São Miguel known as “The Green Island”, is the largest and most populated island of the Azores as well as the home to the Presidency of the Autonomous Region of the Azores.
São Miguel Island has a surface area of around 760km² (293 square miles). The island has a population of about 150,000 inhabitants of which about 50,000 of them are located in Ponta Delgada the largest city in the archipelago.
São Miguel’s diverse landscape and beautiful scenery is a pleasant surprise to all visitors, with stunning lakes, sandy beaches, rolling hills, high mountains, green plains and the deep blue of the Atlantic ocean.
For those looking for an island with more restaurants and nightlife, São Miguel is the island in the Azores with the most to offer. The cosmopolitan town of Ponta Delgada offers visitor sa blend of contemporary life with a historic flavor. There are monuments, turn of the century architecture, beautiful parks and cobblestoned streets which are surrounded by a modern marina, cafes, bars and restaurants, retail shops and nightclubs.
São Miguel is also known for is award winning Terra Nostra Park, wonderful golf courses, lakes, beaches, century-old architecture, majestic scenery, and most of all, its people.
Activities in São Miguel include whale watching, swimming with dolphins, walking and trekking, diving, fishing, jeep safaris, bird watching, sailing, snorkeling, swimming, golf and many other outdoor and indoor activities.
The weather is best between June and October with the hottest months being July, August and September. November to January is also pleasant but temperatures dip slightly. February through May tend to be on the rainy side.
In 1427, São Miguel became the second of the islands discovered by Gonçalo Velho Cabral to be settled by colonists from continental Portugal.
This date is uncertain, as it is believed that the island was discovered between 1426 and 1437 and inscribed in portolans from the middle of the 14th century. Its discovery was later recorded by Father Gaspar Frutuoso in the seminal history of the Azores, Saudades da Terra, as he began: “This island of São Miguel where… we are, is mountainous and covered in ravines, and it was, when we discovered it, covered in trees…due to its humidity, with its water showers and ravines warm with sun…”
It was sometime after the initial settlement of Povoação Velha (on the southeastern coast) that (between 1439-1444) a volcanic eruption occurred in the crater of Sete Cidades (then uninhabited). There are no records of the precise date, but Gaspar Frutuoso noted that navigators returning to São Miguel (soon after its discovery) encountered the western part of the island completely changed and tree trunks and pumice stone floating in the waters around the island. After docking in Povoação, the settlers reported feeling tremors and aftershocks; “…those settlers living in their earthen holes of straw and hay, heard almost within a year a great loud noise, roars and snorts that came from the earth with large tremors still proceeded the subversion and fire from the peak that had disappeared.”
In the early 15th century, Infante D. Henrique first authorized the settlement of the Azores, and many settlers from the historical provinces of Estremadura, Alto Alentejo, Algarve and Madeira travelled to São Miguel, under the Carta Régia (a decree of the regency). The fertile soils and temperate climate attracted settlers from other countries, notably French people and cultural minorities such as Jews and some Moors. Its geographic position and fertile soils permitted rapid economic development. The establishment of a military garrison made the island an obligatory port-of-call in the African and Asian commercial trade, while the export of sugar, and later orchil (a dye exported to Flanders for the making of cloth) stabilized the island’s export trade.
The first capital of the island was Vila Franca do Campo, which was devastated by a major earthquake and landslides in 1522. The tragedy helped to elevate Ponta Delgada to the administrative and economic status of capital and business centre from 1546.
During the 1580 Portuguese succession crisis, the people from São Miguel won the naval Battle of Vila Franca against a French squadron that supported the claims of the pretender António, Prior of Crato.
During this time, the volcano Fogo 2 erupted, destroying the capital city and causing the death of 250 people.
With the Portuguese Restoration War (1640), the island regained its position as a commercial centre, establishing new contacts in Brazil, which was heavily colonized during this period. Some of the island’s historic buildings, including mansions and churches, date from this period; the island’s architectural expansion and developed came from revenues from the export of oranges, mainly to Great Britain.
In 1831, during the Liberal Wars, following the landing of troops loyal to Queen Maria II in Nordeste (sent by future Duke of Terceira), a resistance to the Absolutist regime on the Island was organized. In 1832, this militia declared allegiance to the Charter (constitutional monarchy) and Queen Maria, forming a contingent that sailed to the continent where they were involved in the liberation of Porto.
Following the Liberal Wars, the period of Devourism allowed the economy to flourish, and the port of Ponta Delgada expanded, through the export of new crops such as tea, pineapple, and tobacco. The development of the fishing industry, cultivation of food staples and expansion of the dairy industry permitted the growth of many of the population centres on the island.
