By: Francisco Maduro-Dias, 63, Museologist and Cultural Heritage manager
By looking down at the town of Angra, from the Memória hillside, from the walls of the fortress of São Sebastião, to the east of the bay, or from the Pico das Cruzinhas, at the heart of Monte Brasil or from the fortress of São João Baptista, to the west, one can revisit more than three fortified locations.
Actually, Angra, called “Angra do Heroísmo” since 1837, arose because of the Monte Brasil promontory, which formed natural harbours and protection from the prevailing winds. The town was born in the shadow of the ‘angra’ or small bay, which gave it its name and its purpose.
Without Monte Brasil there would have been no shelter, if sometimes limited, at these latitudes of the mid Atlantic Ocean, for the circulation of fleets and vessels of the two Iberian empires, from the 16th to the 17th centuries. Angra has been permanently marked, from its houses to its cuisine, by a history that can only be understood if one remembers Guinea and its Mina Coast, Goa and Malacca, Cartagena de Índias, in Colombia, and Seville or Bahia.
We can go even further. The two Iberian empires always displayed very different attitudes towards the sea, and Angra is a good example of that.
For Portugal, especially the Portugal of those bygone days, the sea was an ally, resulting in an empire whose contact with the land only occurred at trading centres, served by a system of oceanic routes and which was flexible, according to its needs. “As much sea as you can see, as much land as you need” could have been its motto. Thus Angra became the base for the Armada of the Islands.
For Spain, despite its naval power and the victories achieved, the sea appears to have been regarded as something strange, used as a means of crossing from one continent to another, from one land to another. This explains their construction of a fortification encircling Monte Brasil, which was practically unassailable.
From the 18th to the 20th centuries this relevance faded, but Angra’s strategic position was maintained. Angra played a vital role during the Portuguese civil war (1828-1834) and was very active during the two world wars.
To visit Angra, from the perspective proposed in the title, one has to cover five centuries of visions of the world, from the diversity of military architecture, the concepts of defence and attack, and the developments in artillery and firearms to the appearance of aviation, which will perhaps bring about a better understanding of the world we live in.