Terceira was known as the island of Jesus Christ as it was settled by Portuguese navigators. Terceira’s settlement was started around the year 1450 when its captaincy was granted to a Flemish, Jacome de Bruges, by Prince Henry the Navigator. The first settlements were situated in the areas of Porto Judeu and Praia da Vitoria and soon extended throughout the island. Initially, Terceira’s economy revolved around agriculture mainly through the production of grains and the export of woad (a dye-yielding plant).
Terceira began to play an important part in the history of navigation during the 15th and 16th centuries, as a port of call for the galleons bringing the wealth of the Americas and the ships engaged in trade with India. During this period Terceira was an emporium for the gold, silver, diamonds, and spices brought from other continents, which attracted the interest of French, English, and Flemish corsairs who constantly attacked Terceira’s coast for several centuries. When Philip II of Spain took the Portuguese throne in 1580, Terceira supported the claims of the Portuguese pretender, Dom Antonio (Crato’s Prior), who even came to reside on the island and, among other things, to coin money which led to Spanish attempts to defeat him. The first landing by Spanish troops in 1581 was completely rebutted in the famous battle of “Salga”, where the writers Cervantes and Lopo de Vega took part. In 1583 a much larger Spanish armada commanded by Don Alvaro de Bazan, the victor of the battle of Lepanto, managed to dominate the island after violent fighting. Terceira Island was a port of call for the Spanish galleons filled with the fabulous wealth of Peru and Mexico until about 1640. With the Restoration of Portugal’s independence the Spaniards were expelled and life returned to normal.
Terceira kept its position as the economic, administrative and religious center of the Azores until the early 19th century. The struggles that accompanied the introduction of liberalism led Terceira to play an important role in the history of Portugal once again. The island began its support of the liberal cause around 1820. After various vicissitudes, a turn of events in 1828 led to absolutist’s concession in Terceira thus becoming the main base for the liberals. An absolutist attempt to land at Vila da Praia was defeated in 1829, and event that was followed by the establishment of a liberal regency in Terceira and the later conquest of the other islands of the archipelago by the constitutional forces. In 1832, it was from Terceira that the liberal expedition left for the landing at “Mindelo” in northern Portugal and the subsequent proclamation of the Constitutional Charter.
The end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century were marked by a progressive reduction of Terceira’s role in the life of the Azores. However, the construction of the commercial port at Praia da Vitoria, the presence of an important air base with a subsequent agreement and leasing of a large area of the air base to the United States, and the improvement of a international airport have opened up Terceira to new development perspectives.
An interesting fact revolves around the date of March 16th 2003 when then President of the United States George W. Bush, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, and Prime Minister of Portugal Jose Manuel Barroso met on Terceira’s Lajes air base to discuss the Invasion of Iraq, which began four days later, on 20 March.