In the Atlantic Ocean, between North America and Portugal, lies an archipelago, made up of nine islands, known as the Azores. All of these islands were created by volcanoes, and because of this, they possess a beauty that is hard to compare to any other islands. Depending on which island one is on, there may be caves, tunnels, wrecks, and underwater sites that are hard to beat. With mild water temperatures, any one of these islands would be a treat to visit.
Faial is the fifth largest of the Azores islands. Unlike the other islands in the archipelago, Faial is the site of the most recent volcanic eruption, which took place in 1957. The island is known as the “Ilha Azul”, or “The Blue Island”. This is because the island is planted with endless hedges of blue hydrangeas.
Faial’s most popular city is Horta. As on the other islands of the Azores, this city faces the sea. It has a modern day feeling, with free wireless internet for the town, but has old-fashioned beauty, as is seen in its churches, forts, palaces, and other architecture.
One of the most well known sites in Horta is the seaport which, since the 18th century, has historically been a very important part of the city. When whaling first developed, this port was a popular stop for the whaling fleets. Today, it is still an important stop, but rather than for whaling ships, it is for modern day yachts and other ships crossing the ocean.
The Horta Marina, which first opened in 1986, is today the fourth most visited ocean marina in the world. One of the reasons for its great popularity, in addition to being important to the sailing population, is the walls of the piers. It is said that some time ago, a member of a sailing ship wanted to leave a souvenir when he left the marina. He decided to paint on a small part of the sea wall. As time went on, this became custom, and all who visit leave a painting on the wall. According to the superstition, boats that did not leave a painting of their visit met with accidents after leaving the marina.
As on the other islands, churches are a very important part of the local architecture. Igreja Matriz Sao Salvador, which dominates the town square, was consecrated in 1760 and the construction started in 1860. Severely damaged in the earthquake in 1926, it was reconstructed using gilded wood-carved altars, as well as furniture with ivory inlays. In addition, the city of Horta is home to several other beautiful churches and chapels.
West of the main square, one will find the Castelo de Santa Cruz, built in the 16th century to protect the population from pirates. At the end of that century, the castle served its purpose when the Spanish struggled to take the Portuguese throne. In the Second War of Independence in 1848, it was here that the final battle between the American and British took place. The Castle is now used as a hotel.
Horta is also the home to many unique sites. It was here that a telegraphic cable was run between Lisbon and Horta, and in 1900 a cable was run from Horta to Nova Scotia. As a result of the installation of these cables, Horta became the center of communication between the Old World and the New World. Today, Horta is considered the most progressive city of the Azores.
As one would expect, the city of Horta is home to several museums. The Horta Museum has a large exhibit consisting of paintings and furniture, as well as miniature works, made from the pulp of fig trees, showing the history of the island.
The Scrimshaw Museum is another site one should not miss. Here one will find pieces carved from the teeth of whales. The artwork includes mermaids, sailing ships, and scenes of whale hunting.
The Observatorio Principe Alberto do Monaco, founded in 1915, can be found northeast of the harbor. It was originally used as a weather station, but now it is used to monitor the volcanoes in the area.
Horta is well known for its stunning gardens. The oldest garden in the city is the Jardim Florencio Terra, created in the nineteenth century. It boasts a bandstand as well as a small lake, in addition to numerous species of plants and trees. The Jardim Largo do Infante is also very popular with visitors, especially on summer nights. Both of these gardens allow the visitor a spectacular view of the harbor as well as Pico Island.
Traveling to the Azores is a trip to remember. Adding the city of Horta, on Faial Island, to one’s itinerary will make that trip even more memorable. From the blue hydrangeas to the harbor, this city welcomes all who visit it. From the past and still today, Horta has something for everyone who visits, and even allows them to leave something in return, if they wish, on the Harbor Wall.