The Municipality of Vila do Porto, with a total surface area of 97.42 km2, is the only one existing in Santa Maria Island. Together with its neighbouring island of São Miguel, Santa Maria is part of the Oriental Group of the Azores Archipelago.
This archipelago lies in the Atlantic Ocean – between Europe and North America (760 nautical miles from Lisbon and 2,110 nautical miles from New York) – and it comprises as well the islands of Terceira, Graciosa, São Jorge, Pico, Faial, Flores and Corvo.
Vila do Porto was the first Azorean settlement to be granted a town charter. This event occurred in the 15th century, shortly after the discovery of the island itself – somewhere between the years 1427 and 1432, the latter being usually regarded as the most likely. Its first inhabitants were Portuguese people from Algarve, Alentejo and Beiras, who made land here under command of Gonçalo Velho Cabral. In 1493, Christopher Columbus touched the island on his return trip from the Americas, and his crewmen attended Mass at the Chapel of Our Lady of Anjos, in fulfilment of a vow made at sea.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, the economy of the island and of its municipality was largely based on the cultivation and trade of wheat, pastel and orchil, the former being exported to the Portuguese strongholds in North Africa and the two latter to the dyeing industries in Flanders.
In those two centuries, Vila do Porto and other places in the island were also frequently attacked by privateers and pirates who, despite the existing strongholds, managed to wreck bloody havoc, sacking and taking the islanders as slaves and hostages.
The 18th and 19th centuries passed along without much trouble, agriculture being the main occupation of Vila do Porto’s inhabitants – cultivating wheat, maize, vine and citrus fruits. This tranquility was only interrupted by the Civil War (1829-32), which opposed Absolutists and Liberals – some of the islanders participated in the Mindelo disembarkment and in the siege of Oporto, events which led to the defeat of the Absolutist party. In the early 20th century, more precisely in 1901, Vila do Porto hosted the royal visit of King Charles I of Portugal and Queen Amelia.
In the year 1908, while the monarchic regime was still in place in Portugal, the Republican party elected, in Vila do Porto, the first Azorean Municipality.
Santa Maria Airport, inaugurated in 1944, played an important strategic role in the final period of World War II, becoming thereafter a regular stopover for the transatlantic air routes and bringing a new dynamics to the economy of the Municipality.
The island of Santa Maria has a warmer, drier climate with lower levels of rainfall, which contributes to a dryer landscape, which has a yellowish hue. Santa Maria is also known as the Island of the Sun.
The island features two areas with completely different characteristics: a flatter area at a lower altitude to the west, where the airport and the town of Vila do Porto are located, and a hilly area on the eastern half of the island, featuring more luxuriant vegetation and comprising the Pico Alto, which offers an amazing panoramic view.
Not only was Santa Maria the first island to be discovered and settled on, Santa Maria was also the first island to be formed, emerging around ten million years ago from the surrounding seafloor. Its age and diversified geological past are the basis of the unique geological and landscape features that the island has to offer.