Terceira the lilac island!
Part of the central group, Terceira was discovered as third island of the Azores (hence the name, as ‘Terceira’ means the third in Portuguese) but it is also the third largest and, next to São Miguel, the second most important island of the archipelago. With an elliptical shape, Terceira covers an area of approx. 385 sq. km; it is about 29 km long and up to 18 km wide. The distance to São Miguel in the west is about 150 km and to its neighbour island São Jorge in the east about 55 km. Terceira’s capital is Angra do Heroismo (Angra of Heroism), a name, which it was granted by King Pedro IV in 1834 for the spirit of sacrifice and patriotism demonstrated against all exterior threats and its resistance to the then absolutistic Portuguese King Miguel during the Civil War between the Liberals and the Absolutists from 1820 to 1831.
Dominating the eastern part of the island, where also the international Airport of Lajes is located, a large volcanic plateau, which is surrounded by the high mountains of the Serra do Cume, descends softly towards the coast. The archipelago’s largest crater, the Caldeira de Guilherme Moniz (15 km in diameter) and numerous small craters, often filled with small lakes, mark the island’s centre. Its highest peak, the Serra de Santa Bárbara, a 1,023 high volcanic cone in a large crater, is dominating the scenery of the western part. Protected by a fort here and there, the island’s coasts are in general steep and dotted with numerous cliffs.
Due to its fertile soils, Terceira’s about 58,000 inhabitants make their living today mainly out of agriculture the island has become the archipelago’s main cereal producer - and cattle raising as well as algae harvesting.
Terceira’s colonization started around 1450, with the predominantly Flemish settlers dedicating themselves to agriculture, the main crops being cereals and pastel at the time. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Terceira also played an important role as port of call for Spanish galleons charged with the riches from the New World. With all the gold, diamonds, porcelain, spices and silk being stocked in the port town of Angra, the island of Terceira had been a favourite target for raids during centuries, with the corsairs coming predominantly from Spain’s enemies France, Flanders and England. In 1597, even Sir Francis Drake, leading a fleet of about one hundred ships, tried in vain to conquer the Spanish galleons anchoring in Angra’s port.
For the protection of the island against the persistent pirate attacks and to ensure the Spanish authority, the Castle of São Felipe (called São João Baptista after the Spaniards’ departure) and ten more castles were built. After the pillaging of the West Indies had come to an end, Terceira’s wealth declined, but it continued to play an important role in Portugal’s history as economic, administrative and religious centre of the Azores. Consequently, in 1766, it became the seat of the General Captaincy and later the regency over the Azores was installed in Angra.
In 1943, the Americans built an air force basis at Lajes, near Praia da Vitória, Terceira’s second most important town. It has three runways, the longest being 3,600 m, and serves both civil and military purposes. Due to military budget cuts on an international level, the American government is constantly reducing its military presence, with the objective of transforming the former air base into a simple service station.