Home Terceira Terceira Island

Terceira Island

terceira island Azores

Terceira, also known as the lilac or violet island “Ilha Lilás”, is an island in the Azores archipelago, in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean.

Terceira is the second most inhabited island of the Azores, with approximately 56,000 inhabitants (2012 data), the island of Terceira has 401.9 sq. Km, being 30.1 km long and 17.6 km at its maximum width.

It is the most easterly island of the five that form the central group and is the nearest one to São Jorge island, 37.9 km away. The highest point of the island, at 1,021 m altitude, is located in the Serra de Santa Bárbara, at 38°43’47’’ latitude north and 27°19’11’’ longitude west.

It is the location of the historical capital of the archipelago, the Azores’ oldest city and UNESCO Heritage Site (Angra do Heroísmo), the seat of the judicial system (Supreme Court), main base of the Azores Air Zone Command (Commando da Zona Aérea dos Açores) Base Aérea nº 4.

A small number of Hypogea (earthen structures carved into rocks, that were used for burials) were discovered on the island of Terceira, indicating a history of settlement that may date back 2000 years, and alluding to a presence on the island before the Portuguese.

Historically, there has been uncertainty in the date and the discoverer associated with the islands of the Azores. Nautical charts before the “official” discovery identified islands in the Atlantic Ocean as far back as 1325, when a chart by Angelino Dalorto identified “Bracile” west of Ireland, and later one by Angelino Dulcert which identifies the Canaries, and Madeira, along with mysterious islands denominated as “Capraria” (whom some historians suggest were São Miguel and Santa Maria). Legends also persisted of Atlantis, Sete Cidades (Kingdoms of the Seven Cities), the Terras of São Brandão, the Ilhas Aofortunadas (The Fortunate Islands), the Ilha da Brasil (the Island of Brasil), Antília, the Ilhas Azuis (Blue Islands), the Terra dos Bacalhaus (Land of Codfish), and charts appeared between 1351 and 1439 of several groupings of islands with various names. The first association between the modern island of Terceira and these stories, was that of the island of Brasil; it first appears as Insula de Brasil in the Venetian map of Andrea Bianco (1436), attached to one of the larger islands of a group of islands in the Atlantic.

In 1439 the first official discovery document appeared attributing the discovery of the Formigas islets, to Gonçalo Velho Cabral. There is an indication that Terceira may have been discovered by Vicente de Lagos, the Velho Cabral’s pilot, on 1 January 1445: the first documents after this period started appearing with a third island in the Azorean archipelago, referred to as the Ilha de Jesus Cristo (Island of Jesus Christ), and later, Ilha de Jesus Cristo da Terceira. Gaspar Frutuoso, a chronicler and humanist, would later rationalize about the island’s first name, noting that:

  • it was discovered on the first day of January, traditionally the feast day of the name of Jesus;
  • it was discovered by a captain in the Order of Christ;
  • it was discovered on a Thursday or Friday, on Corpo de Deus (Body of Christ); or
  • because it was part of the dioceses of Angra, through the invocation of San Salvador (although this implies that a dioceses existed prior to its discovery).

Regardless, it was only a temporary name, as the colloquial Terceira (meaning “third” in Portuguese, as in “the third island” or “third to be discovered”) was used more often to describe the island.

The colonization of the island began by decree of Infante D. Henrique (dated 21 March 1450), and placed the island in the administrative hands of the Flem Jácome de Bruges. Its first settler was Fernão d’Ulmo, a Flem or Frenchman, who later abandoned his plot, for unknown reasons. Bruges, although a Flemish nobleman continued to bring families and settlers from Flanders and northern Portuguese (João Coelho, from Guimarães; João da Ponte, from Aveiro; João Bernardes, from Lagos; João Leonarde, from Vieira; and Gonçalo Anes da Fonseca, from Porto), adventurers, as well as animals and provisions, disembarking in the area of Porto Judeu or Pesqueiro dos Meninos, near Ribeira Seca (depending on sources). Gaspar Frutuoso also affirmed that:

…that ancient settlers of the island of Terceira, that were the first to settle in a band to the north, where they call Quatro Ribeiras, where now the parish of Santa Beatriz is located, and where the first church existed on the island, but were few settlers remained due to difficult access and bad port.

