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The Azores ( ; ) is a Portuguesemarker archipelago in the Atlantic Oceanmarker, about from Lisbonmarker and about from the east coast of North America. The Monchique Islet on Flores Islandmarker, located at 31° 16' 24" W is regarded as the westernmost point in Europe, even though from a geographical standpoint, the two westernmost Azorean islands (Floresmarker and Corvomarker) actually lie on the North American plate. The current Azores' main industries are tourism, cattle raising for milk and meat, and fishing.

The nine major Azorean islands and the eight small Formigasmarker extend for more than and lie in a northwest-southeast direction. The vast extent of the islands defines an immense exclusive economic zone of . 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. Mount Picomarker on Pico Islandmarker, 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. 240,000 Azoreans live within the archipelago’s 868 square miles.



A modern map of the islands.
Sixteenth-century map of the Azores Islands.
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 Brugesmarker in Flanders. Vander Berg was said to have landed there during a storm on his way to Lisbonmarker. Ashe then claims that the Portuguese left to explore the area and claim it for Portugal shortly after.Although it is commonly said that the archipelago is named after the goshawk ( 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. Most, however, insist that the name is derived from birds, pointing to a local subspecies of the buzzard ( ), as the animal the first explorers erroneously identified as goshawks. The name may also derive from the word Azure, meaning blue color, Italian, which is the color the Islands appear to be from the distance, at sea.


At some point, following the discovery of Santa Maria, sheep were let loose on the island before settlement actually took place. This was done to supply the future settlers with food because there were no animals on the island. Settlement didn't take place right away, however. There was not much interest among the Portuguese people in an isolated island world hundreds of miles from civilization. But patiently Cabral gathered resources and settlers for the next three years (1433-1436) and sailed to establish colonies on Santa Maria first and then later on Sao Miguel.

Brush had to be cleared and rocks removed for the planting of crops; therefore, enslaved Africans were left alone on the island of São Miguel for a while. Grain, grape vines, sugar cane, and other plants suitable for settler use and of commercial value, were planted. Domesticated animals were brought, such as, cattle, sheep, goats, and hogs. Houses were built and villages established.

The first settlers were a mixed group of people from the Portuguese provinces of Algarve and Minho. Also, Madeirans, Moorish prisoners, enslaved Africans, French, Italians, Scots, English, Germans and Flemings were among the early settlers. There were petty criminals, Spanish clergy, Jews, soldiers, government officials, European merchants and sugar cane growers.

São Miguel was first settled in 1444, the settlers—from mainly the Estremadura, Alto Alentejo and Algarve areas of Portugal, under the command of Gonçalo Velho Cabral—landing at the site of modern-day Povoação . In 1522 Vila Franca do Campo, then the capital of the island, was devastated by a landslide caused by an earthquake which killed about 5,000 people, and the capital was moved to Ponta Delgada. The town of Vila Franca was rebuilt on the original site and today is a thriving fishing and yachting port. Ponta Delgada received its city status in 1546. Since the first settlement the pioneers applied themselves to the area of agriculture. By the 15th century Graciosa exported wheat, barley, wine and brandy. The goods were sent to Terceira largely due to the proximity of the island.

During the 18th and 19th century, Graciosa was host to many prominent figures including Chateaubriand, the French writer who passed through upon his escape to America during the French revolution; Almeida Garrett, the great Portuguese poet who visited an uncle and wrote some poetry while there; and Prince Albert of Monaco the famous 19th century oceanographer who led several expeditions in the waters of the Azores. He arrived on his yacht “Hirondelle”, and visited the “furna da caldeira”, the famous hot springs grotto.

The first reference to the island of São Jorge was made in 1439 but the actual date of discovery is unknown. In 1443 the island was already inhabited but active settlement only began with the arrival of the noble Flemish native Wilhelm Van der Haegen. Arriving at Topo, where he lived and died, he became known as Guilherme da Silveira to the islanders. João Vaz Corte Real received the captaincy of the island in 1483. Velas became a town before the end of the 15th century. By 1490, there were 2,000 Flemings living in the islands of Terceira, Pico, Faial, São Jorge, and Flores. Because there was such a large Flemish settlement, the Azores became known as the Flemish Islands or the Isles of Flanders. Henry was responsible for this settlement. His sister, Isabel, was married to Duke Philip of Burgundy of which Flanders was a part. There was a revolt against Philip's rule and disease and hunger became rampant. Isabel appealed to Henry to allow some of the unruly Flemings to settle in the Azores. He granted this and supplied them with the necessary transportation and goods.

