Patterns of São Miguel

In June three years ago, it was the island of São Miguel, in Azores, that I was calling home.

My most remote residency – 1,400 km away from the European continent, in the middle of the Atlantic, was also the shortest one. Still, I had five full weeks to see every corner of the island and to get to know a bit the locals ways.

São Miguel is an amazing destination for nature lovers. It rains a lot – I actually counted my days without rain, there, and they were five out of forty – and that’s why they also call it the Green island (Ilha verde). The landscape is breathtaking, but there’s more to that.

São Miguel is a volcanic island, so everything is black: the sand of the beaches, the rocks, the soil, as well as the stone details of the houses, the pavements of towns, the sculptures in the squares – basically anything made out of stone.

Black sand is common to any other volcanic islands, like Tenerife or Sicily. But the details of the houses, the basalt pavements, the sculptures on the facades of the churches – these are all a trademark of the Azores: they are unique.

Ponta Delgada

In most towns of São Miguel, each central street or plaza have their own pavement pattern.

Basically the map of the old quarter of Ponta Delgada could be drawn as a composition of individual geometrical designs, and there would be no mistake in which turn to take.

For instance, the square facing the historical stone arches marking the former entrance to town, Praça de Gonçalo Velho, features a carpet-like design with lines alternating between stripes of quindents, stars or undulating lines.

Out of all the streets I walked across Ponta Delgada, I am fond of this design on the sideways of rua Machado dos Santos, an incredible linear set of signs looking like some kind of symbolic chain.

The large square of Campo São Francisco is paved with octogonal stars echoing somehow the traditional Arab patterns.

The quindent motif, only that here with black pattern on white background, covers an alley besides Largo Vasco Bensaude.

Ribeira Grande

Then, in the town of Ribeira Grande, a former fishermen village, the central square is covered with the wavy design of mar largo, symbol of the wide ocean and pattern with 200 years of history in the Portuguese pavement design. What I find fascinating about this design is the way the shapes change according to the point of view.

The plaza of Ribeira Grande is named Largo do Gaspar Fructuoso – Portuguese historian and priest from the 16th century, usually cited in settlement history of the Azores islands.

Most sideways of the town are narrow, usually fit for only one person, and also the streets are narrow, some of them dating from hundreds of years ago.

Not far away from the Gaspar Fructuoso plaza, there’s this panoramic viewpoint near the salt water pools. The pavement features a large rose of the winds, quite poetically placed between the black rocks, the city and the ocean.

All these details, all this incredible care to create carefully designed ornaments for the towns, is what impressed me the most in São Miguel. This – and the shades of the basalt stones, which can turn from pure black to dark blue or medium greys, according to light or treatment.


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