Sunday, May 7, 2017

Mermaids of Terceira Island

I recently traveled to the Azores for vacation. I had never visited the Azores islands before, but after some research and looking at dozens of beautiful pictures online, it seemed like a worthy destination. The archipelago boasts a bounty of natural wonders, sites of historic interest, and lots of delicious, locally grown food.

I stayed on Terceira Island for a week with my husband in the capital city of Angra do Heroismo. 

Naturally, during my visit, I kept my eyes open for any traces of mermaids. I didn't discover an overwhelming presence of mermaid art or lore, but I'd like to share what I did find.

Natural lava pools, Biscoitos, Terceira Island, Azores

I took this picture in the village of Biscoitos, located on the northern coast of Terceira. Biscoitos features natural lava pools which formed millions of years ago when the island's volcanoes were active. The name of the town refers to the texture of these rocks that have a biscuit or biscotti-like feel to them. People swim here in the warmer months and lounge on man-made platforms and walkways that intersect the pools. I was struck by the aqua color of the water contrasted with the deep black of the lava formations. I thought if there were mermaids to be found on Terceira, they'd visit here for regular sunbathing and socializing.

Scrimshaw mermaid and dolphin, sperm whale ivory with wooden base

I found this piece of scrimshaw in a shop on Rua Direita, just steps from our hotel. It was in a glass case with other figurines and caught my eye. The shopkeeper let me take a closer look and take this photo. It was out of my price range at 325 euros, but even if I could have afforded it (and didn't have ethical misgivings about whaling), sperm whale ivory is illegal in the U.S.

Wooden chest with ivory and mother of pearl, India, Mughal dynasty

My favorite mermaid find of the trip was this inlay chest from India, located in the collections of the Museum of Angra do Heroismo. During the Spanish occupation of the Azores (1580-1642), Angra became a launching point for ships engaged in the lucrative spice and luxuries trade with Asia.

Wooden chest with ivory and mother of pearl, India, Mughal dynasty

I translated the object label for the chest (thank you Google translate!) and here's what it read:

Indo-Mogol Counter/Chest
Inlaid with ivory and mother of pearl
Malabar Coast, 17th century
The Malabar coast is the southwestern coastline of mainland India.  And as you can see, the chest is covered with dozens of mermaids. They have a split tail like many depictions of Melusine that were popular in Europe in the medieval period.

Wooden chest with ivory and mother of pearl, India, Mughal dynasty

I was amazed to think of this chest traveling from India to the Azores in the 1600s, and began to wonder about its story...Who purchased it? Was it a gift? How much would it cost today? Where did they keep it in their home? What did they store inside its lockable drawers? Where's the key?

Wooden chest with ivory and mother of pearl, India, Mughal dynasty

Maybe someday, I'll return to Terceira and have some of these questions answered, but for now, it's fun to imagine.

No comments:

Post a Comment