The first settlement occurred in Quatro Ribeiras, in the locality of Portalegre, where a small chapel was raised for the invocation of Santa Ana. Bruges made return trips to Flanders for new settlers to his colony. On one of his trips to Madeira he conscripted Diogo de Teive and assigned him as his Lieutenant and Overseer for the island of Terceira. A few years later, Brugues moved his residence to Praia, began construction on the Matriz Church in 1456, and administered the Captaincy of the island from this location (around 1460), until he mysteriously disappeared in 1474, on another of his trips between the colony and the continent. Following his disappearance, the Infanta D. Beatriz, in the name of her son the Infante D. Diogo (who inherited the islands of Terceira and Graciosa following the death D. Fernando, the adopted son of the Infante D. Henrique) divided the island of Terceira into two captaincies: Angra (which was given to João Vaz Corte Real) and Praia (which was given to Álvaro Martins Homem). Apart from the Portuguese and Flemish settlers, colonists from Madeira, many slaves from Africa, new Christians and Jews populated the island at this time, developing new commercial ventures including wheat (exported during the 15th century throughout the empire), sugar-cane, woad (for the dye industry) and woods (principally for the naval construction industries). This development would continue until the end of the 19th century, with the introduction of new products, including tea, tobacco and pineapple.

During the 1580 Dynastic Crisis, the Azores was the only portion of the Portuguese overseas empire to resist the Spanish until the summer of 1583. Philip II of Spain had offered an amnesty if the Azores surrender, but his messenger met with a very hostile reception at Angra do Heroísmo (escaping to São Miguel, which had presented its allegiance to the King of Spain). Following the Battle of Ponta Delgada, where Don Álvaro de Bazán, 1st Marquis of Santa Cruz defeated the Anglo-French supporters of D. António (the pretender to the Portuguese throne) off the coast of São Miguel, the Marquis concentrated his forces at a less defended beach 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) from Angra do Heroísmo. With a fleet to ninety-six ships and 9,500 men (as well as a garrison of 2,000 on Sao Miguel) the Marquis was able to defeat the forces of D. António after one day’s fighting. Although French and English soldiers on the island were allowed to retire unharmed, D. Antonio and a handful of his supporters were lucky to escape with their lives.

With the acclamation of John IV of Portugal, the Azores applauded the restoration of independence from the Iberian Union. This was not lost on the Spanish settlers in Angra do Heroísmo, who had become a privileged class during the Union, and which made it difficult for them to remain after 1642, when Portuguese sovereignty was restored.

In 1766, the reorganization of system of Captaincies was undertaken, resulting in one Captain-General, with his seat in Angra do Heroísmo for the Azores.

In 1810, a number of journalists and others considered to favor the French, including the industrialist Jácome Ratton, were exiled to the island for a period.

Having embraced the cause of constitutionalism, the local Terceirenses established a Junta Provisória in the name of Queen Maria II of Portugal in 1828. At the outbreak of hostilities between Miguelistas (supporters of the absolute monarchy of Miguel I and the Liberals (supporters of constitutional monarchy installed by King John VI of Portugal) at the Battle of Praia da Vitória in 1829. In a decree, issued on 15 March 1830, Angra was named as Portuguese capital by these constitutional forces, who protected and supported exiled Liberals who supported the rights of Queen Maria II of Portugal, whose rights were usurped by D. Miguel. In 1832, Pedro II (former King and regent of Queen Maria) arrived in the Azores to form a government-in-opposition to the absolutionist regime in Lisbon, presided by the Marques of Palmela, and supported by Azoreans Mouzinho da Silveira and Almeida Garrett that developed many important reforms.

During World War II, the British were allowed to set up a military base near Praia da Vitória, which later was taken over by the American Air Force. The well known, and still functional, Lajes Air Base brought new influences to the local population. Proud of its historic past filled with great deeds, Terceira is still a dynamic island within the context of the Archipelago, having the historical center of Angra do Heroísmo been recognized as a World Heritage site by UNESCO, in 1983.

The island of Terceira consists of four overlapping stratovolcanoes built over a geologic structure called the Terceira Rift: a triple junction between the Eurasian, African and North American tectonic plates. These volcanic structures rise from a depth of over 1,500 metres (5,000 ft) from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. Radiocarbon dating of eruptive units, in support of geologic mapping, has improved the known chronology of Middle to Late Pleistocene and Holocene volcanic activity on the island of Terceira, Azores, defining the east-to-west progression in stratovolcano growth. These have commonly resulted in a classification of the eruptive events into the following structures:

Cinco Picos Volcanic Complex: the oldest on Terceira (defined by the Serra do Cume), which completed its main sub-aerial activity by about 370 – 380,000 years ago. Collapse of the upper part of the strato volcanic edifice formed an enormous 7×9 km caldera about 370,000 years ago.

