entities responsible for the restorations.
In 1981 “Praia da Vitória” was designated a city. It is the urban centre on the east coast of Terceira. It is located about 22 km from Angra and 3 km from the strategically important airport and base that exercises both civil and military functions. The island’s port is also found here.
Although the exact date is not known it is widely believed that the island of Graciosa was discovered around 1450 by sailors from the neighbouring island of Terceira that lies approximately 31 maritime miles to the south-west.
Vasco Gil Sodré, native to Montemor-- O-Velho (Continental Portugal), settled the island of Graciosa soon after. In the company of his wife, children and domestic help, he landed at the port of Carapacho where he constructed his home and proceeded to colonise the island.
Later, Pedro Correia da Cunha, Christopher Columbus’s brother-in-law, was attributed the captaincy of the north part of Graciosa and Duarte Barreto the captaincy of the south part.
The population increased and the island prospered with the arrival of people from Beiras-Minho and Flanders. In 1486 Santa Cruz became a town, followed by Praia, becaming a town only 60 years later.
Since the first settlement the pioneers applied themselves to the area of agriculture. By the 15th century Graciosa exported wheat, barley, wine and brandy. The goods were sent to Terceira largely due to the proximity of the island.
During the 18th and 19th century, Graciosa was host to many prominent figures including Chateaubriand, the French writer who passed through upon his escape to America during the French revolution; Almeida Garrett, the great Portuguese poet who visited an uncle and wrote some poetry while there; and Prince Albert of Monaco the famous 19th century oceanographer who led several expeditions in the waters of the Azores. He arrived on his yacht “Hirondelle”, and visited the “furna da caldeira”, the famous hot springs grotto.
The first reference to the island of São Jorge was made in 1439 but the actual date of discovery is unknown. In 1443 the island was already inhabited but active settlement only began with the arrival of the noble Flemish native Wilhelm Van der Haegen. Arriving at Topo, where he lived and died, he became known as Guilherme da Silveira to the islanders. João Vaz Corte Real received the captaincy of the island in 1483. Velas became a town before the end of the 15th century.
The São Jorge economy at this time was based on wine making, wheat production, pastel dyers woad and canary moss “urzela”. Canary moss and dyers woad were exported to Flanders and other European countries.
In 1510 Calheta became the seat of the municipality and in 1534 Topo and was also elevated to municipal seat.
During the uneasy period when King Philip II of Spain rose to the Portuguese throne, the people of São Jorge continued to supported Dom António do Crato unconditionally and continued to confront the Spanish even after the fall of the island.
Throughout the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries São Jorge was also attacked by English and French pirates while coveted by both Turkish and Algerian pirates.
The exact date of the discovery of Pico is unknown but it was settled around 1460 at Lajes which later became the first village and municipal seat of the island. The first settlers emigrated from the north of Portugal.
Economic activity was originally based on the export of agricultural products namely wheat and dyers woad (pastel). Later the farmers converted their fields into fertile fruit farms and productive vineyards. The famous “Verdelho do Pico”, a fine table wine, achieved international fame and for more than two centuries was appreciated by royalty including the Czars of Russia. Unfortunately, during the middle of the 19th century the plant became infected with oidium, a powdery mildew that destroyed most of the vineyards and greatly injured the economy of the island.
The people of Pico were also acclaimed for their sperm whale hunting technique and were considered extraordinary artisans. Today, with international laws protecting the species, this activity has merely become a gratifying memory of the remaining “Sea Wolves”. Photographs and memorabilia are proudly exhibited in the Whale Museum at Lajes, Pico.
The other centres and seats of municipalities are São Roque that became a town in 1542 and Madalena that also became a town in 1723.
Faial, known as “Insule de venture” in the old letters and sailing charts, is thought to have been discovered during the first half of the 15th century but the exact year is unknown. Settlement began before the year 1460 at “Cedros” on Faials’ northern coast with settlers from the north of Portugal.
Years later the Flemish nobleman, Josse Van Huerter, landed on the island of Faial with some fellow countrymen in search of pewter and silver. Although these metals were never found, the island itself inspired him enough to move there. In 1468 he finally obtained a letter giving him jurisdiction over the island. More Flemish settlers arrived on the island soon after and the area settled becomes known as the “Vale dos Flamengos” or the Valley of the Flemish.
Agriculture and the export of pastel were the principle activities on the island.
During the 19th century battles between the Liberals and Absolutists, the Faialists also supported the Liberals who were fighting the Miguelists (affiliates to Dom Miguel de Bragança), supplying the men that disembarked at Mindelo with ammunition. In 1832, Dom Pedro IV visited Faial in recognition of their contributions. Shortly after, in 1833, Horta becomes a city also in recognition of the services rendered to the Liberals. The island gains further recognition when, in 1919, the first hydroplane to cross the Atlantic stops on the island. Furthermore, due to the excellent geographical position of the island, England, America, France, Germany and Italy install intercontinental underwater cable stations in Faial.
In 1876 a port was constructed in Horta that was later used to shelter the allied ships that participated in the invasion of Normandy.
In 1957 the “Capelinhos” volcano erupts after repetitive tremors. The principal crater is found 1km from the west end of Faial. The volcano remained active for thirteen months depositing millions of tons of black ash on the island adding 2,4 km2 of solid ground to its’ surface.
Flores and Corvo
The two islands that comprise the eastern islands were the last to be discovered. Flores and Corvo were discovered close to the year 1452 by Diogo de Teive and his son João de Teive.
The island of Flores (flowers) was initially called St. Thomas and St. Iria but due to the abundance of yellow flowers (cubres) which covered the island the new name was considered to be more appropriate.
The Flemish nobleman Wilhelm Van der Haegen, settled Flores in 1470 at “Vale da Ribeira da Cruz”. The distances that separated it from the other islands in addition to the lack of inter island transportation for the export of pastel to Flanders forced him to abandon the island and settle in São Jorge.
In the beginning of the 16th century the remaining settlement grew and the lands were cultivated for the production of wheat, barley, corn and vegetables all for consumption on the island.
In 1515 Lajes becomes a town and in 1548 Santa Cruz receives the same distinction.
Corvo, known in the past as “Insula Corvi Marini”, is the smallest island with a surface face area of 17 km2 and survives, even today, through farming.
American whalers in the Azores at the end of the 18th and 19th centuries used many crewmen from Corvo. Their acts of bravery and daring are well recorded and greatly appreciated by the American whalers. Many of these Corvians, seduced by a better way of life later remained in America, a situation that increased the level of emigration from Corvo.
Presently the only urban centre in Corvo and the seat of the municipality since 1832, is “Vila Nova”. It harbours a population of approximately 370 inhabitants.