Angra do Heroisma

From Angra do Heroisma

It is now a week since we arrived in this Renaissance city in the middle of the Atlantic. Terceira ( literally “third” in Portuguese ) may have been the 3rd Azorean island to be discovered , but rapidly became the most important due to the excellent shelter provided by the little volcanic peninsula which juts out into the Atlantic at Angra. In the 16 th century , as now , the Azores lay directly in the route of all ships sailing home from both the Americas and the Indies , and as the best natural harbour , Angra was literally at the centre of world trade ,and prospered accordingly. At the end of the 16th century , Portugal suffered 60 years of Spanish rule , and the Castilian regime built an enormous fortress to protect the anchorage , and the treasure ships that lay there , from English and Moorish pirates. If the locals are to believed the enormous walls also served to protect the Spanish garrison from the fiercely Portuguese Terceiran population.
Centuries passed and ships became bigger and less dependant on this pit stop in the Atlantic , and the Azores lost their central place in world trade. The anchorage here was no longer big enough to service modern shipping and Terceira slipped gently off the radar. World War 2 brought them into the big picture again when Salazar , the Portuguese dictator , agreed to an allied airbase being created here , and the continuing presence of the Americans to this day has helped maintain the standard of living on the island. With the advent of regular transatlantic yachting the Azores have once more become an important stopover , and if Horta , with its artificial harbour , has become the centre of this resurgence , at least the scale of Angra’s little bay is once more suited to the transatlantic travellers who are much the same size as the Caravels of the 16th century.
Today’s visitors are charmed by the beautiful 16 th and 17th century houses , churches and public buildings . Inland the fertile volcanic soils is farmed intensively with a pretty patchwork of small fields that is suited to the intensive cattle raising which is the main focus of the agriculture . This in turn is reflected in the city which is bullfighting mad and our visit coincided with a week -long festival of parades , music and ,rather worryingly , bull running in the streets. From a safe distance we rooted for the bulls which seemed to us to be getting the raw end of the deal , even if they were deeply stupid and unable to distinguish between a harmless cape and the infinitely more goreable human hiding behind it.

From Bull fighting in Terceira

The harbour is the epicentre of the musical activities with bands of various description playing til the wee small hours . The early ones were slightly dodgy rock bands playing all the old favourites , followed by more Latin influenced rock early in the week. On Tuesday we had a night of Fado , the traditional music of Portugal. This lot were great ,with a girl singer of real talent backed by 3 guitarists of equal musicianship and the fact that we couldn’t understand a single word didn’t stop us being swept up in the emotion of the event and joining in all the choruses!

From Festival

Wednesday saw the busiest night so far with various ferries arriving from the other islands packed with revellers. All the various villages and organisations on the islands have societies which parade behind a marching band , each with up to a hundred men and woman in smart uniforms and swirly skirts singing and dancing to their own particular tune. We took our place in the streets to cheer and clap them on and by 11pm were already quite literally clapped out , only to discover that there were another 20 groups to go. We crept to bed at 2 am leaving the streets still heaving with good natured revellers aged 5 to 75 , most of whom were intent on partying til dawn.

From Festival

The following morning we drove to the airport through a completely deserted island. Those few poor souls who were on duty at the check-ins looked very much the worse for wear which was perhaps why the plane that was to take us to England for a week ( to Bryonys graduation) was so late. But that’s another story.

One Comments

  1. I enjoyed reading your accounts of Horta and Angra. Both are neat little cities to visit.

    Good for you to root for the bulls! It sounds as though you really immersed yourselves in the islands culture.

    All the best
    Rob Belchior

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