Faial, the most westerly island in the central group of the Azores, gets its name from a beech- like shrub, myrica faya, which grows all over the island. Faial is separated from the neighboring island of Pico to the southeast by the 7km/4.25mi wide Canal de Sao Jorge.The 16,000 inhabitants live by arable and livestock farming; Faial's centuries old whaling industry has ceased to be profitable.In the early years of this Century the island was important as a station for several transatlantic cables but this has ceased with the advent of satellites. Faial has frequently been devastated by earthquakes, as in 1759/60, 1862, 1926, 1958 and most recently on New Year's Day 1980.The Nuremberg cosmographer Martin Behaim (1459-1507), who made major contributions to nautical and geographical knowledge in the age of the great discoveries, lived on Faial from 1486 to 1490.TopographyThis hilly island, with a greatest length of 22km/14miles and a greatest width of 15km/9miles, has an area of 172sq.km/66sq. miles. Its highest point is the Pico Gordo (1043m/3422ft), a volcano which has been dormant since 1672. The island has a soil of remarkable fertility and is covered with a luxuriant growth of vegetation. It is famous for its mass of hydrangeas which flower in June and July, and line the island's roads and tracks. The best way to get an idea of the beauty of the scenery is to go on a round-trip of the island.
Horta, Faial, Portugal
Horta, the fortified main town of Faial, lies facing the imposing cone of Pico in a wide bay on the southeast coast of the island, with a beach of black volcanic sand. The town is attractively situated on gently rising ground, surrounded by handsome villas and beautiful gardens. The inhabitants, many of them of Flemish descent, live by trade and the sale of fine embroidery and basketwork.The town is probably named after Josse van Hutere, who settled Flemish colonists here at the behest of the Infante Dom Henrique. A less likely theory is that Horta is derived from the island's hydrangeas (hydrangea hortensia) although the plant is actually East Asian in origin. The Parliament of the Azores usually meets in Horta. The town with its well-protected harbor is the most frequent port of call in the North Atlantic for transatlantic sailors of every nation.The harbor, one of the best in the Azores, is protected by a breakwater 750m/820yd long (note the "painting wall", on which the seamen immortalize themselves). The bay is closed on the south by the Guia peninsula (148m/486ft), formed by a submarine crater, which is linked to the island by a narrow isthmus. There is an attractive walk or boat trip from the harbor around the peninsula to the water-filled Caldeira do Inferno on the south side, continuing to the former whaling station of Porto Pim on the seaward side of the isthmus.
Caldeira do Pico Gordo
A road 18km/11mi northwest ascends to the rim of the Caldeira do Pico Gordo, in the middle of the island. On the floor of the crater, which is 2km/ 1.25mi in diameter and some 400m/1,300ft deep, is a small lake. There is an attractive walk with magnificent views around the rim.
Volcao dos Capelinhos
The western tip of Faial is formed by the Volcao dos Capelinhos, a submarine volcano which emerged from the sea in 1957, burying under its ash the fishing village of Comprido and partly covering the old lighthouse. When the volcano subsided in 1958 the island was larger than before. There is a small museum containing relics of the eruption and explanations of the formation of the volcano.
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