Located along the coastal peninsula of Ponta dos Capelinhos and Costa Nau, on the island of Faial in the Porutguese archipelago of the Azores, the Lighthouse of Ponta dos Capelinhos (Portuguese: Farol da Ponta dos Capelinhos), also known as Lighthouse of Capelinhos, is an iconic symbol on the island and was abandoned in 1957 due to the year-long eruption of the Capelinhos volcano, which also destroyed surrounding buildings.
The first floor of the building remains buried in ash.
Work on the 20-meters stone lighthouse began on 18 April 1894, but for many years the necessity of constructing a beacon on the tip of Faial had been advocated by navigators, officials and public opinion, who “complained to the Government that some lights were need along the islands coast to indicate to navigation that crossed these waters their proximity to land, the loss that might occur or the choices to make.”
The number of incidents in this region reached a grande scale by the end of the 19th century, with more traffic, but early records went as far back as 1678.
This widespread demand for a navigational aid gained additional momentum during the 1880s when the Geographic Society of Portugal formally promoted the construction of a lighthouse at Ponta dos Capelinhos and Costa Nau. Another notably strong and outspoken champion for building the lighthouse was José de Almeida de Ávila, who served as civil governor of the District of Horta (at the time the governmental subdivision of Faial and several other western islands of the Azores).
The lighthouse was completed and officially inaugurated on 1 August 1903, and it remained in service until being hammered by fallout from the eruption of the nearby Capelinhos volcano starting in September 1957.
The eruption at Capelinhos started on 27 September with a small boiling of water at sea some 1 kilometre west of the lighthouse and then, a couple of days later, the intensity increased and became highly explosive. The ejecti of ash (sand and powder) reached frequently 800 metres, reaching even more than 1,200 metres.
The column of water vapor reached an average of 3 or 4 kilometres in height, and the violence of the eruption continued for a month. The quantity of ash emitted was so great that it formed a small island with 800 metres diameter and 100 metres height above sea level.
The populations were evacuated.
On 29 October the small island became submerged and it appeared that the activity had terminated but, within the following days it continued, with the rocks expelled by the volcano fell on the buildings of the lighthouse of Capelinhos, puncturing the tile and pavements and breaking glass, sanitary wares and some furniture.
The lighthouse had to be closed during the eruption and the personnel evacuated, with ash and rainfall seaped into the holes in the roof and windows and accumulated in almost all the rooms, damaging the interior floors and paintings.
Due the eruption of the Capelinhos volcano the lighthouse officially ceased to operate on 29 November 1957.
The volcanic activity decreased in November and December, and the main breakdowns onsite were repaired by the Directorate for Lighthouses and in part by the Direcção-Geral dos Edifícios e Monumentos Nacionais, who executed emergency repairs to the buildings in order to resist the inclement weather caused by the eruption that persisted for months, but quickly suspended again due ashes, that fell in great abundance.
Ultimately, this temporary suspension of operations at the lighthouse became permanent.
Despite its inactive status, the Lighthouse of Ponta dos Capelhinos remains an iconic symbol of that section of the Azores.
In 2008, a visitor center was opened in a new building near the abandoned lighthouse. The center is designed to preserve the existing landscape of the area affected by the eruption.
Images from web – Google Research