Following the Carnation Revolution, the island received the seat of the Presidency of the Autonomous Region of the Azores, located in Ponta Delgada, while its economic, social and political importance continued to grow within the archipelago.
São Miguel is bisected by many faults from the northwest to southeast in the direction of the Terceira Rift, a triple junction of the Eurasian, African and North American tectonic plates. This system is best expressed in the western part of the island with extensive geological formations, such as the Mosteiros Graben (along the western flank of the Sete Cidades Massif), the Ribeira Grande Graben (along the northern flank of the Água de Pau Massif), and the many cones and fissural structures along the interior of the island.
In the ancient crater of Furnas the faults are aligned west-northwest to east-southeast. Zbysewsky (1959), among others (note references) identifies eight geomorphological structures on São Miguel that correspond to the formative features that built the island, including:
The Sete Cidades Massif – an area that occupies the extreme western part of the island, and corresponds to a central volcanic crater and lake-filled caldera, with various cones, deposits of pumice, lava domes and maars. In the northeastern flank of this volcano the Mosteiros Graben, a tectonic structure created from the collapse of lands and located along a northwest to southeast orientation. Along other regional fractures and radial faults there are ancient spatter cones and lava domes; The Picos Volcanic System or Picos Region – is situated along a northwest-southeast alignment, and defines a range of spatter cones and relatively level ground between the Sete Cidades and the Água de Pau Massifs; The Água de Pau Massif – this central feature corresponds to the central volcano on the island, and includes the Lagoa do Fogo (Lake of Fire), many lava domes and pumice cones. On the northeastern flank of the Massif the Ribeira Grande Graben is visible, representing a tectonic depression oriented northwest to southeast; The Achada das Furnas Plateau – a region with a central plain marked by cones and maars, with deposits along a west-northwest to east-southeast and northwest to southeast; Furnas Volcano – located in the eastern part of the island, along the southern coast, and comprising two ancient calderas, occupied by a lake (Lagoa das Furnas). Within the system one can find many pumice cones, maars and lava domes; Povoação Volcano – comprising a central caldera, generally well-eroded and whose southern rim has disappeared to the southern coast. Within its interior, marked by several river-valleys and cliffs, are several spatter cones; The Tronqueira Region – it occupies the extreme easterly portion of the island and corresponds to a mountainous region, divided by many river-valleys that are usually delineated by tectonic fractures; The Northern Coastal Platform – located along the northeastern portion of the island, and marks a zone of relatively moderate topography, limited by the coast to the north and the northern crater rims of Furnas and Povoação volcanoes to the south.
São Miguel comprises six volcanic zones, all are Quaternary in age except the last, which is partly Pliocene. From west to east these zones are: the trachyte stratovolcano of the Sete Cidades Massif; a field of alkali-basalt cinder cones and lava flows with minor trachyte; the trachyte stratovolcano of the Água de Pau Massif; a field of alkali-basalt cinder cones and lava flows with minor trachyte and tristanite; the trachyte stratovolcano of Furnas; and the Nordeste shield, which includes the Povoação caldera and consists of alkali basalt, tristanite and trachyte. Dormancy ages for these regions include: 400 year for Sete Cidades, 145 for zone 2, 1150 for Água de Pau, and 370 for Furnas, while eruptions in the Nordeste have not occurred in the past 3000 years.
These geomorphological structures have resulted from millions of years of compound growth that began in the eastern portion of the island; around 4 million years ago the Nordeste Volcano burst from the ocean floor in effusive and fissural eruptions. These eruptions were composed of basaltic lava flows and spatter cones whose products reached a height of 1,100 metres (3,600 ft) forming the mountainous region of Tronqueiro, Planalto dos Graminhais, Espigão dos Bois and Pico Verde (finding its maximum extent in Pico da Vara). But, about 950,000 years ago a secondary volcano system (Volcanic Complex of Povoação) supplanted the eruptions of the Nordeste Volcano, responsible for new basaltic lavas and pyroclastic deposits. With an age of 200,000 years the third volcano on São Miguel, the Água de Pau Volcano started erupting on the western flank of Povoação volcano in two phases. The first phase, composed of the older materials, erupted from lava flows and Trachyte pyroclasts, the secondary phase corresponded to volcanic products that began erupting 400,000 years ago. These latter deposits included pyroclastic, trachyte flows (lava and surges), mud flows and a mixture of basalts. In what would become the western portion of the island a fourth volcano formed: the Sete Cidades Volcano erupted 200,000 years ago and continued to erupt until about 36,000 years ago. Between 100,000 and 3,800 years ago fissural eruptions of integrated lava and basaltic pyroclastic deposits occurred in the center of the island between Água de Pau and Povoação, forming the Fissural Volcanic System of Congro. These eruptions were explosive and fed by activities in the neighboring volcanic systems. At about 100,000 years a secondary system developed along the frontier of the Povoação volcano, the “Furnas Volcano” complex (the youngest volcanic system) in three phases mixing pyroclastic surges, trachytes, and lava flows, as well as explosive materials. Finally, two layers of deposits formed the Fissural Volcanic System of Picos between the volcanic Água de Pau and Sete Cidades from 31,000 years ago unifying the island. This formation integrated lavas, basaltic pyroclasts, tuff cones and trachyte domes into two layers (referred to as the Ponta Delgada and Penhal da Paz sub-depoists) and compiled to about 5,000 years ago.
