The nine major Azorean islands and the eight small Formigas extend for more than and lie in a northwest-southeast direction. The vast extent of the islands defines an immense exclusive economic zone of 1.1 million km². The westernmost point of this area is from the North American continent. All of the islands have volcanic origins, although Santa Maria also has some reef contribution. The mountain of Pico on Pico Island, at in altitude, is the highest in all of Portugal. The Azores are actually the tops of some of the tallest mountains on the planet, as measured from their base at the bottom of the ocean. The archipelago forms the Autonomous Region of Azores, one of the two autonomous regions of Portugal.
Because these once uninhabited, remote islands were settled sporadically over a span of two centuries, their culture, dialect, cuisine and traditions vary considerably from island to island. Farming and fishing are key industries that support the Azorean economy. These traditional trades give the Azores an unspoiled, historic and authentically European feel that is becoming harder to find in other nearby locations. Visitors find plenty to see and do here, with upscale lodging and restaurants integrating with both the tiny, rural towns and the sometimes wild and lush landscapes that make up the islands. Visitors are still discovering the Azores, and only 240,000 Azoreans live within the archipelago’s 868 square miles.
Although it is commonly said that the archipelago is named after the goshawk (Açor in Portuguese) because it was supposed to be a common bird at the time of discovery, in fact the bird never existed on the islands. Some historians indicate the archaic Portuguese word "azules" (the plural of blue) because of the colour of the islands when seen from afar. Most, however, insist that the name is derived from birds, pointing to a local subspecies of the buzzard (Buteo buteo), as the animal the first explorers erroneously identified as goshawks.
The islands were known in the fourteenth century and parts of them can be seen, for example, in the Atlas Catalan. In 1427, one of the captains sailing for Henry the Navigator, possibly Gonçalo Velho, rediscovered the Azores, but this is not certain. A History of the Azores by Thomas Ashe written in 1813 marks the discovery by Joshua Vander Berg of Bruges in Flanders. Vander Berg was said to have landed there during a storm on his way to Lisbon. Ashe then claims that the Portuguese left to explore the area and claim it for Portugal shortly after.
Beginning in 1868, Portugal issued its stamps overprinted with "AÇORES" for use in the islands. Between 1892 and 1906, it also issued separate stamps for the three administrative districts of the time.
From 1836 to 1976, the archipelago was divided into three districts, equivalent (except in area) to those in the Portuguese mainland. The division was arbitrary, and did not follow the natural island groups, rather reflecting the location of each district capital on the three main cities (none of which were on the western group).
In 1943, during the Second World War, The Portuguese dictator, António de Oliveira Salazar, leased bases in the Azores to the British. This represented a change in policy. Previously the Portuguese government only allowed German U-boats and navy ships to refuel there.. This was a key turning point in the Battle of the Atlantic, allowing the Allies to provide aerial coverage in the middle of the Atlantic. This helped them to hunt U-boats and protect convoys.
In 1944, American forces constructed a small and short-lived air base on the island of Santa Maria. In 1945, a new base was constructed on the island of Terceira and is currently known as Lajes Field. This base is in an area called Lajes, a broad, flat sea terrace that had been a farm. Lajes Field is a plateau rising out of the sea on the northeast corner of the island. This Air Force base is a joint American and Portuguese venture. Lajes Field continues to support US and Portuguese military operations. During the Cold War, the US Navy P-3 Orion anti-submarine squadrons patrolled the North Atlantic for Soviet submarines and surface spy vessels. Since its inception, Lajes Field has been used for refuelling aircraft bound for Europe, and more recently, the Middle East. The US Army operates a small fleet of military ships - probably Maritime Prepositioning Ships - in the harbour of Praia da Vitória, three kilometres (2 mi) southeast of Lajes Field. The airfield also has a small commercial terminal handling scheduled and chartered passenger flights from other islands in the archipelago, Europe, and North America.
In 1976, the Azores became the Autonomous Region of the Azores (Região Autónoma dos Açores), one of the Autonomous regions of Portugal, and the Azorean districts were suppressed.
