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All About Portugal | March 3, 2021

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Graciosa Island history

Graciosa Island
Clara Campos

Graciosa Island is the second smallest island of the Azores archipelago. It was named as White Island by the Portuguese poet Raul Brandão due to its beauty.

Graciosa Island is of the Central Group of the Azores archipelago. The surface of the Island is about 61 sq. km. being therefore the second smallest island of the archipelago. Graciosa Island, also baptized as the White Island by the Portuguese poet Raul Brandão, is also the flattest and driest.

The development of Graciosa Island

The exact date of its discovery is uncertain yet it is believed that Portuguese navigators explored it during the first quarter of the 15th century. It is also believed that the first settlers came to Graciosa Island from Terceira Island and it is certain that Henry the Navigator ordered cattle and swine to be brought to the Island in 1440.

The first settlers gathered around the area that now is named Carapacho, on the southeast side of Graciosa Island. Shortly after the arrival, settlers moved inwards due to the poor fertile soils and the lack of shelter from the sea. In search of more favourable grounds, settlers established a colony in the area of today’s village of Santa Cruz da Graciosa. On the other hand, a second captaincy was established around Praia village. In 1485 Santa Cruz become the municipal seat and the main administrative centre of Graciosa Island. After being elevated to village and municipality, Santa Cruz attracted a large number of settlers from Beiras, Minho and Flanders.

Graciosa Island’s prosperity awoke the greed of pirates and corsairs who attacked the island during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Santa Cruz Graciosa IslandSince the early years, Graciosa Island’s economy was based on agriculture and wine industry. The main exports were wheat, barley, wine and other spirits. The main destination of these products was Terceira Island.

Throughout the centuries, Graciosa Island endured several natural disasters such as heat waves or earthquakes. The natural crisis contributed to the agriculture decline and the Island’s economy never recovered from the plague that hit the vineyards in the second half of the 19th century.

The poor economic conditions led to an emigration flow to the USA from the 1950´s to the 1070´s. The resulting demographics decrease affected even more the socio-economic situation of the Island as the population was cut almost in half. Nowadays Graciosa Island has around 5,000 inhabitants. Their main occupation still is agriculture, viticulture and cattle farming. The production of dairy products is the main source of income.

Where is Graciosa?

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Graciosa Island: 39.052483, -28.006898

Main image credits

Photo by Galeria de Julen Iturbe-Ormaetxe

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