The marina is a primary stop for yachts crossing the Atlantic, and its walls, and walkways are covered in paintings created by visitors who noted the names of their vessels, crews, and the years they visited. Peter's Cafe Sport, which is located across from the marina and houses the island's scrimshaw museum, a collection artifacts carved from whale tooth and jawbone, is a point of reference for trans-Atlantic yachtsmen and sailors.
In 1467, the Flemish nobleman Josse van Huerter returned to Faial on a second expedition, this time disembarking along the shore of what would be known as Horta bay. He had a small chapel built, that would later form the nucleus of a small community known as Horta (a name derived from the transliteration of his name). The infante D. Fernando, Duke of Viseu, granted Huerter the first captaincy of the island on February 2, 1468. But, the settlement of the island was not chiefly by flemish peasantry or business interests. In fact, generally, settlers to the island were from hard-working farmers from continental Portugal, willing to work hard in new lands, from a cross-section of northern Portugal. But, Huerter cultivated new business opportunities, attracting a second wave of settlers under the stewardship of Willem van der Haegen (later transliterated to Guilherme da Silveira), who brought administrators, tradesmen, settlers and other compatriots to settle on the island.
Huerter's son, Joss de Utra (who would become the second Captain-General), and daughter, D. Joana de Macedo (who married Martin Behaim at the Santa Cruz chapel) continued on Faial, long after van Huerter’s death. By 1498, Horta was elevated to the status of vila (analogous to a town) by decree of King D. Manuel I, as its center grew north from the area around the small chapel of Santa Cruz. The island prospered with exports of wheat and woad. On June 28, 1514 the parish of Matriz do São Salvador da Horta was constituted and services were begun. In 1567, the cornerstone of what would be the Fort of Santa Cruz was laid. The constant growth of the settlers in the villa compelled the creation of the parishes of Nossa Senhora da Conceição (July 30, 1568) and Nossa Senhora da Angustias (November 28, 1684) by the diocese of Angra. As two nuclei developed around Santa Cruz and Porto Pim, growth had also extended around the older Matriz (where the Tower Clock now stands) and the public square (where Alameda Barão de Roches now exists). Public buildings were erected between Rua Visconde Leite Perry and Rua Arriage Nunes, and eventually the town hall and the court offices moved to the former Jesuit College, after the Jesuits were expelled from Portugal in 1758.
In 1583, Spanish soldiers under the command of D. Pedro de Toledo landed in Pasteleiro in the southwestern part of the island. After some skirmishes at the doors of the fort, the Captain of Faial, António Guedes de Sousa, was executed. Four years later, the Earl of Cumberland commanding a fleet of 13 British ships in the Azores Voyage of 1589 captured a Spanish ship, and then plundered the town's churches and convents, profaning them and destroying reliquary and crucifixes. They captured several artillery pieces and set fire to the houses within the Fort of Santa Cruz. Two cannons, located in Porto Pim, were taken. In 1597, a new force, under Sir Walter Raleigh, second in command to Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, sacked and burned the religious buildings and churches in Horta, as well as the neighboring parishes of Flamengos, Feteira and Praia do Almoxarife. The constant threat of privateers and pirates forced the construction of several forts and lookouts.
In 1643, Horta had about 2579 inhabitants and 610 homes.
D. Frei Lourenço, the Bishop of Angra, authorized the renovation of the chapel of Santa Cruz in 1675. In 1688, the final renovations and ornamentation of the church were realized.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, Horta was a small town that extended along the shoreline. It was peppered by various convents and churches, but little commerce and almost no industry. But, luckily due to its location, it prospered as a stopover on important commercial routes between Europe and the New World. For a time, Horta was a center of commerce and travel. It was a gateway for Azorean orange growing, and the port for the export of wine from Pico Island, as well as an important stop for North American whalers, and later as a refueling port for coal-powered ships during their transatlantic passages.
