The elongated island of São Jorge is 65 km long, 8 km wide and has a surface area of 246 km2. It is situated in the middle of three islands, Terceira, Graciosa, and Pico, with a distance between them of 21, 19 and 10 miles respectively.
The island is divided into two municipalities, Calheta and Topo, the seats of which are in towns that bear the same name. The towns and parishes still contain buildings with designs rich in architecture and culture, even though the island’s patrimony has been severely affected many times by violent seismic crises.
In Velas, many manorial homes bear witness to São Jorge’s noble past. The “São Jorge” Church (mother church), the “Nossa Senhora da Conceição” Church, the City Hall, the “Portão do Mar”, and the “Arte Sacra” Museum are distinguished and imposing structures.
In Calheta, the “Santa Catarina” Church, which once displayed a gold carved main altar, burned on January 8,1639 and fell July 9, 1957.All that remains today is a decorated panel from the 18th century.
The “Santa Barbara” Church in “Manadas”- (classified as a monument of national interest), the “Nossa Senhora do Rosário” and “São Francisco” Churches in Topo and the “Santiago Maior” Church in Ribeira Seca along with the parishes in Norte Pequeno and Norte Grande are houses of worship which deserve some attention.
Equally important is the “Casa dos Tiagos” in Topo, representing the nobility of the 17th century architecture on the island. In Urzelina the Bell Tower rises through the lava from the volcanic eruption on May 1, 1808 which buried the original church. The new church, the “Jesus de Boa Morte” Chapel and the “Casa Gaspar Silva” in Ribeira Seca are also noteworthy.
The contrast of the central ridge which crosses the island lengthwise with the steep and rugged coast speckled with “fajãs” (sloping coastal areas) bestows the landscape with a mixture of both aggressive and calm beauty.
The fajãs were formed from the debris caused when parts of the cliffs that surround them collapsed. Over the years these areas have been cultivated and fruit trees, fields of yams and maize along with many vegetables are now predominant. Due to micro climates it is also possible to grow coffee, tropical fruits and the beautiful dragon tree.
The town of “Fajã da Caldeira do Santo Cristo” is famous fir its’ delicious clams, the “Cubre” for its’ crystal lake and “Ouvidor” for its’ lacy outskirts touching the ocean. There are other interesting “fajãs” you may visit while touring São Jorge. They offer a rare and unforgettable natural beauty.
To complete this coastal landscape, there is:
- The “Topo” islet, at the east end of the island, with its’ nesting and resting areas for many resident and migratory birds. The islet has been classified as Natural Reserve and excellent examples of endemic Azorean flora are found here;
- The “Rosais” islet, of the west coast of the island serves solely as a resting area for birds due to its’ rocky nature.
The plateau in the centre of the island which reaches an altitude of 1,053 meters at “Pico da Esperança” presents an interesting panorama over the island and can be seen from the neighbouring islands of Pico, Graciosa, Terceira, and Faial.
The highest part of this plateau and the surrounding area which extends from “Pico do Areeiro” to “Pico das Caldeirinhas”, passing by “Picos, Esperança, Carvão” and “Morro Pelado”, is noted for the endemic vegetation of great botanical value. To protect these natural treasures three Natural Forest Reserves were created bearing the names of the 4 peaks.
The various viewpoints which dot the island including, “Ribeira do Almeida, Fajã das Almas, Urzes, Fajã dos Cubres” and “Norte Pequeno”, along with many others justify the long journey around the island.
The Recreational Forest Reserves of “Sete Fontes” and “Silveira”, located in “Rosais” and “Ribeira Seca” respectively, are excellent places to relax and enjoy the surroundings.