Wednesday 9 April 2014

Saved by the Bull

Terceira means "the Third", and although the meaning rather referring to the two facts that it is not only the third one to have been discovered but also the third largest of the Azores, it is certainly a suitable name for us, too. We visit Terceira as the third place in the third archipelago of our journey. And the last one. As if the skies knew, they make it a little easier for us to say Farewell, not much sunshine today, but rather foggy, so our visit to the observation platform of Serre do Cume is rather a "if-it-weren't-cloudy-we-could-see-the-following" thing. Not a big thing, there is more to the island than this view alone.
The 400 square kilometers are inhabited by 56.000 people and almost as many cows, mostly the black-and-white Holstein variety, very well known to our German guests. Although on the other Azores the emphasis of employment is rather in the service sector, dairy produce is the main income for the Terceirans. Cattle are deeply woven into the islanders history: In the year 1581 the islands bay of Salga was under attack from the Spanish who thought their invasion was unnoticed. A farmers wife not only alarmed the men who then went to fight, but also released all the bulls from the pastures and shooed them down to the beach. The raging animals violently drove the Spanish troops back to where they came from.

Ever since the bulls are part of the island's coat of arms and they enjoy an enormous respect: Terceira hosts no less than 260 bull fights every year between May and December. But other than the much despised, bloody events with a dead animal in the end, here the bulls can rampage among the crowd as it takes their fancy. These "bull on a string" events bring thousands of people into the streets, many of wich end up with broken bones. They really like this, the Azoreans...
Terceira was stage for historic events more than once, important battles of the Spanish-Portuguese War and the Portuguese Civil War were fought here. Hence the names Angra do Heroismo, the bay of heroics, and Praia do Vitoria, victory beach, and hence also the existence of the fortress of Monte Brasil which today is a curiously fortified leisure park. But also during WW II it proved to be the ideal location in the Atlantic, serving well to install a long runway on a lava platform for aircrafts of the Allied Forces. That did not change much during the cold war, and even today there is a mixed use of the airport for military (mainly American) and civil use.
Geologically, Terceira is sitting on probably the most precarious spot of the whole archipelago, right atop the "Terceira rift", an active spreading centre that manifests itself impressively in the "Furnas", steaming vents in the centre of the island. The spreading did not only rip the tiny "Goat Islands" apart but also caused the severe earthquake of 1980 that destroyed a large number of the historic buildings. Many have been repaired since, but others had to be left to the forces of nature. This didn't keep UNESCO from taking Angra do Heroismo into the list of World Heritage Sites in 1983.
History, nature and the cultural mix that came with Terceira's role as important port resulted in a small, but open-minded and friendly society with a huge tolerance to strangers. So it is probably the hidden gem of the Azores.
Glad that we visited it as the last one. The Third.