In 1804 John Bass Dabney (1766–1826), the U.S. Consul General in the Azores, married Roxanne Lewis, and moved to a home in Horta. His son, Charles William Dabney (who would later marry Francis Alsop Pomeroy) who succeeded his father in this position, was to play an important part in the history and economy of Horta and Faial. This was helped by the construction of a commercial port (1876) and the installation of transatlantic telegraph cables (1893). The Dabney family steered the island's economy for 83 years, with good effect on the dynamic growth of the port, the export of oranges, the Verdelho wine from Pico, and the commerce of the whaling industry.
On September 26, 1814, the American privateer brig "General Armstrong", under the command of Captain Samuel Chester Reid, was sunk by three ships of the British Royal Navy under the command of Robert Lloyd. After being forced to scuttle his ship, Captain Reid made a formal protest over the ships destruction in a neutral port, and the incapacity of the Portuguese to defend their own waters. Her principal piece of naval artillery, the cannon "Long Tom", was later recovered from Horta Bay. It was eventually offered to General Batcheller, the U.S. Minister in Lisbon, in compensation. Interestingly, General Batcheller returned to Horta to pick up the cannon to deliver it to New York City on board the ship USS Vega (on or about April 18, 1893).
On July 4, 1833, the vila, through the initiative of the Duke d'Ávila and Bolama, was elevated to the status of city and the district capital, as a reward for the support that the people of the island had given to the Liberalist forces during the Portuguese Liberal Revolution. The city hall's coat of arms, by decree, was granted to promote “My Loyal City of Horta” by King Luis I on May 3, 1865.
With construction of the commercial port in 1876, Horta became more important internationally. On August 23, 1893 the first telegraph cables linking Horta (Alagoa) and Lisbon (Carcavelos) made Horta a link in transatlantic communication. The location and presence of several cable companies on Horta had the cumulative effect of increasing the activity, the level of economic development and urban growth, as well as cultural and sporting activities on the island. Between 1893 and 1969, Horta was an important post in intercontinental communications.
Horta also entered into aviation history, when Captain Albert C. Read (U.S. Navy) completed the first Atlantic leg of the first transatlantic flight, via the plane, when he piloted his NC-4 floatplane into the Bay of Horta in May 1919.
In 1921, Dutch seagoing tugboats began to use Horta as a stopover (and after World War II, they returned during the period of European reconstruction).
After 1939, Horta was a scheduled waypoint on the transatlantic flying boat routes between North America and Europe, that included the Pan Am Clipper fleet, which docked in Horta harbour.
By 1960, yachts started using Horta’s sheltered port during transatlantic voyages.
On 24 August 1971, in the civil parish of Castelo Branco, President, Américo Tomás inaugurated the Horta Airport. Since 1972, the Sociedade Açoreana de Transportes Aeréos (which was the forerunner of SATA Air Azores) has provided scheduled flights from Horta to the islands of the triangle (Central Group). During the 1980s, TAP Air Portugal, the national flag carrier, established direct service from Horta to Lisbon, while further fleet improvements allowed SATA to directly link Horta with all islands. Following major renovations in December 2001, the airport was given the designation as an international airport, although no foreign airlines have scheduled or charter flights arriving at Horta airport.
The improvements in Horta harbour allowed the city to become a stopover for yachts, cruise ships and provide ongoing assistance to transatlantic voyagers. This was facilitated when the municipal authority inaugurated a 300-slip marina on 3 June 1986, but also, since Horta harbour is a fleet centre for the island ferries Transmaçor and Atlanticoline, it has resulted in new investments and the construction of a secondary pier for inter-island passenger traffic.
Horta has the typical humid subtropical climate associated with the Azores, with significant oceanic influences, due to the August mean temperature just being above the 22 °C (72 °F) isotherm separating the classifications under the Köppen system. Horta is the city in the archipelago that is most prone to high temperatures, and unlike Angra do Heroísmo and Ponta Delgada temperatures of above 30 °C (86 °F) have been recorded on a few occasions. However, averages are extremely similar to the aforementioned cities. Precipitation averages about 975 millimetres (38.4 in) per year, and is concentrated in the winter months. On average, December is the wettest month, while July is the driest. This makes Horta, like much of the Azores, more similar to Mediterranean (Koppen Csa/Csb) climates in its annual precipitation cycle than in most other humid subtropical climates worldwide.
