Out of the fire

700 thousand years ago, Faial Island arose from the sea, in which must have been gigantic volcanic eruptions that laid the black bare rock, upon which the luscious life you see now found a way to survive and flourish. This is also the case with all of the other islands of the Azores, from Santa Maria, that arose some 8.1 millions of years ago, to our younger brother, Pico, formed only some 270 thousand years ago.

Volcanoes marked the landscape and lives of islanders from the moment they arrived, in the XVth century. Throughout history, unexpected lava flows destroyed life, land and property, leaving the sharp contrast of mysterious black scars in the green landscape, the fingerprint of an angry God in the island’s delicate body. They can still be seen today, and we call them, most appropriately: “Mistérios” (Mysteries).

People in Faial, like in the rest of the Azores, faced the hardest conditions for survival and some of nature’s most powerful and fearful forces, hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, relying on little help from the mainland, but a lot of solidarity from other islands, and their own determination and persistence in making a life where it seemed that the full scope of nature’s wrath was periodically unleashed unto them.

But they did it. They endured and survived, centuries ago as most recently. The Cabeço do Fogo (fire hill), in Capelo, west part of Faial, exploded in Easter Sunday, April the 24th of 1672, accompanied by violent earthquakes that destroyed more than 1200 homesteads. The Faialenses looked above for protection and, to this day, carrying out the perpetual vow made back then, every year Horta’s City Hall promotes a celebration, with a procession, mass and a traditional banquet for the entire population, thanking the heavens for the protection and for the will to go on living in an island accursed with catastrophe.

Much more recently, in September 1957, the Capelinhos volcano, started spewing gases, hot ash and lava in an eruption that lasted until October 1958, always accompanied by devastating earthquakes. When it was all over, a great part of the houses in Faial had been destroyed or badly damaged and a thick blanket of ash had devastated crops and made farming impossible for some time in the west of the island. The faialenses were surprised by the unexpected sight of a new landscape, as the island had grown 2,4 Km2. Out of the fire arose the most recent part of the Azores. And it’s well worth the visit.

Underneath the now peaceful, green, beautiful island, the innards of the earth still grumble and occasionally shake a bit, reminding us all of the fire from which we came. The fire remains within us islanders and, if you take the time, you’ll be able to see it and feel it, whether in the heat of a traditional spirit, or in the flash of a whaler’s blade or even, if you’re lucky enough, in the eyes of a Faial’s girl in love. Take some time to discover the fire within.

Tiago Redondo

%d bloggers like this: