Capelinhos Interpretative Centre - A view from our expert author

Built on the site of the 1957 eruption, this centre uses holographic projection to show each stage of eruption.

The eight-month story of the destructive 1957/58 eruption is explained using an eight-minute holographic projection dramatically showing the stages of eruption. A series of galleries follow, illustrating the Azores microplate and how the islands began to form, highlighting some of the key elements of volcanology on each island, explaining the different sorts of eruption, and covering a variety of related topics.

The centre is built underground, in the ash and debris that buried the nearby villages and half the nearby Capelinhos lighthouse; all that appears in the bare landscape is a very low raised circle that allows natural light to the main chamber below. The internal design creates a great feeling of space and swirling lines and is aesthetically both stimulating and pleasing. The final section is the lighthouse itself, and one can climb the 140 steps to the upper balcony for the view. The spiral ascent is steep and narrow, so be warned.

Available is a very small explanatory brochure with excellent graphics, but I hope in time there will be more detailed publications about all the Azores’ volcanoes and landforms, guides to one of the most exciting geological areas in Europe. The building was opened to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the eruption, and one should allow two hours to do justice to the presentation. There is a shop and a good café. Since it opened it has deservedly gained many national and international awards for its design and content.

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