The settlement of the then-unoccupied islands started in 1439 with people mainly from the continental provinces of Algarve and Alentejo. In 1583, Philip II of Spain, as king of Portugal, sent his fleet to clear the Azores of a combined multinational force of adventurers, mercenaries, volunteers and soldiers who were attempting to establish the Azores as a staging post for a rival pretender to the Portuguese throne. Following the success of his fleet at the Battle of Ponta Delgadamarker, the captured enemy were hanged from yardarms, as they were considered pirates by Philip II. (This was added to the "Black Legend" by his enemies.) An English expedition against the Azores in 1597, the Islands Voyage, also failed. Spain held the Azores in what is called The Babylonian captivity of 1580-1642.

The Azores were the second-to-last part of the Portuguese empire to resist Philip's reign over Portugal (Macaumarker being the last) and were returned to Portuguese control with the end of the Iberian Union in 1640, not by the professional military, who were used in the Restoration War in the mainland, but by local people attacking a fortified Castilian garrison ( ).
Pico viewed from Faial.

Portuguese Civil War

The Portuguese Civil War (1828–1834) had strong repercussions in the Azores. In 1829, in Vila da Praia, the liberals won over the absolutists, making Terceira Islandmarker the main headquarters of the new Portuguese regime and also where the Council of Regency ( ) of Mary II of Portugal was established.

Beginning in 1868, Portugalmarker issued its stamps overprinted with " " 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).

  • Angra do Heroísmo consisted of Terceira, São Jorge, and Graciosa, with the capital at Angra do Heroísmomarker on Terceira.
  • Horta consisted of Pico, Faial, Flores, and Corvo, with the capital at Hortamarker on Faial.
  • Ponta Delgada consisted of São Miguel and Santa Maria, with the capital at Ponta Delgadamarker on São Miguel.

In 1943, during the Second World War, The Portuguese dictator, António de Oliveira Salazar, leased bases in the Azores to the British, despite his previous collaboration with Germany. 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 Fieldmarker. 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 United States and Portuguese military operations. During the Cold War, the United States 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 United States Army operates a small fleet of military ships in the harbour of Praia da Vitóriamarker, 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 ( ), one of the Autonomous regions of Portugal, and the Azorean districts were suppressed.

Today people connected to the Azores are living around the globe. With a strong sense of community and unique ancestral bond, pride in their unique cultural history keeps them connected. Many Azorean descendants are using the Internet to stay connected and to share their stories and pictures about the enchanting Azores Islands.


Since becoming a Portuguese autonomous region, the executive branch of the regional authority has been located in Ponta Delgadamarker, the legislative branch in Horta, and the judicial branch in Angra do Heroísmomarker. The current president of the regional government is Carlos César.

Azorean politics are dominated by the two largest Portuguese political parties, the Social Democratic Party and the Socialist Party , the latter holding a majority in the Regional Legislative Assembly. The Democratic and Social Center / People's Party (CDS/PP), the Left Bloc (BE), the Unitarian Democratic Coalition (CDU) and the People's Monarchist Party (PPM) are 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.


The Azores are divided into nineteen municipalities ( ); each municipality is further divided into parishes ( ), of which there is a total of 156 in all of the Azores. The municipalities, by island, are:

Island Group Municipalities
Flores Islandmarker Western Lajes das Floresmarker and Santa Cruz das Floresmarker Corvo Islandmarker Western Corvomarker Terceira Islandmarker Central Angra do Heroísmomarker and Praia da Vitóriamarker Graciosa Islandmarker Central Santa Cruz da Graciosamarker São Jorge Islandmarker Central Calhetamarker and Velasmarker Pico Islandmarker Central Lajes do Picomarker, Madalenamarker and São Roque do Picomarker Faial Islandmarker Central Hortamarker Santa Maria Islandmarker Eastern Vila do Portomarker São Miguel Islandmarker Eastern Lagoamarker, Nordestemarker, Ponta Delgadamarker, Povoaçãomarker, Ribeira Grandemarker, and Vila Franca do Campo


