An Island of Stories, Colours and People
Discoveries, navigators, wars and an earthquake
The Portuguese began settling Terceira in 1450, right after the Azores were first found, at the beginning of the Age of Discovery. The first settlements were located near Porto Judeu and Praia da Vitória. During the period of European expansion between the 15th and 18th Centuries, this island was a main stopover for fleets crossing the Atlantic on their way to Africa and America.
The main city is Angra do Heroísmo, founded during the 15th Century. As Terceira’s main seaport, the city was at the very centre the Portuguese Civil War (1828-1834), since the island served as a base for the liberal movement opposing the supporters of absolute monarchy. In 1830, Queen Maria II went as a far as declaring Angra the country’s capital, a situation that endured until the end of the conflict, and adding “Heroísmo” (heroism) to its name.
The capital of Terceira was once again in the spotlight in 1980, due to the second greatest earthquake to hit Portugal’s territory (7,2 in Richter’s scale). Most of Angra was devastated, but the city was practically rebuilt a few years later, with the joint effort of its population and several institutions. And in 1983, recognition came as UNESCO’s World Heritage Site.
A trip through the island can begin with a nice walk through the centre of Angra do Heroísmo, which preserves the original 15th Century design and architecture. This is also an opportunity to visit the Museum of Angra do Heroísmo and the old Convent of Saint Francis. Afterwards, the best is just to rent a car and discover the surroundings and the local culture.
The natural wonders of Terceira reveal themselves as soon as you leave the urban area. In Biscoitos, in the municipality of Praia da Vitória, you'll find the origins of the Vinho Verdelho, a traditional local wine. The town has a Wine Museum, where you can learn a lot about the local wine making traditions. This is also a good place to refresh yourself in the ocean’s waters, in natural pools of volcanic origin.
Should you wish to further explore the island’s peculiar geography, carry on to the Porto Judeu area and head for the Algar do Carvão, a volcanic pipe located in a sleeping volcano known as Caldeira Guilherme Moniz. Once you enter, you will be amazed by the rock formations and ceilings covered with stalactites.
If exploring the beautiful natural features of Terceira is inevitable, you must also get to know its people.
The locals’ deep-seated piousness has shaped the towns and the landscape as well. Many are the examples, starting with the Sé Cathedral in Angra do Heroísmo, inspired by the Gothic style. At the town of Santa Cruz you'll find the Paços do Concelho (the old Town Hall) and the Church of Praia da Vitória, two fine examples of 16th Century architecture. On the other hand, the main church of the town of São Sebastião stands out for its mix of Gothic porticos and Baroque additions.
Religious devotion also sets the tone for many popular festivities, particularly the Festas do Espírito Santo (Holy Ghost Festivals), which occur in all Azorean islands, and in Terceira they take place between May and September. The Festivals are put together by local chapels codenamed “Empires”, and include parades with religiously themed floats pulled by animals. The origins of this tradition are lost in the sands of time, and they are thought to go back to the islands’ colonisation.
Between May and October, a special and very exclusive kind of bullfighting (touradas à corda) is held, in which the animal is led by a rope through the streets among the population — and sometimes even taking a bath in the beach! This also takes place at the Festas de São João (Saint John’s Festivals) in Angra do Heroísmo, which include themed parades, popular marches, music and events dedicated to local gastronomy.
The beginning of the year is marked by the Danças do Entrudo (Carnival Dances). In this relatively “profane” event, thousands of people, both locals and visitors, follow a “dance” itinerary which takes them to several different places in the Terceira island where Carnival parades, dance and street theatre events are taking place.
With so many great things to see and do, the best is to set a date and start packing for the perfect vacation.