One of the obstacles that Ponta Delgada always encounters, in terms of its notoriety, is being surrounded by Great Azorean Eden of São Miguel.
There are so many and so stunning the natural scenery around that, all too often, those who land with the program to discover the island, end up ignoring the port city that serves as their gateway.
In opposite directions, there are dream places like Sete Cidades and its lagoons.
The unbelievable panoramas from the viewpoints of Boca do Inferno and Vista do Rei, to name just a few.
There are also the thermal baths of Caldeira Velha and Lagoa do Fogo. At the eastern end of the island, the Vale das Furnas and its sulfurous and surreal world. We could prolong the references for a few more paragraphs, but we would repeat the injustice.
Instead, let's focus on Ponta Delgada's unique and insular beauty.
The Soft Sunset of the South of São Miguel
The memory of how the last light of day turned yellow and almost orange over the city remained with us forever.
How it overlapped the creeping shadow and seemed to set fire to the tops of the old churches, their towers, the pediments and the crosses that crown them.
Projected from the west, every late afternoon, the afterglow takes over Ponta Delgada, its streets and houses.
By the effects and ways of the light, it carries the black of the silhouettes.
And it highlights the elegance of the architecture, the sacred and the profane, which, in Ponta Delgada, prove to be complicated to untangle.
It precedes the tri-arch that makes Portas da Cidade, a black-and-white sidewalk, full of waves and stringed that keep our minds moored to the Atlantic.
When the sun falls behind the ocean, artificial lighting spreads the warm twilight.
Then, the arched doors stand out in an electric blue that overshadows the fading sky.
The Arrival of Religious Orders and Corresponding Christian Temples
Historic Ponta Delgada was built in basalt and limestone, the most convenient materials at hand.
This lithic dichotomy was favored by the usual religious orders – Jesuits, Franciscans, Augustinians, Gratians and others – that settled and blessed the city since the early days of São Miguel's colonization.
On the other side of the Portas, the Igreja Matriz de São Sebastião stands out from its own pavement of stars, in a baroque architecture, with a lot of Manueline style.
Or, according to the perspective, instead.
In any case, it holds one of the greatest Azorean treasures of sacred art, statuary, goldwork and vestments, including two dalmatics and two chasubles dating back six centuries.
To the northwest, a short distance away, stand the Church of Nª Srª da Conceição and the homonymous monastery. The neighboring convent of Nª Srª da Esperança accommodates another sacred treasure, the Senhor Santo Cristo Treasury, made of gold, studded with precious stones and, accordingly, another of the most valuable religious heritage sites in Portugal.
Nearby, we are also surprised by the intricate Church of Todos-os-Santos, next to the Antero de Quental Garden, also known as Jardim dos Namorados, in which two or three couples justify their baptism.
The reverence for God and the temples of his worship do not stop there. There is also the Ermida da Santíssima Trindade, close to that of São Braz.
And, closing off the historic center to the north and east, the Church of Nª Srª de Fátima, the Chapels of Nª Srª das Mercês, Sant'Ana and Mãe de Deus and, already almost by the sea, the Church of Saint Peter.
The liberal revolution inaugurated in 1820, passed decisively through Ponta Delgada. From there the forces of D. Pedro IV who laid siege to Porto.
The triumph of the Liberals dictated, in 1834, the extinction of religious orders.
As we continued to admire, wandering around the historic centre, the monumental legacy of its buildings of retreat and worship remains in Ponta Delgada.
At Mass hours, some of them welcome the largest concentrations of Ponta Delgadas that we come across. The summer months have passed when we visit the city.
With less than seventy thousand inhabitants, spread over a considerable area of the southwest of the island, Ponta Delgada does not seem to be a city with large crowds.
In fact, if it weren't for a geological whim, the capital of São Miguel would be different.
It would resist about 25km to the east.
The Rise of Ponta Delgada, accelerated by the Misfortune of Vila Franca do Campo
The settlement of São Miguel was carried out from 1444 onwards, part of a captaincy in the southeast of the Azores, which also included the island of Santa Maria.
