White Light, Black Sands, Shifting Ideas

My top 6 exercises: 1. jumping to conclusions. 2. flying off the handle. 3. carrying things too far. 4. dodging responsibilities. 5. pushing my luck. 6. running late.


São Miguel, Açores

There’s something equally beautiful and strange in living in the Azores, right in the middle of the Atlantic. And by ‘living’ I mean that, for or 5 weeks, I am staying in a typical, small, stone& wood house, in the also small village of João Bom (on the west coast). I am volunteering for the beautiful permaculture garden of Raquel. I am taking the bus to Ponta Delgada, for a city break, or to Ribeira Grande, and the west coast, with the village of Mosteiros, is at about one hour walking from the house.

The West Coast – Mosteiros

If you come here as a tourist, there are definitely many beautiful places to see. Still, if you come here to live – even if temporarily, as myself, you will find an amazing mix of everything you less expected – from both people and places.

West Coast

A while ago, I stayed in Corsica at somebody that has moved to the island 20 years ago and she always says that ‘living on an island implies a lot of work with yourself, with your true, deep, self’. And I guess that’s the big lesson of the islands. Of any island. But especially of the Azores, as they are (and feel) too far away. So, two weeks before going back to mainland, I need to say that, when coming to São Miguel, either as tourist or as resident – and I’ve already met a few people that left everything and came a long way just to live here, like Emil and Ine, from Denmark, who are in negotiations to buy a piece of land, here, and start their self sustainable dream, or Camile, from France, who’s still looking for an apartment to rent on the north coast – so when coming to São Miguel, the most important thing to keep in mind is to drop all expectations.

I still adapt to the daily view of the (pretty weird) black sanded beaches (like São Roque and Populo, on the south coast, or those of Ribeira Grande, on the north coast). To lots and lots and lots of rain – as here it rains at least every two days.

Mosteiros, the beach

But if I come at ease with the things not feeling, looking and sounding like the exotic island I had in mind, I find a nice rhythm, and it’s nice to taste a local fish (boca negra or albacore) or seafood (lapas), the cheese is delicious (you can try almost all the local specialties at Rei dos quiejos near Ponta Delgada market). For fresh cheese on bread, there’s also a special local spicy mix or pepper (pimiento do queijo). The local beer is called Especial and the local fruit that grow right on the island – pineapples, bananas and avocado – are very juicy. And, above all, decide everything for yourself and not according to any guide. Or blog. Or impression. The island might be just the right spot to practice this.

5 Weeks Away from Mainland

The distance between Lisbon and São Miguel is of 1430.59 km, equal to 888.93 miles, and 771.94 nautical miles – of water. Magic view, wide horizon, strong wind, fresh air, a lot of rain, black sand, cobalt waters, lots of green…

The North Coast – looking towards Ribeira Grande

The island, like all the others of the archipelago, are pieces of volcano standing above water. Black rock with vegetation. Completely isolated in the middle of the ocean. Until men came here, with ships, since 1432, there were no cats, dogs, cows, no animals except the birds crossing the Atlantic from one continent to another.

The main city is Ponta Delgada. On the west coast, the mountain goes abruptly into the sea except for the area of Mosteiros. The north coast is known for Praia de Santa Barbara and the small city of Ribeira Grande. The mountains are topped by two lakes, one green, one blue, place named Sete Cidades – the Seven Cities.

Ribeira Grande

The Story of the Seven Cities

The islands of Açores were somehow a legend.

By 750 A.D., the Iberian Kingdom of the Visigoths was in the process of collapse, under pressure from Muslim invasions which began in 711 A.D. The Visigoth archbishop fled to Porto-Cale (today’s city of Porto), fearing the assault of the Muslim forces, where he deliberated an escape to the lands in the Western Sea, which sailors insisted existed. In 734, the archbishop, accompanied by six other bishops, their prelates and approximately 5000 faithful, sailed away in a fleet of twenty ships. The chronicle indicated that the fleet arrived at their destination, burned their ships and established seven Christian communities under the reign of the seven religious leaders.

Ponta Delgada
Ponta Delgada is the main city of the island.

Although many prepared to follow, in truth, the archbishop (if he existed) was never heard from again, nor was the route to the mythical lands established. Although there are no proofs that the island of Seven Cities actually existed, the belief of their existence, some tentative expeditions and brief unconfirmed visual sightings of Atlantic islands, fostered legends during the European Middle Ages.