The peak area between Sete Cidades and Fogo is a monogenetic volcanic field composed of 270 volcanoes. They are primarily made up of basaltic cones which were formed during Strombolian and Hawaiian-style eruptions. This is the part of the island with most recent volcanic activity. The youngest volcanoes are relatively well dated. It is estimated[by whom?] that 19 eruptions have occurred during the last 3,000 years. Several eruptions have been witnessed and recorded by people. The last one took place in the 17th century. The most famous eruption is known as Fogo 2, occurring in 1652.
Similar to other islands in the archipelago, São Miguel is influenced by ocean currents and winds, and in particular, the cyclonic Gulf Stream. It functions as a moderating force in the islands, keeping temperatures hovering between 14 °C (57 °F) and 26 °C (79 °F) throughout the year.
The island’s location also makes it susceptible to many Atlantic storms, and precipitation tends to be elevated during the winter periods.
The main economy of São Miguel, is the production of dairy products, cereals, tea, fruits and wine. However, cattle raising and fishing are also very important economic activities. The largest source of revenue is generated from tourism. The largest employer in São Miguel is the government with 55% percent of the labor force employed by this sector.
The private sector is dominated by a handful of companies with SATA (airlines) and Grupo Bensaude (shipping, tourism) as the leaders. Sao Miguel has around 150000 inhabitants with a per capita average monthly salary of €968,50 Euros (as of 30th September 2012 – Azores Business Development Society).
São Miguel Island has many interesting cultural activities that you can enjoy during your holidays. The Holy Ghost Festivals represent an Azorean religious tradition, which is celebrated on all the islands. They take place around chapels called Impérios (Empires) from May to September.
Intrinsically linked to São Miguel, the age-old Festa do Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres (Lord Holy Christ of Miracles Festival) venerates the statue of Christ kept at the Esperança Chapel in Ponta Delgada. The festivities last for three days and take place around the fifth Sunday after Easter Sunday. The Romeiros (Pilgrims) of São Miguel are groups of men who walk the island on foot during Lent, praying and visiting churches and chapels dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Starting in the parish of Ribeira Seca, municipality of Ribeira Grande, the Cavalhadas de São Pedro (Saint Peter’s Horse Riders) take place on 29 June and are a parade of horse riders dressed in colourful outfits – symbolising a king, knights, lancers, stewards and horn players or trumpeters, riding equally adorned horses. Carnival is lively enjoyed in Ponta Delgada. The Batalha das Limas (Water Battle) is a tradition that persists, with groups confronting each other on the streets of the city throwing at each other various types of “weapons” filled with water. The festive season also includes various gala balls with merry-makers dressed in evening suits. There are various carnival parades in different localities which attract many participants and enthusiasts.
Dancing and brass band concerts are frequent throughout the various parishes of the island, especially during the festivities in honour of each locality’s patron saint. New Year’s Eve attains a new dimension at the Portas do Mar in Ponta Delgada, with its marina and cruise-ship terminal providing a new stage for music shows and exhibitions, with restaurants and bars animating the evening in the city.
Festivals of Senhor Santo Cristo – Ponta Delgada
The most important religious festivities in São Miguel and, as far as number of people participating, the biggest festival in the Azores islands are held on the fifth Sunday after Easter. The festivities known as Festas do Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres (Lord Holy Christ of the Miracles) date back to the end of the 17th century with the fame of the miracles obtained through the intercessors of the Senhor Santo Cristo (Lord Holy Christ), whose image is venerated in the Convent of Nossa Senhora da Esperanca. The endless procession, which comprises of thousands of faithful who come mostly from every island in the Azores and the Azorean communities spread throughout the world, dates from that period, and nowadays still follows the same itinerary which covers a large part of Ponta Delgada. At festival time the town is decorated with arches and other fascinating illuminations. The streets where the procession is to pass are covered by painstakingly decorated carpets of artistically laid out flowers. The blessing of the bread and meat distributed among the needy on Saturday, marks the start of the festivities, followed on Sunday by the procession with the image under its famous baldachin decorated with flowers. To the devotion shown by the faithful must be added the conviviality and joy of the profane part of the festivities, complete with fireworks and music played by dozens of bands. Ponta Delgada is transformed into a town full of color and animation during the six days the festival lasts.
