The stunning views and unique ecosystems that exist here on the wildly, unique island of Terceira are really something quite special. Here on the island there exists a delicate balance between the unique ecosystems that have existed here since its formation millions of years ago and the local population. The island has been populated for just over 500 years and since that time it has seen a lot of changes ecologically, politically and socially.
It was here in the seaside city of Angra do Heroismo, which became the capital of Portugal twice, replacing Lisbon, that many of Portugal’s vast ships would use as a stopover point between their transatlantic journeys. This beautiful city has a rich history that dates back to the first explorations of the new world by European discoverers in the 15th century. If visiting a UNESCO World Heritage site is something that you are interested in, then here in the city of Angra do Heroismo your in luck; as the central part of the city was recognized in 1983 as a UNESCO site of special interest.
Angra was officially raised to the status of a city on August 21st 1534; during the same year, it became the seat of the Archbishop of the Azores as well. This religious influence and concentration of power, contributed to the development of the unique charm and characteristics of the city’s central zone. Here, the cathedral of Santíssimo Salvador da Sé, the churches of the Misericórdia and Espírito Santo, and the convents of the Franciscans and the Jesuits were all constructed in Baroque style, centuries ago.
The fact that from the 15th to the 18th century this peaceful, maritime city was used as an international trading post where ships from all over Europe would stop off to get supplies, repair their boats or to rest before or after there long Atlantic crossing. It was during the 19th century that the island lost its status as a maritime stopover location with the island of Faial to the north and Madeira and the Canary islands to the south replacing the former strategic city.
It was due to this lack of global expansion and its relative isolation from the rest of continent of Europe that allowed many of the ancient buildings and culturally significant sites to become preserved, instead of possibly being demolished due to urbanization. In 1980 the island was hit by a devastating earthquake that is said to have caused tables to shake all the way to Ireland. It is here in the Mid-Atlantic where an underwater ridge exists, where 3 of the World’s tectonic plates meet, often referred to as the Terceira-rift. The deadly earthquake devastated the region. Many of the historical buildings were destroyed and the city had to rebuild, replicating with the assistance of UNESCO and many historians the exact interiors of the ruined buildings. It was during this time of mourning that also helped initiate subsequent laws to preserve and limit the destruction of the cities culturally, and historically significant sites and fortifications.
The restaurants in the city are known for their outstanding farm fresh food with everything from the bread, dairy, grains, vegetables and meat all produced locally on the island, without the use of any GMOs in the agricultural sector allowed. This allows a unique, healthy diet mixed with influences of regional and various other regions of Portugal to intertwine and bring with it a delicious variety of flavors and tastes. The island of Terceira has always been an island based on agriculture and although in recent years with the downsizing of the US Air Force base at Lajes, the Government both in the Azores and in Portugal; with influence from the E.U, have pushed to make this island a technology headquarters, similar to that of Ireland.
The islands population is more interested in farming, fishing and although the services and technology sector play a role in the economy, the interest or desire to erase 500 years of culture and tradition is not something that has been embraced fully by the local residents. The actions by the Government and various agencies to push the island to be marketed as “Terceira Tech Island” in recent years, to encourage young start ups to come to the region has had mixed effects on both sides. The Government was even offering hundreds of free housing, minimum salaried jobs amongst other benefits just to encourage tech gurus to move to the region. The desire to turn a region which has always been known and recognized for its agricultural and fishing sectors, and to transform it into a technology hub, has seen mixed results.
The realization of many who moved to the island fulltime to live, that the erratic weather, relative isolation and social and cultural factors that exist here in the Azores, although beautiful are often very difficult to adapt to for a long period of time. This has caused many to return back home where they came from while the government still hopes to fill the gap in the disappearing, middle income working class; with the loss of so many American personnel at the downsized military base. The opportunity for the city of Angra to move forward in the 21st century as a dynamic, vibrant and peaceful city is well underway with many in government and in the younger generations continuing to embrace the islands reputation as a farming island.
Terceira is a unique island that is filled with both natural and manmade wonders and it is no wonder why UNESCO recognized this special city over 3 decades ago. A city filled with a rich culture, a deep history and of course great food. If stepping through history is something you are interested in while admiring the amazing flora and fauna of the region then the city of Angra is the city for you to come an explore here on Terceira.