Post-caldera eruptions of basalt from cinder cones on and near the caldera floor and trachytic pyroclastic flow and pumice fall deposits from younger volcanoes west of Cinco Picos have refilled much of the caldera producing an almost-uninterrupted fertile plain.

Guilherme Moniz Volcanic Complex: the southern portion, in the central part of the island, began erupting about 100,000 years later (about 270,000 ka) and produced trachyte domes (approximately 808 m/2651 ft in altitude), flows, and minor pyroclastic deposits for another 100,000 years (until at least 111 ka). The highest point along the caldera rim reaches 623 metres (2,044 ft). The northern portion of the Caldera is less well exposed, but reflects a similar age range. The northwest portion of the caldera was formed sometime after 44 ka. Several well-studied ignimbrites that blanket much of the island likely erupted from Guilherme Moniz Volcano.

Pico Alto Volcanic Complex: a tightly spaced cluster of trachyte domes and short flows, is a younger part of Guilherme Moniz Volcano. Stratigraphic studies and radiocarbon analysis suggest that most of the Pico Alto eruptions occurred during the period from about 9000 to 1000 years BP.
Santa Barbara Volcanic Complex: the youngest stratovolcano on Terceira, began erupting prior to 29,000 years ago, and has been active historically, comprises the western end of the island and at its highest point is 1,023 m (3,356 ft). This stratovolcano is surrounded by several domes and coulee trachyte formations that occupy the volcano’s caldera and along various alignments of the volcano’s flanks.
Fissural Zone: Connecting the eastern portion of Santa Bárbara, the western frontier of Pico Alto and Guilherme Moniz exist a grouping of fissural volcanoes and basaltic cones (Hawaiian and Strombolian), the youngest of which formed about 15,000 years ago. The only historical eruptions occurred in 1761, along a fissure on the eastern face of Santa Bárbara, and in 1867 and between 1998–2000 from submarine vents off the western coast (Serreta (Azores)). The groupings of volcanic structures on the island are aligned along a northwest-southwest and west-northwest-east-southeast orientation that extends to the submarine vents/volcanoes towards the eastern basin of Graciosa, including geomorphological alignments of smaller volcanic structures (including both basaltic and trachytic cones).

Island tectonics are highlighted by two great faults in the northeast corner (the Lajes and the Fontinhas faults), the Lajes Graben has been responsible for severe seismic events. Historically, both faults have produced earthquakes that are relatively shallow, strong and responsible for the destruction of property in the northeastern corner (specifically in 1614 and 1841). During the 1614 event, whose epicenter was located along the Lajes fault eight kilometers offshore, recorded magnitudes for the earthquake were between 5.8 and 6.3 on the Richeter scale (Wells and Coppersmith,1994). Both the Lajes and Fontinhas faults are separated by three kilometers). A second, less-developed, graben is located on the southeast of the Santa Bárbara stratovolcano. This feature is marked by trachyte domes and crosses from the coast at Ponta do Queimado (from the historical basin of Serreta (Azores)) to the cliffs, faults, basaltic lava and fissural eruptions near the center of the island.

The western part of Terceira Island is more heavily forested than the eastern part, due to the prevailing westerly winds bringing increased precipitation to that side, resulting in forests of Cryptomeria (Cryptomeria japonica). Other geomorphological points of interest include the plains of Achada, the mounts near Santa Bárbara, the small lakes of Lagoa das Patas and Lagoa da Falca. The northern coast is an area marked by evidence of volcanic activity with several “mistérios” (lava fields), the swimming pools of Biscoitos, while the centre of the island is highlighted by the Algar do Carvão and Furnas do Enxofre (dormant and active volcanic forms) that are popular with tourists and geologists. Most of the island is ringed by coastal cliffs about 20 m (60 ft) high, except on the south coast near Angra do Heroísmo. Here, an eruption of basaltic lava in shallow water formed the tuff cone of Monte Brasil, which protects and shelters the harbor of the island’s capital. The cone is about 1 km (0.6 mi) in diameter and rises 205 m (673 ft) above the western side of the harbor.

