São Miguel, Acores

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Ponta Delgada

Ponta Delgada
Portas da Cidade (Doors to the City)

Geography:

The municipality of Ponta Delgada is one of the larger administrative divisions in the archipelago, extending from the center of the island to the western coast. Ponta Delgada is bordered on the northeast by the municipality of Riberia Grande, and southeast by relatively new municipality of Lagoa.

Geomorphologically, Ponta Delgada covers a volcanic area composed of two structures: the Picos Region and Sete Cidades Massif. The Picos Region extends from the shadow of the ancient volcano of the Água de Pau Massif (known locally for the lake that rests within its volcanic crater: Lagoa do Fogo) until the area around the Sete Cidades caldera. It is a volcanic axial zone oriented generally in a northwest-southeast direction, essentially defined by several spatter cones and lava flows and predominantly covered by dense vegetation and pasture-lands. Its relief is relatively planar, especially along the northern and southern coasts, where many of the urban communities are located. The Sete Cidades Massif, the other geomorphological structure that makes up the municipality of Ponta Delgada, consists of a central volcanic caldera and lake-filled cones which surround the crater. It occupies the extreme western part of the island, oriented along a similar northwest-southwest orientation, with many regional radial fractures marked by lava domes and spatter cones. The Sete Cidades Volcano at the center of the Massif consists of a caldera and a polygenetic volcanic field within it, that includes four lakes (two of which Lagoa Azul, the Blue Lake, and Lagoa Verde, the Green Lake, are linked). The caldera is almost circular and has evolved over the course of three phases. The first occurred 36,000 years ago forming the collapsed principal structure. The second phase conforms to a period approximately 29,000 years ago, when volcanic eruptions collapsed the northwest part of the structure. Finally, the third phase (about 16,000 years ago) caused the collapse of the north and northeastern portions of the caldera. Geologically, within the last 5,000 years, the central cone has been active (17 eruptions) and responsible for causing most of the activity in the archipelago, during that period. These geological eruptions were essentially trachyte eruptions of the sub-Plinian or Plinian type, with hydro-magmatic characteristics. The last eruption, at about 500 years ago, gave rise to the Caldeira Seca cone. Although there has been no historical activity today, its active status continues to be debated by the scientific community.

Most recently, its diverse geography includes various types of basaltic volcanism, both effusive and less explosive (essentially Strombolian and Hawaiian) along its flanks, usually conditioned by local and radial faults. The Mosteiros Graben is also an important feature in this area, representing collapse of lands on the northwestern flank of the caldera. Although there are no active aerial volcanic characteristics (like the fumaroles of Furnas), submarine vents around the region of Ponta da Ferraria and the beach at Mosteiros have been identified.

History:

On the origin of the place’s name, the famous Portuguese chronicler, Father Gaspar Frutuoso, wrote:

Around 1450, Pero de Teive, established a small fishing village that eventually grew into Santa Clara.

Populated since 1444, the island of São Miguel was a vast territory, with small settlements scattered about, except for Vila Franca do Campo in the central-southern coast, and the community of Ponta Delgada. Villa Franca had for many years been the centre of the island, and Azorean government, but many nobles and landed gentry despised having to be subordinate to the government in that town (as well as many conflicts between these inhabitants and administrators in the southern coast). The nobles in Ponta Delgada sent a secret contingent, headed by Fernão Jorge Velho, to meet with King Manuel in Lisbon to petition that the community be emancipated. In Abrantes, King Manuel conferred a foral on 29 May 1507, elevating the settlement to the status of village (Portuguese: vila).

Similarly, it was elevated to status of city, during the reign of King D. João III, by decred dated 2 April 1546, after the original capital of the island (Vila Franca do Campo) was devastated by the 1522 earthquake.

The naval Battle of Ponta Delgada (also known as the Battle of São Miguel) took place on 26 July 1582, off the coast, as part of the 1580 Portuguese succession crisis. An Anglo-French corsair expedition sailed against Spain to preserve Portuguese control of the Azores, which had aligned itself with the pretender António, Prior of Crato, thereby preventing Spanish control (it was the largest French force sent overseas before the age of Louis XIV).

It was during the 19th Century, that the municipality experienced its greatest boost of economic activity, with the funnelling of citrus exports to United Kingdom and the growth of foreign-owned businesses in the historic center, many of them Jewish merchants after 1818. Ponta Delgada was also once home to five Synagogues with the oldest surving synagogue being the Sahar Hassamain Synagogue (Gates of Heaven) in downtown part of the city As with other centres across the archipelago, the town of Ponta Delgada experienced many of the trends common for the period, including the “greening” of the communities (with the construction of the gardens of António Borges, José do Canto, Jácome Correia and Viscount of Porto Formoso, which would become part of the University of the Azores), the construction of many of the ornate homes/estates, the clearing animals from urban spaces, the opening of newer, larger, roadways, the moving of cemeteries to the periphery, and relocation of markets for fish, meat and fruits. Due to these changes, and growth of the mercantile class, Ponta Delgada became the third largest town in Portugal, in economic riches and the number of residents. The poet Bulhão Pato, writing of Ponta Delgada, was surprised by the extraordinary riches of the plantation owners, the “gentlemen farmers” that lived within the urbanized core: exporters of oranges and corn, bankers, investors, industrialists and shippers, all contributing to a privileged class of economic and social thinkers and philanthropists.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, Ponta Delgada’s position was relatively high (eighth largest), although the changing importance of rural economies steadily chipped-away at its growth. But it remained the central place in the economy and hierarchy of the Azorean archipelago. Consequently, it was at the forefront of political change following the Carnation Revolution. In one such event, property-owners and right-leaning farmers challenged the Civil Governor António Borges Coutinho, who was responsible, under the direction of the MFA government to implement land reforms. The Micalense Farmers’ Protest, forced his resignation, and inspired a series of terrorist acts that plunged the Azores into political turmoil. After a clandestine round-up of arrests and detentions by the Military Governor, the Autonomous District of Ponta Delgada was extinguished, along with the other districts (Horta and Angra do Heroísmo) on 22 August 1975, with the establishment of theJunta Regional dos Açores (Regional Junta of the Azores), the provisional government that assumed the competencies of the administration during the region’s transition to constitutional autonomy.



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