The 21 kilometers of length and 14 kilometers of maximum width provide the 173.1 km2 of Faial with an almost pentagonal shape. The third most populated island in the archipelago, with just over 15 000 residents (2008 data), it is part of the Central Group and is the westernmost corner of the so-called "triangle islands." It is located between 38º 33' North latitude and 28º 38' West longitude.
From the lookout over the volcanic cone of the Cabeço Gordo, the highest point of the island with 1,043 meters, the terrain seems to smoothly slide until it flattens as it reaches the sea. The route to the center of Faial, dominated by the magnificent Caldeira (caldera), justifies the Blue Island nickname. A profusion of hydrangeas brings to land the tones of the sea, causing a courtship between floral blue and green vegetation. Suddenly, everything changes at the site of the Capelinhos Volcano, a landscape that proves that gray can also dazzle.
Entering the area of the Capelinhos Volcano is the equivalent of landing on the lunar surface. Gray mountains end in abrupt cliffs by the sea in a dance of contrasting colors and shapes. You lose track of time while leaving footprints on the dark wavy soil that resulted from the remains of a submarine volcano spitting ash and slag between 1957 and 1958. At the time, the event had repercussions in the international scientific community, while the locals were left with a hefty bill to pay with their houses and crops destroyed. The Capelinhos Lighthouse silently witnessed the emigration of part of the population. Now the tower, switched off, is proudly part of a magnificent Interpretation Center. The visit ends with the ascent to the top for a unique visual and emotional experience.
A genetic symbol of the island, the Caldeira (caldera) surprises by its immensity and by being lined with flowers, plants and trees that glow in sunlight. The walls of the seven kilometer perimeter are carpeted by beech, juniper, moss, cedar, fetus and hydrangeas, among other species. In its extensive bottom, a lake accompanies traces of the primitive laurel forest in another exciting game of colors.
Hills and lookouts
Despite not being particular hilly, Faial is a privileged promontory to the surrounding islands. Outside the ruins of the Ponta da Ribeirinha Lighthouse, one enjoys the hilly shape of São Jorge. At the Cabeço Gordo, one’s attention can be drawn both to the same dragon-like island and to Pico. At the Espalamaca Headland, in the lookout next to the monument dedicated to Our Lady of Conception, the sea horizons end at Pico and São Jorge and can reach Graciosa if the day is clear.
The reversal of one’s gaze allows one to discover the interior of Faial, sometimes marked by typical windmills painted in red. In Monte Carneiro, the sea is still visible on one side, entering the marina of Horta. On the other side, the cultivated and flowery fields from the Valley of Flamengos and green stretches of land rise up to the top of the Caldeira (caldera). On the opposite side of the island, at Ribeira Funda, one has the same perception of a bluish interior given the rows hydrangeas. And on the way between Varadouro and Castelo Branco, a rock surrounded by water and populated by seabirds draws one’s attention. It is the Morro de Castelo Branco (White Castle Headland) trying to live up to its name on this island of natural rainbows.
It is assumed that the Portuguese discovery of the island occurred some time in 1449-1451 after the mapping of Terceira. The initial name of island of St. Louis was later replaced by Faial, inspired by the abundance of fire trees (faias da terra). The first official settlers of Flemish and Portuguese origin probably arrived in 1467-1468. The history of Josse Van Huertere is well known; he was a Flemish nobleman who returned to Faial after a first failed expedition in search of tin and silver. Attracted by the fertility of the soil, he became the island’s donatory captain in 1468. Under a Royal Warrant of King Afonso V, he brought new settlers from Flanders who lived in the Valley of Flamengos (Flemings) before settling in Horta.
Foreigners introduced the cultivation of woad. Exports of the dye plant and of wheat represent the mainstay of the economy of Faial for two centuries. The Spanish occupation in 1583 and attacks from privateers marked a period of misappropriation of the island’s assets and wealth. The volcanic eruption of 1672 also caused a lot of destruction.
The tranquility of the 17th century, after the Restoration, came in the form of a safe haven. Horta became a stop for the navigation between Europe and the Americas. Wine and aguardiente made from the grapes of Pico, São Jorge and Graciosa were exported, and their fame led to the introduction of grapevines in Faial. In the 18th century, the island was actively involved in the cycle of production and export of oranges, a source of wealth for the Archipelago. The port of Horta experienced a golden age, serving as a stop to supply steamboats that crossed the Atlantic and the North American whaling fleet.
By mid 19th century, infesting diseases decimated the vineyards and orange groves in the space of a decade. Resilient, Faial achieved a greater dimension in early 20th century with the opening of the Horta Meteorological Observatory in 1901. The transmission of the important data to North America and Europe was made by submarine communications cables. Thanks to its location, the island became a hub for telecommunications. Several international companies continually installed submarine cables that connected continents and passed by Faial.
Aviation also took advantaged of the unique position of Horta, which was the location for the stopover of the first seaplanes that crossed the North Atlantic. In the 1930s and 1940s, the major German, British, French and American airlines chose Faial to alight their seaplanes.
The use of these geographical benefits has remained until today. The marina of Horta is one of the most famous harbors in the world. And tourism has joined commerce, cattle raising, agriculture and fisheries in the economic dynamics of the island which is home to the Azores Regional Parliament.