There are five cities in the Azores: Ponta Delgadamarker and Ribeira Grande on São Miguel Island; Angra do Heroísmomarker and Praia da Vitóriamarker on the island of Terceira, and Hortamarker on the island of Faial. Three of these Ponta Delgadamarker, Angramarker and Hortamarker are considered capital cities in the regional government, homes to the President (Ponta Delgada), the Judiciary (Angra) and the Regional Assembly (Horta).


Each of the nine biggest islands has its own airport:

Santa Maria: Santa Maria Airport marker

Sao Miguel: João Paulo II Airport marker

Terceira: Lajes Field marker Lajes Air Base (Portugues Airforce and US Airforce)

Sao Jorge: São Jorge Airport marker

Pico: Pico Airport marker

Faial: Horta Airport marker

Graciosa: Graciosa Airport marker

Flores: Flores Airport marker

Corvo: Corvo Airport marker

Geography and environment

Lagoa das Sete Cidades
Island Area (km2.) Area (sq.mi.)
São Miguel Islandmarker Pico Islandmarker Terceira Islandmarker São Jorge Islandmarker Faial Islandmarker Flores Islandmarker Santa Maria Islandmarker Graciosa Islandmarker Corvo Islandmarker
The archipelago is spread out in the area between 37° N and the parallels of latitude that pass through the Lisbon area (39° 43' / 39° 55' N), giving it a tepid, oceanic, subtropical climate, with mild annual oscillations. The average annual rainfall increases from east to west, and it ranges from 700 to 1600 annual millimetres (27.6–63 in) on average, reaching on Mount Picomarker, the highest Portuguese mountain at . The Azores high, an area of high atmospheric pressure, is named after the islands.

The Formigas (the Portuguese word for "ants") islands (also known as Dollabarat Reefs) have rich maritime fauna, including exotic species such as the black coral and manta rays, sharks, and sea turtles.

The archipelago lies in the Palearctic ecozone, forming a unique biome that includes the macaronesianmarker subtropical laurissilvamarker, with many endemic species of plants. Even though the Azores look very green and sometimes wild, the vegetation has been extremely altered. Most of the original laurisilvamarker has been wiped out for its valuable wood (for tools, buildings, boats, fire wood, etc) and to clear land for agriculture. Many cultivated places (which are traditionally dedicated to pasture or to growing colocasia, potatoes, maize and other crops) have now been abandoned, especially as a result of emigration. Consequently, some invasive plants have filled these deserted and disturbed lands. The two most common of these exotic species are Pittosporum undulatum and Acacia melanoxylon. They are usually restricted to ancient agricultural land and, fortunately, only rarely penetrate into undisturbed native vegetation. The main loss is in the lowlands (below 400 metres), where virtually all laurisilva was eradicated.

A few Persea indica and Picconia azorica still survive in some places, but appear to be extremely vulnerable. Only Myrica faya seems to have survived human impact quite well, and it is commonly found in hedges or among exotic trees. More recent introductions could become a serious threat, like Leptospermum scoparium which has the ability to colonize the still nearly-untouched medium-altitude vegetation (Ilex, Myrsine africana, Erica, etc).

Hydrangeas are another potential pest, but their threat is less serious. Notwithstanding the fact that Hydrangeas were introduced from America or Asia, some locals consider them to be a symbol of the archipelago and propagate them along roadsides, helping them to escape into the wild. Cryptomeria, the Japanese cedar, is a conifer extensively grown for its timber; many seedlings can be found in the last remnants of medium-altitude native vegetation.

The Azores only endemic bird species is the Azores Bullfinch, or Priolo, which is retricted to remnant laurisilva forest in the mountains at the eastern end of São Miguel. It is listed as critically endangered. The Azores also has an endemic bat, the Azores Noctule, which is unusual in regularly feeding during the day.

The nine islands have a total area of . Their individual areas range between São Miguel'smarker and Corvo'smarker . Three islands (São Miguel, Pico and Terceira) are larger than Maltamarker (composed of three islands), São Miguel Island alone being twice as large.