In Ponta Delgada, noble men began to settle in, with possessions and influence in the destinies of São Miguel.
At that time, the main town, both on São Miguel and on the Azores, was Vila Franca do Campo, the seat of the Captaincy.
In 1525, it was destroyed by a powerful earthquake that went down in history as the Subversion of Vila Franca.
It is estimated that the earthquake killed more than XNUMX people.
It made life in the village unfeasible and forced the people who believed in God and the religious who guided them to move.
Most of it went to Ponta Delgada, a town that developed as a result of the customs created there in 1518, but above all, due to the misfortune and demotion of Vila Franca.
From the Village of Santa Clara, to the Capital of São Miguel
The village was not always called Ponta Delgada.
For a time, the terminology fluctuated between the sacred and the profane. Gaspar Frutuoso, one of the essential chroniclers of the settlement of São Miguel described it in the archaic Portuguese of the time “Ponta Delgada is so called because it is located next to a point of biscuit stone, thin and not thick like others on the island, almost level with the sea, which later, as a chapel of Santa Clara was built very close to it, called Santa Clara point…".
We estimate that the scenario explained corresponded to the current area of coast to the south of the Santa Clara Lighthouse, an already secular light of the homonymous parish that, due to a storm in December 1942 that had destroyed the port of Ponta Delgada, was transferred from Lisbon, of the Tower of Belém that, until then, had sheltered it.
After two decades of hurried reconstruction of everything that had been lost in the former capital, convinced by the administrative importance of his office of Juiz de Fora (unique in the Azores) and the port, Dom João III decreed Ponta Delgada as a city.
Equipped with the São Brás fort, the new capital of São Miguel was able to defend itself from pirate attacks.
He got used to receiving and serving the ships destined for India, in a logistical and commercial dynamic that attracted a considerable number of businessmen, their employees and servants.
And sailed an inexorable wave of bonanza and favourability.
The Fertility of the Lands of São Miguel and the Engenho dos Micaelenses
As with most of the island, the volcanic lands around it were fertile. They produced wheat, heather, vines, sweet potatoes, corn, yams, pastel, flax, oranges and even the precious sugar cane.
Oranges, in particular, became a product exported in huge quantities to the main foreign “customer” of the Azores, England.
Over time, the island's dedicated farmers secured highly profitable new crops, tobacco, swordfish, beetroot, chicory and, of course, tea and pineapple, both of which still hold a prominent place on São Miguel, merged with the most recent and profitable of all activities, tourism.
In 1861, following an intense demand to which Antero de Quental adhered with his famous article “Need for a Dock on the island of São Miguel”, the authorities started the work on the new artificial port of Ponta Delgada, which favored exports of all those products and more.
Cetaceans, Tourism and Evolution the Largest Azorean City
When, in recent decades, the rest of the world discovered and valued the so-called “European Hawaii”, the port of Ponta Delgada started to serve for the lightning incursions in which local operators take visitors to meet the cetaceans.
Of the abundant dolphins, whales and sperm whales that outsiders yearn to admire.
We also left there aboard a speedboat with powerful engines, at such a speed that we feared to run overboard.
We accompany groups of devilish dolphins and sperm whales that the people of São Miguel call by their own names.
With the summer already behind us, the whales were already traveling to other parts of the Atlantic.
We therefore anticipate the return to the calm waters of the port, to Baixa de São Pedro and to the Marina that forms the coastal border between the Historic Center and the modernized east of Ponta Delgada, with its hotels, parks and bathing areas that extend to the imminence of the Rosto de Cão Islet.
In full evolution and expansion of the XNUMXth century, despite its natural and rural environment, Ponta Delgada became the eighth largest Portuguese city.
In recent years, many of the continent's cities have surpassed it both in size and in number of inhabitants. It remains the largest Azorean city and the economic and administrative capital of the Azores.
Several opinions say that it became the true capital of the archipelago. It is an old insular dispute in which no continental should interfere.