The main economic activity of Terceira is raising livestock and the production of dairy-based products. Terceira has two main ports, one at Angra do Heroismo and the other at Praia da Vitoria, and a commercial airport integrated with the flight operations of the air force in Lajes.

Terceira also benefits from the leasing agreement for the air force base with the United States which brings a substantial amount of indirect revenue to the island and its population.

There are several cultural institutions and associations, theatre groups and places of temporary or permanent exhibitions that contribute to the promotion of the culture in the island. This is the case of the Angra do Heroísmo Museum, installed at the São Francisco Convent, with its remarkable collections of military history and of transports of the 18th and 19th centuries.

In the city of Praia da Vitória, the small house where Vitorino Nemésio, a great figure of Portuguese culture, was born. An outstanding poet and writer, he was an intellectual who played several roles, from journalist to teacher, from historian to TV presenter; he was the hero of a generation. His romance Mau Tempo no Canal deeply reveals the insular spirit of his works. Nemésio also coined the word Açorianidade (Azoreanity) in 1932.

The Festive Island: more than a slogan or an epithet, it is an undeniable fact that the well-receiving of the local people of Terceira is keen to preserve and enhance.The Holy Ghost Festivals, centred on the local chapels called Impérios, are intrinsic to the spirit of Terceira. They take place during the eight weeks that run between Easter Sunday and Trinity Sunday, animating the parishes. On the rainbow island, the small chapels cannot be missed given the colourful lights ranging from white to a range of sparkling colours.

During the Carnival, Carnival dances are quite typical and a singular manifestation of popular theatre. For three days, the local population walks the streets in groups called danças or bailinhos. During the performances, the members of each group sing a story, often in a satirical, funny manner.

The Sanjoaninas, a festival dedicated to São João (Saint John), the locals fill the streets of Angra do Heroísmo for ten solid days during the month of June. There are parades, concerts, bullfighting (in areas or bullfighting on a rope), food stalls, theatrical shows, fireworks and sporting events ending with a parade of popular dances.

In August, Praia da Vitória offers many celebrations. The Praia Festival includes bullfighting, exhibitions, parades, cuisine fairs, concerts and nautical sporting events. In the beginning of September, the Festas da Vinha e do Vinho (Vineyard and Wine Festival) provide good entertainment in Biscoitos, a locality with a wine tradition. Angra do Heroísmo is also the stage for two important music festivals: one dedicated to Rock (Angra Rock in September) and the other to Jazz (Angra Jazz in October). These shows are linked to the musical tradition of the island, of which the cantares ao desafio (challenging verses) are a highlight. To this day, the festivities of Terceira are filled with singers who improvise and delight the audience.

Bullfighting is a very old tradition in Terceira, the island that keeps many bull farms. This activity is divided into arena bullfights (or on the sand of a beach, such as those during the Praia Festival), and the typical touradas à corda (bullfighting on a rope), when the bull runs on the streets tied to a long rope held by a group of men. The bullfighting season normally takes place between the months of May and October, and these events are either booked with fixed dates or occur spontaneously.

The cuisine of Terceira is marked by alcatra, generally made with fish or beef (in the bone). This is a typical dish that is cooked very slowly in a clay pot in order to thicken the sauce made with bacon, onions, garlic, bay leaf, pepper and wine amongst other ingredients. It is normally served with bread or massa sovada (a kind of sweet bread). This cooking method is also applied when preparing chicken, beans, rabbit, octopus, broad beans…

As for sweets, the highlight goes to the cake Dona Amélia, custards made with honey and cinnamon mixed with raisins and ciders. According to the legend, the name of this pastry is associated to the visit of Queen Amélia to Terceira. The coscorões, cornucópias (filled with egg strings) or the rice pudding complete the list of local desserts.

The landscape of the region of Biscoitos is filled with vineyards assembled in curraletos. A specific type of wine is made from the verdelho grapes, which has been defended and advertised by the Confraria do Vinho Verdelho dos Biscoitos (Biscoitos Brotherhood of Verdelho Wine) since 1993. There is a Wine Museum in the Casa Agrícola Brum (Brum Agricultural House). A visit allows one to enjoy a taste of the liqueur wine Chico Maria.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.