Azorean politics are dominated by the two largest Portuguese political parties—PSD and PS, the latter holding a majority in the Regional Legislative Assembly. The CDS/PP is also represented in the local parliament. Even though the PS dominates the administrative scene, the PSD is usually more popular in city and town council elections.
|São Miguel Island||Pico Island||Terceira Island||São Jorge Island||Faial Island||Flores Island||Santa Maria Island||Graciosa Island||Corvo Island|
The nine islands have a total area of . Their individual areas vary between São Miguel's and Corvo's . Three islands (São Miguel, Pico and Terceira) are bigger in size than Malta (composed of three different islands), São Miguel Island alone being twice as big.
The nine islands are divided into three groups:
The islands are located atop an active triple junction between three large tectonic plates: the North American Plate, the Eurasian Plate and the African Plate. Volcanism associated with the formation of the islands arises from the fact that the Azores Triple Junction involves rifting, a process whereby the crust is spreading along three ridge legs radiating out from the triple junction. The volcanism is also related to the Azores hotspot. The islands began forming during the Tertiary period. Pico, a volcano that stands high on the island of the same name, has the highest altitude in the Azores and all of Portugal.
The last volcano to erupt was the Capelinhos Volcano (Vulcão dos Capelinhos) in 1957, in the western part of Faial Island, increasing the size of the island by 2.4km, but it's estimated that the great part of it will be washed away in next 20 years. Santa Maria Island is the oldest Azorean island, formed 4.8 million years ago, and is the only island in the Azores with an abundance of sediments where marine fossils have been discovered.
|Island||Population (2002)|| Main|
|Municipalities||(% of total)|
|São Miguel Island||130,154||54.50||Ponta Delgada||6|
|Terceira Island||54,996||23.00||Angra do Heroísmo||2|
|São Jorge Island||9,522||3.99||Velas||2|
|Santa Maria Island||5,490||2.30||Vila do Porto||1|
|Graciosa Island||4,708||1.97||Santa Cruz da Graciosa||1|
|Flores Island||3,949||1.65||Santa Cruz das Flores||2|
|Corvo Island||435||0.18||Vila do Corvo||1|
The vast majority of the inhabitants of the Azores are Portuguese, descendants of 15th century immigrants from Algarve (Southern Portugal) and from the Minho (Northern Portugal), with a minor Dutch admixture (particularly from Flanders).
Traditional festivals from May through September Holy Ghost Festivals, or Espírito Santo Festivals, are very important to the Azorean people. The festivals are rooted in medieval traditions and typically held on all the islands from May to September, including lively parades and large feasts. As part of the tradition, soup and bread are handed out to revelers during these events. On Terceira and other islands, decorative houses called Imperios are the staging points for the feeding of the masses.
May marks The Festival of Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres (Lord Holy Christ of Miracles) in Ponta Delgada on the island of São Miguel. The largest religious event in the Azores is the Festa do Senhor Santo Cristo takes place on the 5th Sunday after Easter. Pilgrims from all over the world unite to parade behind the image of Christ on a three-hour procession along the flower decorated streets of the city. The Sanjoaninas Festivities in Angra do Heroísmo in Terceira are held in June honoring S. Antonio, S. Pedro and St. João, in a large religious celebration. The traditional bullfights in the bullring are ongoing, as is the running of bulls in the streets. The festival of Nossa Senhora de Lourdes, (Our Lady of Lourdes), patron saint to the Whalers, begins in Lajes on Pico on the last Sunday the August and runs through the week - Whalers Week. It is marked by social and cultural events connected to the tradition of whale hunting. The Festa das Vindimas, (Wine Harvest Festival), takes place during the first week of September and is a century old custom ways by the people of Pico.
In Corvo the people celebrate their patron saints Nossa Senhora dos Milagres, (Our Lady of Miracles), on August 15th every year in addition to the festivals of the Divine Holy Spirit. The Festival da Maré de Agosto (August Sea Festival), takes place every year beginning on the 15th of August in Praia Formosa on Santa Maria. And, the Semana do Mar (Sea Week), dedicated almost exclusively to water sports, takes place in August in the city of Horta, on Faial. In the Azores, Mardi Gras is known as “Carnaval”, a four-day celebration starting in February. Parades and pageants are heart of the Carnaval festivities. There is lively music, colorful costumes, hand-made masks, and floats.