Festas do Espirito Santo – Holy Ghost Festivals
Of Medieval origin (13th A.D.) they are one of the most traditional expressions of devotion. In S. Miguel Holy Ghost (Espirito Santo) festivals are held on Sundays from April to June. Presenting different characteristics from island to island and from village to village, the festivals common features are the coronation of the “emperor”, the feast day on which the offerings of bread meat and wine, called “pensions”, are distributed among the needy and the “brothers” of the “empire” and the “jesters” who, with their musical instruments and songs recall age-old customs. The most colorful festivals of the Holy Ghost take place at Rabo de Peixe, with ox-carts decorated with fanciful ornaments made of colored paper, and at Ribeira Grande, where girls march in a procession carrying trays on their head with the “pensions” of the “brothers” of the Holy Ghost.
Romeiros – The Lenten pilgrims
During the seven weeks of Lent, groups of men walk round Sao Miguel in a chanting meditative state led by a “master” stopping only to pray next to the churches and chapels dedicated to Our Lady. Eight days later they return to their home villages, where they are received by the local inhabitants of the parish and where a festival is held in their honor.
Cavalhadas – St. Peter’s cavalcades – Ribeira Seca
Ribeira Grande and Ribeira Seca are a stage for the Cavalhadas (St. Peter’s Cavalcates). A “king” or headman, knights, lance’s, stewards and trumpeters dressed in white, with red capes and sashes, mounted on splendid horses, ride through the streets in the morning of St. Peter’s day, June 29th, repeating ceremonies whose origin is lost in time and which recall the tournaments of knighthood. A colorful spectacle which heads toward the centre of the town of Ribeira Seca and has its culminating point at the church of São Pedro when the “king” greets the saint in verse and makes his horse place its front hoofs on the door of the church.
Senhor dos Enfermos – Procession of Our Lord of the Sick – Furnas
The streets, covered with petals laid out in artistic designs, are the scene of the procession. The carpets of petals display all the hues of the flowers of the Azores. The procession is held on the first Sunday after Easter.
São Miguel – St. Michael’s or Labor Procession – Vila Franca do Campo
A throw-back to the Middle Ages, this procession features groups of craftsmen where each profession gathers around the litter bearing their patron saint. The colors of the surplices worn by the participants define their profession. This splendid and long procession takes place on the Sunday following the 8th of May.
Festival of Bom Jesus da Pedra – Good Lord of the Stone – Vila Franca do Campo
The outcome of this festival is when the image of the Bom Jesus (Good Jesus) is carried Saturday evening to the church of Sao Miguel. It is returned in procession to the church of the Misericordia on Sunday of the last weekend in August.
On São Miguel Island there is a tradition for growig exotic fruits such as pineapples, annona, guavas and passion fruit, which are eaten raw or used to make liqueurs. The pineapple green houses, spread throughout Fajã de Baixo, Lagoa and Vila Franca do Campo, preserve age-old practices which can be discovered in a guided visit.
From the various cultures introduced in the Azores the highlight goes to tea. The plantations of Gorreana and Porto Formoso, appearing in the horizon as a sea of green leaves, are unique in the Europe. During visits to the museum-factories, one learns the history and evolution of the machinery, before a well deserved cup of Azorean tea.
In Furnas, the pots containing meat and vegetables for a typical boiled/steamed dish are put into a sac and buried in the geothermal soil. The food cooks for approximately five hours. Before tasting the singular taste of a dish made in the natural heat of the earth, it will be worth waiting to see the lifting of the pot, with strong arms pulling the ropes that had been attached to the heavy pots.
The cuisine of São Miguel is filled with fish dishes, always with a common factor: freshness. There are also various types of sea food, and delicacies like the barnacle, a crustacean boiled in sea water. The meat comes from the cattle bred in pastures, and it is soft and tasty. As for appetizers, there are the famous local red, mashed peppers served with fresh cheese. But these local red peppers are also used in various recipes. The bolo lêvedo from Furnas is a cake that is well known and may be served during any meal. As for sweets, the most famous are the Queijadas de Vila Franca do Campo (Vila Franca do Campo Custards). And to top another day in the vacation, smokers may even finish their meal with a locally manufactured cigar or cigarillo.