Thursday, November 15, 2007

The good weather island history - Santa Maria

Santa Maria, the eastern island of the Azores, is geologically unique brothers and sisters – it is supposed to have risen out of the sea 160 million years ago, in the Jurassic period. There are no volcanic eruptions, no earthquakes. 17km long and 9.5km wide, it is one of the small ones. Flat in the west, mountainous in the east, and the highest mountain, Pico Alto, is only 587m high, nevertheless an ideal viewpoint over to Sao Miguel.


Santa Maria is ideal for island lovers: people who love white beaches, spend their day at leisure, walk and don’t expect anything special to happen. You fly to the island on a small SATA plane. There’s a ferry connection planned with Sao Miguel, but that would also encourage more tourists.

Diogo de Silves is said to have discovered the island in 1427 on the saint’s day of the Virgin which gave it the name of Santa Maria. In 1439 the Portuguese Gongalo Velho Cabral came to take up post as captain of the island with a ship which was loaded with settlers and seeds. The settlers came from the Algarve coast which you can still see today in the construction of the houses. They founded Santana, Anjos, Praia and, as a harbour, Vila.


In 1493 on his return from the Caribbean islands Columbus anchored offshore from Anjos to pray and to stock up with provisions. There are various stories about his arrival. At first they thought he was a pirate, until his identity could be proved after a lot of toing and froing. He prayed in the old church of Anjos of which today only the archway remains, and in the year of Columbus, 1993, the islanders erected a memorial in his honour. For centuries the settlers had problems with pirates, evidence of which is the fort outside Vila do Porto armed with canons. The attacks by pirates resulted in more and more settlers immigrating to Brazil. People lived from the cultivation of woad, which produces a blue dye, and a lichen (orchil) which gives a very good brown dye. Up to the 17th century the blue colours were sold to Flanders, England and Spain but they were displaced by the indigo from Brazil. Brown remained in demand until chemical dyes came onto the market in the 19th century. The settlers worked for about 16 big landowners until the island was divided up in 1590 and each family received a piece of land.


Today there are 6000 inhabitants of which 2800 live in Vila do Porto. During the second World War circumstances changed when the Allies received authorization for the building of two airport bases. A 3km long runway was built on Santa Maria for trans-Atlantic flight changeovers which is no longer necessary today. But the airport is still the largest income provider of the island with 500 employees who have made their homes around the airport. At present it’s chiefly the Holy Spirit charter planes which land here at the time of the festival, from Boston and Toronto with Azorean emigrants who have remained in contact with their homeland. Many of those who returned to Santa Maria have built themselves a little house with a garden for growing vegetables and keeping pigs and have retired there.


The agricultural Santa Maria has a lot going for it – reliable weather, the shops in Vila do Porto’s main street where you can buy everything you need, and the short distance from Sao Miguel and Ponta Delgada for times when bigger shopping expeditions need to be made, you have to go on important business or you simply want to take part in the festivities in Ponta Delgada. Two hotels, one at the airport and one in Vila do Porto, offer accommodation, as well as Apartementos Turisticos at the Praia Formosa near Vila do Porto, with favourable prices and recommended if you are wanting to stay a little longer on Santa Maria.

The tourist office managed only by a single person (Posto de Turismo) is situated in the airport. The beautiful white beaches on this island of good weather are inviting places to sunbathe, but the intensity of the sun’s rays make the use of effective sun-cream absolutely imperative.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

love the photos

Anonymous said...

I was there last August to visit my family last time I went there I was 5 and I am now 25. I am first generation born in America and I see now why my family visits their homeland it is absolutely beautiful and stunning, people are great and it is full tradition that we still follow here in America.. Some day I may return and retire to live in peace.