- water1.66 km2
Ribeira Grande is a municipality in the northern part of the island of Sao Miguel in the Portuguese Azores. The population in 2011 was 32,112, in an area of 180.15 km². The municipal seat is located in the civil parish of Matriz, with a population of about 4000 inhabitants, part of the urbanized core of what is commonly referred to as the city of Ribeira Grande (six civil parishes, about 10000 inhabitants).
The first settlers arrived on the island by the end of the second quarter of the 15th century. The expansion of settlement occurred after initiatives by the islands third donatary captain, Rui Goncalves da Camara (son of Joao Goncalves Zarco, resulting in northern colonies from peoples from Madeira. Although the early settlement of Ribeira Grande is mired in murkiness owing to the lack of resources, the best sources indicate that settlement began in the late-15th or early-16th centuries. The first settlers to this region are to the northern part of the island by the end of the 15th century. On arriving, these colonists established their settlement along the ravine, which they eventually named after the river course: Ribeira Grande. What is certain is that before 1507, in the urban areas of todays Ribeira Grande, there were already colonists of a "certain social stature" living and raising cattle. One of these was Antao Rodrigues da Camara, the bastard son Rui Goncalves da Camara, donatary-captain of Sao Miguel. His parentage was legitimized on 6 January 1499, and his property (situated in Ribeirinha) was described as an estate, with lands of woodlands, pasture and waters, with houses supported by granaries, haylofts, pastel engine, vineyards and orchards, received as part of his morgadia dated 17 April 1508.
The construction of the isolated Port of Santo Iria began at the beginning of the 16th century.
Even before being raised to the status of town (at the beginning of the 17th century), the population had already grown dramatically. This was recorded in a 1507 accord that established a master builder for the new church, assumed to be the parochial church of Nossa Senhora da Estrela. The elevation of Ponta Delgada to "town" in 1499, must have influenced the resident nobles of Ribeira Grande, who moved to have the same authority established for their burgh. Although the people involved were unfamiliar, Gaspar Frutuoso indicated that King Manuel I conceded to the locality of Ribeira Grande the privilege of town on 4 August 1507, that included a league around the centre, counted from the [central] pillory, comprising one parish (called Nossa Senhora da Purificacao or Nossa Senhora da Estrela). It was Lopo Ares who brought the signed document from Lisbon, when he returned in 1508.
On 3 April 1508, then donatary captain, Rui Goncalves da Camara, oversaw the swearing in of Jorge da Mota (ordinary judge of Vila Franca do Campo) and Joao do Penedo and Antonio Carneiro, noblemen of Ribeira Grande, to select twelve residents to vote on the six elected officials for the new town. It was this process that eventually elected the first municipal council, that served until 24 June 1509.
Writing at the beginning of the 15th century, Gaspar Frutuoso wrote about the settlement, in these terms:
The municipality is one of the six that constitute the island of Sao Miguel. It occupies most of the northern section of the island, from the Atlantic coast to the volcanic mountains in the center of the island. It is bounded by the municipalities of Nordeste (east), Povoacao (southeast), Ponta Delgada (west), Lagoa and Vila Franca do Campo (south). All the municipalities are linked by several regional roads that circle the island or cross the mountains in the central section.
The relief is dominated by the Serra de Agua de Pau, which includes a caldeira occupied by the Lagoa do Fogo (Lake of Fire). The highest elevation is Pico da Barrosa at 947 metres (3,107 ft) (overlooking Lagoa do Fogo) or Monte Escuro at 890 metres (2,920 ft); this volcanic massif also extends to the plateau of Graminhais, by the eastern border with Nordeste, where the Pico do Salto do Cavalo 954 metres (3,130 ft) has a well known lookout. The volcanic geology, associated to the occurrence of many springs in the foothills, have been responsible for the fast creeks flowing in deep ravines, one of which gave its name to the town. Other volcanic manifestations in the area are fumaroles, such as Caldeira Velha or Caldeiras, and mineral hot springs at Lombadas, Gramas and Ladeira da Velha.
In addition to the picturesque river valleys and mountains, there are several beaches, including the main beaches in Ribeira Grande (Santa Barbara and Monte Verde), Moinhos Beach (at Porto Formoso) and Viola Beach (secluded in the shadow of Lomba da Maia).