Three parishes comprise the urban area of the city of Horta (the urbanized area and historical center): Angústias, Conceição, and Matriz. The remaining parishes comprising the rest of the municipality are located along the Regional E.R.1-1ª road network, and includes lands from the ocean to the central volcano (with the exception of Flamengos, which is the only landlocked parish). Faial island, comprising Horta urbanized area and the parishes, has an area of 173.06 km².
In 2011, the national census discovered a resident population of 15,038: a slight decrease from the 2001 population (15,063 inhabitants). Yet, the number of aggregate families grew significantly (4795 to 5465 families reporting their participation in such groups), an increase from 2.8 to 3.1 people per family. Similarly, there has been a 21.69% increase in the number occupied buildings within the municipality.
From Espalamaca or Monte da Guia, the city of Horta is typical of insular Portuguese coastal communities and the urban tradition of the medieval-renaissance. The city is seaward looking, much like Angra do Heroísmo (Terceira) or Velas (São Jorge) and populated by several volcanic cones located to its southern and eastern margins (the most predominant being Monte da Guaia, Monte do Carneiro and Monte Escuro). It is a population center that is centered along its principal avenue (sometimes referred to as either Avenida Marginal or Avenida D. Infante Henriques), and cut by several smaller roadways. But, its proto-urban form lies in the north near Espalamaca, with a grouping of north-south and east-west roads that developed from the initial colonization. The population of Horto itself in the first decade of the 21st century was about 7,000.
The Horta of today grew from streets such as:
These streets formed from the central colony, along hills parallel to each other, and perpendicular to the ocean. Littoral growth was made cautiously until the town square, civic center, town hall, and local water wells had been built along the seashore, growing out in both directions. The religious institutions generally mark the extent of the urbanized/rural limits (just as the Convent of Monte Carmo and Convent of the Capuchos do today to the northeast).
Modern Horta grew beyond the limits of this early colonization. A secondary nucleus grew in the area of Port Pim, and infilling occurred sporadically until a crescent form along the banks of the east coast developed, only contained by Ponte de Espalamaca to the north and the open sea to the south. The cinder cones in the south likely protected settlers and ships from the north Atlantic weather systems, sheltering colonists during the formative period. Horta grew slowly into the river valleys to the interior, linking the parishes of Flamengos to the west and Feteiras (the southwest) forming an incomplete urbanized mass. The nodes of growth basically follow the road network, including the recently completed "Scute" (freeway) that bypasses the southern E.R.1-1ª between Angustias and Feteiras.
Due to its central position in the Triangle of islands in the central group of the archipelago, the city and municipality of Horta has been the focus of economic activity on Faial. It was the staging and export centre for many of the economic cycles of the region; the export of woad, oranges, whale oil and Pico Verdelho wines were the products that historically built the economy of the island. Many of the landed gentry concentrated their shops, production facilities and homes in the city, while agricultural goods were shipped to the city before being sent on to Europe or North America. For a long time, the island of Pico was an exclave of Horta (with summer homes, parcels and herds owned by residents of Faial) until its emancipation on 8 March 1723.
After the failure of the economic cycles, through boom-and-bust economies (brought on by weather, disease or market deviation) the city of Horta became a staging point for the transatlantic shipment, firstly for the whaling fleets, but then later by the submarine cable companies that laid the communication lines from Europe to North America. These spurts of growth concentrated the population, political and economic classes within Horta and economic activities on Faial.
Horta today is polarized between the same dichotomy that existed between the hinter- and heartlands, with most primary economic activities (agricultural mostly) dispersed into the parishes, while the secondary and tertiary activities are concentrated in the three main parishes (Angústias, Conceição and Matriz). In addition, the prosperity of the early 20th century, concentrated on the transatlantic traffic, has developed into a tourist-oriented economy concentrated on the architecture, geographic, leisure and socio-cultural aspects of the island. This includes sightseeing tours and whale-watching expeditions that depart from the city, the arrival of semi-weekly cruise ships during the summer and cultural festivals that unite the local parishes and visitors throughout the year.
The island is circled by the Regional E.R.1-1ª roadway which directly connects all the parish centres (except Flamengos) with the city Horta. Apart from personal vehicles, a bus system provides daily access from these hinterlands daily.