The amphitheater formed by the bays of Horta and Porto Pim, framed by houses and bell towers, can be exceptionally viewed from Monte da Guia. Go down to the street level to find the imposing Church of San Salvador, with a richly decorated interior featuring gold relief and tiles. The architectural design of the houses denotes the international spirit of the island. The testimonials of this centuries-old cosmopolitanism were enriched by buildings and houses built in the twentieth century to host the communities of Englishmen, Germans and Americans who worked at the cable-telegraph stations. An eclectic atmosphere continues to characterize Horta, and the mythical Peter’s Café Sport continues to be a meeting place for sailors and travelers from the whole world.
Marina of Horta
Opened in 1986, the marina of Horta is a modern extension of a port with a centuries-old importance. It is a tradition for yachtsmen to leave a painting on the gray cement of the breakwater. According to legend, this act will provide the boat with a safe journey to its destination. While some continue their trips with a sense of accomplishment, those who arrive at the marina see an open air art gallery. And the whole world then fits in the breakwater of an Azorean harbor, represented by creative and colorful designs.
Despite the doubts about Manuel de Arriaga’s birthplace, his origins can be traced to an aristocratic family of Horta with certainty. He studied law at Coimbra and later distinguished himself as a politician, being one of the main ideologues of the Republican Party. In 1911, the Azorean lawyer was elected the first President of the Portuguese Republic.
Through the museum's documental, ethnographic, photographic and artistic collections, part of the History of Faial can be seen at the Horta Museum located in a former Jesuit College. A museum center currently operates at the old site of the Porto Pim Whaling Factory, comprising the exhibition of machinery and diverse whaling artifacts. Anchored at Peter’s Café Sport, the Scrimshaw Museum displays a collection of precious items made from the teeth and bones of sperm whales with engravings and bas-reliefs. They are testimonials from the time when whales were a source of income for many families of the archipelago and a source of inspiration for local craftsmen.
Items made from fig core are so famous in Faial that the Horta Museum has a room entirely occupied by the estate of Euclides Rosa, the great master and promoter of this art. The motifs of these delicate pieces are varied, representing flowers, ships, animals, and emblematic buildings. In the Capelo School of Handicrafts, the focus is to preserve and foster the talent of local craftsmen, which manifests itself in flowers made from fish scales and in tulle embroidery made from wheat straw.
A festivity in honor of Saint John that dates back to the time of the island’s settlement by noblemen from Terceira is celebrated on June 24. The pilgrimage brings brass bands from all across the island to the Jaime Melo Square, where a shrine built by the noblemen devotees of Saint John is located. Music concerts, folk dancing, a parade of popular marches mark the festive day, during which families and groups of friends bring food to eat outdoors or stop at food stalls to enjoy the delicacies of local cuisine.
Despite the Feast of the Holy Spirit also being traditional in Faial, the great religious feast of the island is the Feast of Our Lady of Anguish. A procession and popular celebrations fill the streets of Horta on the sixth Sunday after Easter in a celebration dating back to the settlement and to a statue brought from Flanders.
Blue is the dominant color in August. On the first Sunday of August, to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guia, a procession of boats escorts the statue of the Virgin from the beach of Porto Pim to the port of Horta. The excitement continues with the Week of the Sea. Initially dedicated to yachtsmen, the celebration is now shared by the natives of Faial and visitors alike. The extensive program of activities includes musical performances, exhibitions of handicrafts, a food fair, regattas of whaling boats and several water sports competitions that enliven the bays of Horta and Porto Pim.
Octopus stew with wine, common on many islands of the archipelago, is one of the most typical dishes of Faial. At the table, the importance of the sea spreads to the fish broth and stew. Bread and corn cake are the preferred complements. In terms of meat, sausages and black pudding could either be a snack or a meal when served together with taro root. The recipe for meat stew uses spices such as pepper, cumin and cinnamon to spice up the generous stew in which the beef is cooked.
As for desserts, the Fofas of Faial are a typical sweet. Small cakes made from dough flavored with fennel seeds are baked in the oven before being stuffed with a cream made from egg yolks, milk, sugar, flour, and lemon zest.
"E todos, mal desembarcam, logo se dirigem para o Café Sport, a dois passos do cais de Santa Cruz, em pequena rua, com casario de cores variadas e de um só andar, do lado da terra e viradas para a ampla e abrigada baía, não faltando o Pico ao fundo. (...) É que para falar de Peter não podemos deixar naturalmente de lembrar seu pai, esse também simpático “meio-velhote”, de grisalho bigode e fumando cachimbo, quando propriamente o conhecemos. Preferia então já ficar sentado no canto, registando os nomes dos iates e tripulantes em cadernos de papel almaço que continuam a ser guardados religiosamente. (...) Nos outros meses do ano, o Café Sport transformar-se-ia em segunda Torre de Babel se lá não estivesse o Peter a falar fluentemente o inglês e o francês e holandês com desembaraço, arranhando ainda outras línguas... (...) Além de belo exemplo de continuidade duma tradição de família, que se tem esquecido, dá-nos ainda a certeza de que por esse mundo fora, repetimos, o Faial continuará a ser a ilha do Peter."