Consequently many of the Medieval maps and charts that showed the Ocean Sea (the Atlantic Ocean) identified an island (or islands) represented in different positions or forms. The island of Brasil and/or Antillia (from the Brendan context) and the island of Sete Cidades, were usual geographic references that persisted in the proto-geography of the Atlantic.

The Coast Between Ponta Delgada and Sao Roque / Populo

The first discovered island of the Azores was Santa Maria, in 1432, then São Miguel and Terceira (meaning the third) followed, shortly.

Settlement didn’t take place right away, though, as there was not much interest among the Portuguese people in isolated islands hundreds of miles away from civilization. But, few years followed and brush was cleared and rocks removed for the planting of crops. Grain, grape vines, sugar cane, and other plants that could grow here were planted. Cattle, sheep, goats, and hogs were brought, houses were built and villages established. The first settlers were a mixed group of people from the Portuguese provinces of Algarve and Minho. Also Moorish prisoners, black slaves, French, Italians, Scots, English, and Flemish. There were petty criminals, Spanish clergy, Jews, soldiers, government officials, European merchants and sugar cane growers.

The purpose of the Azores colony was to service the mother country with commodities and tribute. It was to be a station for Portuguese ships to be  resupplied and repaired. The islands too were to produce crops for trade. In its peak trade years, there would be more than one hundred ships anchored at the Bay of Angra.

There were many languages spoken but after a while Portuguese became the standard language of communication.

Because of the isolated nature of the islands, and the harshness of the land, and at times, climate, all settlers, regardless of their background, had to work together to survive. This gave the people a sense of equality and togetherness. As a consequence, more settlers were given the right to purchase land. There were some slaves on the islands, and there were lingering concerns about a slave revolt which no settler wanted. Soon the slaves were sent to Brazil and to the Caribbean.

People from Flanders settled in the Azores beginning in 1450.

These Flemish settlers played an important role in the creation of the Azores culture. By 1490, there were 2,000 Flemish living in the islands of Terceira, Pico, Faial, São Jorge, and Flores. Because there was such a large Flemish settlement, the Azores became known as the Flemish Islands or the Isles of Flanders, and Henry the Navigator was responsible for this settlement. His sister, Isabel, was married to Duke Philip of Burgundy of which Flanders was a part. There was a revolt against Philip’s rule and disease and hunger became rampant. Isabel appealed to Henry to allow some of the unruly Flemish to settle in the Azores. He granted this and supplied them with the necessary transportation and goods. First group of Fleminsh was led by Willem van de Hagen, later known by his Portuguese name of Guilherme da Silveira. They settled in Terceira, and the Flemish nobleman, Jacome de Bruges, was placed in charge. The next contingents went to the islands of Faial, Flores, Sao Jorge, and Pico. Faial was in fact called the Flemish Island and the valley behind the city still has the name, the Valley of the Flemings or O Valle dos Flamengo. But the Flemish language disappeared before long, and the Flemish settlers changed their names to Portuguese forms. Still, Flemish physical traits of light hair, light complexion, and blue eyes can still be seen in the features of many people from the Azores. Flemish oxcarts and windmills are still seen on the islands. The Flemish beghards and beguines (lay-religious group) brought the Festival of the Holy Spirit and their distinctive cloaks and hoods to the islands. There are many pieces of art and furniture, found in Azores churches and museums, that also show Flemish influence.

Ribeira Grande

Central Square of Ribeira Grande

Contemporary Arquipélago

Menos é Mais Arquitectos, 2014

The design of Arquipélago – Contemporary Arts Centre – maintains the industrial character of the whole and highlights the dialogue between an existing building (former factory of alcohol / tobacco) and the new construction (arts and culture center, storage facilities, multipurpose hall / performing arts, laboratories, artist studios). The Centre acquires its identity by the quiet variation between the preexistence and the two new buildings. The containment strategy of facilities implementation enhances the spatial efficiency and hierarchical functionality of the different areas of the existing factory complex.


The new buildings absorb the required functionalities, with special conditions, not compatible with the spatiality of preexisting buildings. The aspects of the sustainable performance of the buildings were addressed through its materiality (structures, infra-structures) and the absorption of the existing handcrafted knowledge enriched by its timeless way of building. http://wp.me/p7O2vu-1XB





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