Centre of most activity in the municipality is the port and passenger terminal in the city which, until 28 July 2012, was located south of the Fort of Santa Cruz, in the parish of Angustias. The passenger ferry, operated by Transmaçor (the Cruzeiro do Canal and Cruzeiro da Ilha), provided passenger service to and from the island of Pico (Madalena), while Atlânticoline (using contracted ships) provided inter-island service to the remaining islands from the main dock, across the harbour. On 28 July 2012, a new passenger ferry and dock was inaugurated across the harbour at the mouth of the Ribeira da Conceição (across from the old District Courthouse). A 33 million Euro project, the dock was started in 2009, and resulted in a 393 metres (1,289 ft) long wharf, with a 267 metres (876 ft) usable docking space, 80 metres (260 ft) width and two ramps for RO-RO operations for the express purpose of supporting passenger traffic within the triangle islands of the central Azores. An embankment, constituting 20,000 square metres (220,000 sq ft) area was also built, to protect the Ribeira da Conceição, with 130 metres (430 ft) length and a passenger terminal building. The project involved a change in the road network to the area, parking areas, pavement and green-spaces, as well as new public illumination, water supply, communication and fuelling resources. In addition to these improvements, Transmaçor had already contracted the acquisition of two new ships, to be brought into service by the end of 2014, in order to support the island's tourist economy; at the inauguration, the President of the Regional Government, Carlos Cesar indicated the importance of inter-island traffic for the islands, which for 16 years had transported 290,000 passengers annually (and now is beyond 400,000).
The city contains the Horta Regional Museum which has a permanent exhibit, Exhibition of Capelinhos Volcano, that details in photographs the recent (1957) volcanic eruption in the Azores. The museum also contains a large collection of scale models of buildings, ships, and people carved from fig kernels carved by Euclides Rosa.
Mark Twain visited Horta in June 1867, near the beginning of a long pleasure excursion to Jerusalem. He described his visit, with acerbic commentary on the people and culture of Horta, in The Innocents Abroad. Similarly, Joshua Slocum, sailing the Spray, stopped in Horta on the first leg of his solo circumnavigation, which he chronicled in his 1899 book "Sailing Alone Around the World."
In his semi-autobiographical story The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain was complimentary about the physical appearance of Horta:The town has eight thousand to ten thousand inhabitants. Its snow-white houses nestle cosily in a sea of fresh green vegetation, and no village could look prettier or more attractive. It sits in the lap of an amphitheatre of hills which are three hundred to seven hundred feet high, and carefully cultivated clear to their summits - not a foot of soil left idle.
However, Twain painted a less complimentary picture of the inhabitants of Horta and Faial at the time:The group on the pier was a rusty one — men and women, and boys and girls, all ragged, and barefoot, uncombed and unclean, and by instinct, education, and profession, beggars. They trooped after us, and never more, while we tarried in Fayal, did we get rid of them. We walked up the middle of the principal street, and these vermin surrounded us on all sides, and glared upon us; and every moment excited couples shot ahead of the procession to get a good look back, just as village boys do when they accompany the elephant on his advertising trip from street to street. The community is eminently Portuguese — that is to say, it is slow, poor, shiftless, sleepy, and lazy. There is a civil governor, appointed by the King of Portugal; and also a military governor, who can assume supreme control and suspend the civil government at his pleasure. [...] there is one assistant superintendent to feed the mill and a general superintendent to stand by and keep him from going to sleep...There is not a wheelbarrow in the land [...] There is not a modern plow in the islands, or a threshing-machine. All attempts to introduce them have failed. The good Catholic Portuguese crossed himself and prayed God to shield him from all blasphemous desire to know more than his father did before him. [...] The people lie, and cheat the stranger, and are desperately ignorant, and have hardly any reverence for their dead. The latter trait shows how little better they are than the donkeys they eat and sleep with.
In works by Vitorino Nemésio (O Corsário das Ilhas), Raul Brandão (As ilhas Desconhecidas), the island is characterized as a focus of the story, while Jules Verne mentioned Horta in descriptions to his fiction tales.