Santa Maria, The sea, the beaches, the island...
Leaving São Miguel, and after travelling 52 nautical miles (about fifteen minutes by plane) you will arrive at Santa Maria’s, international airport. Santa Maria is the third smallest island of the Azores and has a surface area of approximately 92 km2.
Your first sensation will be a sense of peace and tranquillity, a sensation common to the Azorean Islands.
The landscape of Santa Maria presents a contrast between the flat plains on the western half of the island where the airport and the parishes of Vila do Porto, São Pedro and Almagreira are located, and the irregularity of the eastern half. The eastern side is home to the parishes of Santa Bárbara and Santo Espírito as well as the islands’ highest point, “Pico Alto”.
The climate is similar to the other eight islands, but as Santa Maria is the southern most island it is slightly drier and sunnier.
Of particular architectural interest are the white houses with their peculiar white chimneys, especially the round and lanky ones that rise from a truncated pyramid. These chimneys are decorated by a lacy finish revealing the Algarvian (Southern Portugal) origin of the first settlers.
Santa Maria was the first island discovered (1427) and later the first populated. Diogo Silves, a Portuguese navigator discovered the island and Frei Gonçalo Velho was the first governor.
The municipal seat is located in the parish of “Vila do Porto” which is divided in two distinct areas. The first, below the Matriz, maintains the primitive course of its roads, medieval in character, while the second, newer area above the Matriz expanded along a single long and spacious road.
Spread throughout the island are many interesting examples of the architectural heritage which mark the history of the island and the Azores. The principal attractions are:
- “Igreja da Nossa Senhora da Assunção” (Our Lady of Ascension Church), the mother church, whose construction began near the end of the 15th century;
- the Convent of Saint Francis which currently houses some public services, was founded in 1607, destroyed by pirates in 1616 and reconstructed in 1725. Attached to the convent is “Nossa Senhora da Vitória” (Our Lady of Victory), with its’ beautiful panel of tiles (17th century) depicting the miracles of Santo António;
- The “Igreja da Misericórdia” , constructed in 1536 exhibits an altar piece of Saint Isabel, and an image of Senhor dos Passos, said to be one of the most beautiful in the Azores;
- The “São Brás” Fort, constructed in defence of the town and the Santa Maria Museum which exhibits interesting works in weaving and pottery (Santo Espírito);
- The “Ermida de Nossa Senhora dos Anjos” (Our Lady of the Angels Chapel), in the village of “Anjos”, where Christopher Columbus’s crew prayed upon their return voyage after the discovery of America;
- The “Igreja da Nossa Senhora da Purificação” (Our Lady of Purification Church) in “Santo Espírito” with its’ baroque façade and country tiles from the XVI century is the most beautiful on the island;
- The Parochial churhes, Saint Peter’s and Almagreira and the chapels of “Nossa Senhora do Pilar” (Our Lady of “Pilar”) and “Nossa Senhora de Fátima” (Our Lady of Fatima), are religious sites of historical importance on the island.