An encounter with the poetics of a ruin, at the Duque de Bragança Market

Just above the Angrense theater, on one side of Rua da Sé, the city’s main thoroughfare, I come across an inscription on the wall, in block letters that read “MERCADO DUQUE DE BRAGANÇA. SINCE 1836. ANGRA DO HEROÍSMO. MONDAY TO FRIDAY – 7:00>16:00 SATURDAY – 7:00<14:00”. Next to it, there’s an image of the Duke, displaying, from the torso upwards, flashy medals on his chest, and in the background, next to it, a panel of tiles, in blue and white tones. Even before entering the enclosure, we are greeted by a sudden encounter with the signs of history. Discovered in 1427, Angra has undoubtedly played a strategic role over time, having been the first town in the Azores to be elevated to the status of a city in 1534. Once my curiosity was piqued about the reference to the Duke, further research would elucidate that the Duke of Terceira and seventh Duke of Vila Flor, António de Sousa Manuel de Menezes Severim de Noronha, illegitimate son of the king, had been hounoured in 1832 with the highest nobiliary distinction, due to the resistance of the liberals that he promoted and led on the island.

Once inside, you realize that the temporal marker that pulls you into the past at the entrance is accompanied by an abundance of indexes composing an allegorical image-time, which simultaneously anticipate the future in the present, in line with Benjaminian terms (1974/2004; 2021). It is with dismay that one quickly discovers that the bowels of the market are already a ruin that foreshadows inevitable, or even catastrophic, change. In other words, I find myself plagued by a feeling of melancholy, which is nothing more than the awareness of an inevitability materialized in a non-immediate way, through images that tension the past-present-future, in the refusal of homogeneous, linear time and progressive history. The melancholy I’m talking about is precisely the feeling that our lives, even our personal ones, are traversed by history, once again in the manner of Benjamin’s thinking, colliding with a future that is an irruption in the present, a shock, a suddenly pre-announced change. This is how you can read the empty stalls (on a Tuesday mid-morning, at other times a time of intense frenzy, as a local shopkeeper from a nearby store later told us), the burlap cloths covering the emptied stalls like shrouds covering graves, the stores and workshops on the side that are closed, although with crystallized goods inside, seen through the glass, showing the symptoms of a market that is in an advanced stage of ruin. Customers are practically non-existent. I still find two vegetable stalls that are unexpectedly there. At one of them, the vendor explains that the stall belongs to her mother, who has owned it for around thirty-one years. They have agricultural production in Praia da Vitória. Greenhouses. That’s what they sell there, she says, except for a few products, which they resell when they haven’t yet harvested the season’s produce. This is the case with potatoes and onions. She goes on to say that most of the shopkeepers were already elderly and ended up accepting a severance package and going home. They gave up their stalls because of the project, which will soon be undergoing extensive refurbishment work: “We haven’t been asked anything. All we know is that there will be an underground parking lot and a market on the first floor, as well as a leisure and entertainment area with modern spaces. Then we’ll be able to apply for the new spaces, but most of them won’t be coming back.”

Wandering around the market, in the writing on the signs and signposts I see the contamination of a poetic character that already turns them into abandoned vestiges of a lost time (in some cases recording the names of the owners), materialized in the constellation of a kind of loose fragments that, by virtue of the anticipated nostalgia they inspire, seem to entangle themselves as if they were unusual verses: “Talho Garcia”; “Banca do Coelho”; “Produtos da Nossa Terra”; “Instituto São João de Deus – Casa de Saúde São Rafael – Atelier ‘Fazemos por nós'”; “Banca 33. A Chave. Café e Pastelaria”; “Produtos Directos. Banca 02”; “Banca da Joaninha. ‘Temos feijão novo congelado'”; “Antiguidades do Fanfa. From António Fanfa. Store 36”; “Charro and mackerel. 3 kg 5,00 €”; “Peixaria Silveira” (inside, above and below the counter you can read, respectively: “E um caldo de peixe?”, “Ideal for Sunday nights!”); Frutaria Jorge Mateus. By Jorge Henrique A. Vieira. Stand 07″; “My grandmother’s crockery and pottery. Store 30”; and “Loja dos Biscoitos. Store 38”. The signage often features a hanging image of the Duke of Bragança (“DB”), as well as banners with patterns alluding to the blue and white tiles.  And in brownish tones, there is a photograph, boxed and hanging on the wall of one of the stalls, depicting a bullfight.

Later, talking to a local shopkeeper, I learn that the trade in agricultural products and livestock now takes place on Sundays in Praça do Gado, outside the center of Angra: “I go very early and buy for the whole week. More vegetables than fruit, which isn’t the time yet”. From the description, it’s a very busy market and it’s located in a square, hence the name. Pessimism prevails about the new market project: “People here are very resistant to change. They value what is theirs”.

In a city that is a UNESCO heritage site, with all its facades immaculately cared for, the market is a dissonant body, doomed to abandonment and neglect. Even so, its assumed inscription in historical time leads me, from the reference to the Duke of Bragança, to discover clues to the historicity of the place, in its imbricated relationship with the strategic and political importance not only of Angra, but also of the island. It’s important to note that Terceira was on the maritime route to India and Brazil, and served as a key trading point. In 1499, Vasco da Gama passed through Angra on his way back from his first voyage to India, motivated by the urgent need to save his brother, Paulo da Gama, who would die in the only hospital on the islands, the Hospital da Misericórdia, as the historical sources tell us and as witnessed by the statue in front of the square of the current church with the same name, as well as the accounts of the guide who accompanied me around the territory for two afternoons. In addition, in 1831, when Pedro had abdicated the Brazilian crown in favor of his son, Pedro II, and travelled to Portugal to gather forces and command the liberal faction, he landed in Terceira and stayed there. The island thus became a kind of headquarters for the liberal forces. Even earlier, in 1829, in Praia da Vitória, then the bay of Vila da Praia, a naval battle had taken place between the liberal forces and the miguelist armada that had attempted the landing (Veiga, 2023; Enes, 2019; 2023).

Back at the Market, after the brief historical described explanation , I find myself revisiting the same inscriptions and image of DB (Duke of Bragança) at the exit door. I find myself wondering about the meaning of such insistence, at both entry/exit points, which strategy aims to guarantee the place’s ties to the spirit of time (Zeitegeist) that lives there, as Hegel (2006/2023) or even Butor (1963) would say.


Angra do Heroísmo, March 26, 2024.

Text and images: Helena Pires



Enes, C. (2019). Angra do Heroísmo. Soul and Memory. Municipality of Angra de Heroísmo.

Enes, C. (2023). Themes of Azorean history. Letras Lavadas.

Benjamin. W. (1974/2004). Origem do drama trágico alemão (translated by João Barrento). Assírio & Alvim.

Benjamin, W. (2021). One-way street. Berlin chronicle. Berlin childhood around 1900 (translated by António Sousa Ribeiro). Relógio D’Água.

Butor, M. (1963). The spirit of place. Arcadia.

Hegel, G. W. F. (2006/2023). Introduction to the history of philosophy. Edições 70.

Veiga, F. B. (2023). Society of Jesus. O breve regresso no reinado de D. Miguel. Author’s edition.



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