Mayor of Angra do Heroísmo, Portugal (October 2018)

José Gabriel do Álamo de Meneses

José Gabriel do Álamo de Meneses

José Gabriel do Álamo de Meneses is Mayor of Angra do Heroísmo since October 24, 2013. He is graduated in Environmental Engineering by the Faculty of Sciences and Technology – University of Lisbon (Portugal), and has a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering from the University of Rhode Island (USA).

Personal Data

  • Name: José Gabriel do Álamo de Meneses
  • Date of Birth: July 10, 1959
  • Place of Birth: Freguesia de Santa Cruz (Praia da Vitória)

Professional Experience

  • He is a University Professor.
  • Was the Director of the Sciences Department of the University of the Azores (UAç).
  • Was founder and leader of the Association of Environmental Defense “Gê-Questa”.
  • He is the author of several studies and publications in the areas of environmental impact assessment and management of water resources in insular and coastal regions.
  • Was a member of the Regional Government of the Autonomous Region of the Azores, in its 10th, 9th, 8th and 7th mandates, respectively:  between 2008 and 2012, he served as Regional Secretary for the Environment, between 2004 and 2008, was the Regional Secretary for Education and Science, between 2000 and 2004, was the Regional Secretary for Education and Culture, and in the 7th Government, between 1996 and 2000, Regional Secretary for Education and Social Affairs.

1. What has been the impact of the nomination of your city on the World Heritage List?

At first, the main impact was more internal than external. The Angrenses gained a new appreciation for their city. They saw the greatness of Angra through the eyes of others, through the objective eyes of specialists, and this cemented the pride in the history and architectural layout of their city, and the pride to know that it was the first Portuguese city to deserve this distinction. The appointment of Angra happened at a key time after the earthquake of 1980 that devastated much of the city. The decision of reconstructing the city as it was and not to modernize it paid off.

That being said, not all of the consequences were positive. With the appointment came very strict rules regarding the materials that could and could not be used in the reconstruction, what kind of signs could the merchants use, etc. Many rules and restrictions were not immediately rewarded with the benefits that would be expected from the classification. Now due to the increase of tourism in the Azores Angra is getting more known for its value.

2. In your opinion, what is the vital role of a mayor when a city has been inscribed on the World Heritage List?

A role of protector and defender of the heritage at his/her care. That doesn’t mean that we should have museum cities. It is also important to contribute to its growth with modern contributes outside the historic center. Besides that role, it is also important to promote such cities in the exterior to ensure tourist attraction.

3. Concretely, what have been your actions toward the projection and enhancement of your heritage?

On the one hand, on an international level, the active participation in international institutions such as OWHC, or in projects of importance such as the Interreg City 2020. The increase of strategic publicity on national and international fronts, namely in countries where we have sister cities or in countries where we have a strong Portuguese community is also key. On the other hand, on a local level, we signal every ephemeris that has to do with our heritage, producing different publications for different generations and/or by producing cultural events to signal those dates dedicated to the theme.

4. Do you hold special events to enhance your city’s heritage?

Yes, not only those to signal the date of our classification or those signalling specific dates that concern national or international heritage but also other cultural events. For instance, the major festivities in Angra, called Sanjoaninas that take place in June, are always a strategic event to divulge our history, our heritage and our classification, because we have many tourists.

5. In your opinion, what makes your city such a special place?

Angra do Heroísmo is a special city because it preserves in its streets, monuments and houses the echoes of a brilliant past when it was a mandatory stopping place for the ships of the Discoveries Period, especially of the Iberian Empires, and the echoes of when it was, in two different occasions, the capital of Portugal. That historical, economic and political importance can be perceived in the local architecture.  Plus, it is located on an island of the Azores, famous for its natural beauty, so we offer an absolute magic package of green landscapes, majestic extinct volcanos, an immense blue sea and a beautiful cultural city with an impressive architectural heritage you wouldn’t expect to find in the middle of the Atlantic.

6. In Angra do Heroísmo, like in many other World Heritage sites, tourism is an economic activity that grew significantly in the last years. How to make sure that this growth is done while respecting the local communities’ needs?

That was one of the main topics of the last international Seminar of the Interreg City 2020, that took place in Angra last July. We don’t have all the answers, but when you know what is your tourism “product” and therefore you know what kind of tourists you want to attract it is simpler. Most of our tourists seek not only Angra but the Azores in general, love nature and a secure and peaceful location for their vacations. These tourists usually have a profound respect for the environment and for the local population.  We have to keep pursuing this type of tourism.

Entrevista Português - José Gabriel do Álamo de Meneses