Santa Maria Island

Infobox Islands
name = Santa Maria Island

image caption =
image size =

native name =
native name link = Portugal
nickname =
location = Atlantic Ocean
coordinates =
archipelago = Azores Islands
total islands =
major islands =
area = 97.18 km²
highest mount = Pico Alto
elevation = 590 m
country = Portugal
country admin divisions title = Autonomous Region
country admin divisions = Azores Islands
country admin divisions title 1 =
country admin divisions 1 =
country capital city =
country largest city = Vila do Porto
country largest city population = 5,511
country leader title =
country leader name =
population = 5,511
population as of = 2003
density =
ethnic groups =
additional info =
The island of Santa Maria (pron. IPA2|'sɐ̃tɐ mɐ'ɾiɐ; Portuguese for Saint Mary) is an island located in the southeastern part of the Azores and is the southernmost island in the Azores Islands. It was the first island in the Azores Archipelago to be discovered. The discoverer of the island was Diogo Silves during his journey to Madeira in 1427. Gonçalo Velho brought families and cattle to the island.

Approximately 50 miles from São Miguel, Santa Maria wins the prize for being the warmest and most southern of all the islands. The most common way to get to Santa Maria is by plane, but from May to October, a ferry runs from São Miguel.

Geologists believe that Santa Maria is the oldest island in the Azores… and the only one not totally created by volcanic eruptions. Consequently, it has the best beaches of all the islands, the fewest foggy days, and the only beige-sand beaches (the others have mostly black sand.)

Santa Maria’s landscape is dotted with small farms and charming villages. The houses are painted blue and white, and are adorned with a type of chimney style imported from southern Portugal by settlers. Homes in Santa Maria often have an outside bread oven attached to them, a holdover from the days when the residents made bread for the many sailors who passed through town.

The main town on Santa Maria is Vila do Porto on the South coast, which is the oldest settlement in the Azores. Its streets are lined with old homes belonging to approximately 5,000 residents who likely emigrated from the Algarve and Alentejo regions of southern Portugal. These newcomers once made a good living by growing woad, a plant from the mustard family that was prized throughout Europe for a blue dye that could be extracted from its leaves.

Santa Maria’s peaceful countryside dissolves at its West coast, where The Allies of World War II constructed a large air base. On the island’s Northern coast, a small statue commemorates a brief visit by Christopher Columbus in 1493, who stopped by on his way home from America. The highest point on the island is Pico Alto. The bays of Maia and São Lourenço both natural swimming pools, and are considered among the most beautiful bays among the islands.

The area of the island is 97.18 km². The island contains one municipality named Vila do Porto that has the oldest Azorean villages. The island also has old houses with windows that belonged to Capitão Donatário, dating back to the 15th century.

Due to its geological age (the island was formed 4.8 million years ago), Santa Maria is the only island in the Azores with an abundance of sediments. It is in these sediments that marine fossils have been discovered.

The houses are spread all across the island. Alentejana houses generally have large chimneys. The land is very fertile and the rural landscape has great beauty.

The island also produces arts, crafts and pottery. Fish processing also takes place on the island.

The island is divided into two regions:

*A flat, very dry and sunshine-rich area with the main town Vila do Porto (founded around 1430) and a civilian airport, Santa Maria Airport. The airport was an American air base until the end of the Second World War.
*The other parts are hilly. The highest point on the island is Pico Alto, at 590m above sea level. The clouds that hang in the mountains provide the area with moisture for rich vegetation and it permits a small amount of agriculture. On 8th February 1989, a Boeing 707 of Independent Air Flight 1851 crashed at Pico Alto killing all 137 passengers and 7 members of the crew.

The island of Flores was first mentioned in the 16th century after Santa Maria.

Christopher Columbus attended Mass in this Island, on his return from the Americas, in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Angels, dedicated to the Holy Spirit.

External links

* [ The Azores Islands, Site with abundant information about Santa Maria Island]
* [ Photos of Santa Maria island, Azores]

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