The nine islands are divided into three groups:


Time zone

The Azores are located in the UTC-1 N time zone (Cape Verde Time, CVT). However, the Azores observe daylight saving time, while Cape Verdemarker does not. The Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) offset is -0100 (CVT/CVST) / 0000 (CVDT). The relevant coordinates are +3744−02540.


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. Picomarker, 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 ( ) in 1957, in the western part of Faial Island, increasing the size of the island by 2.4 km, but it's estimated that the great part of it will be washed away in next 20 years. Santa Maria Islandmarker 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.

The Gruta das Torresmarker, Algar do Carvãomarker, Gruta do Natal, Gruta das Cinco Ribeiras are some of the many caves of the Azores.


On 31 December 2002, the Azores' population was 238,767 at a density of .

Island Population (2002) Main

Municipalities (% of total)
São Miguel Islandmarker 130,154 54.50 Ponta Delgadamarker 6
Terceira Islandmarker 54,996 23.00 Angra do Heroísmomarker 2
Faial Islandmarker 14,934 6.25 Hortamarker 1
Pico Islandmarker 14,579 6.11 São Roque do Picomarker 3
São Jorge Islandmarker 9,522 3.99 Velasmarker 2
Santa Maria Islandmarker 5,490 2.30 Vila do Portomarker 1
Graciosa Islandmarker 4,708 1.97 Santa Cruz da Graciosamarker 1
Flores Islandmarker 3,949 1.65 Santa Cruz das Floresmarker 2
Corvo Islandmarker 435 0.18 Vila do Corvomarker 1
Total 238,767 Total 19


The vast majority of the inhabitants of the Azores are Portuguese, descendants of 15th century immigrants from Algarve and from Minho, with a minor Dutch admixture (particularly from Flanders). The nature of the economy dictated that African slavery never became common in the Azores because they were sent to Brazil and the Caribbean, only a few remained in the Azores to help with domestic chores, although the islands sometimes served as a waypoint for ships carrying African slaves.

Since the 17th century, many Azoreans have emigrated, mainly to Brazilmarker, the United Statesmarker and Canadamarker. Rhode Islandmarker and Southeastern Massachusetts, especially the cities of New Bedfordmarker and Fall Rivermarker have been, and continue to be the primary destination for Azorean emigrants. Northern California was the final destination for many of the Massachusetts immigrants who then moved on to the San Joaquin Valleymarker. In 1919, there were approximately 300,000 people in the Azores while there were 100,000 Azoreans in the United States. Many Azoreans also moved to Bermudamarker and pre-U.S. Hawaiimarker. From 1961 to 1977, about 150,000 Azoreans immigrated tothe United States.

Florianópolismarker and Porto Alegremarker in the Southern Region of Brazil were founded by Azoreans, who accounted for over half of Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarinamarker's population in the late 18th century.

Traditional festivals from May through SeptemberHoly Ghost Festivals, or Espírito Santo Festivals, are very important to the Azorean people, who are mainly Roman Catholic. 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, which takes place on the fifth 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 saint Nossa Senhora dos Milagres, (Our Lady of Miracles), on August 15 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 15 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.

Carnaval is also celebrated in the Azores. Parades and pageants are the heart of the Carnaval festivities. There is lively music, colorful costumes, hand-made masks, and floats.

Population genetics

As in continental Portugal, the most frequent mtDNA haplogroup in the Azores is H (45.2%), followed by U (16.7%), T (10.1%), K (6.5%), pre-HV clades (5.6%) and a smaller sub-Saharan L haplogroups frequency (3.4%) than in Madeira as the number of sub-Saharan slaves in the Açores never reached the proportions that took place in Madeira.

Concerning the males Y-Dna haplogroups, R1b (particularly R1b3) was found to be the most dominant Y chromosomal lineage in the Azores, covering about 60% of the Y chromosomal lineages. The high frequency of this haplogroup is typical in all West European populations, reflecting a cline and likely continuity of the Paleolithic gene pool in Europe. Haplogroups I and G, also characteristic markers for many different West European populations, were found in the Azores at frequencies above 5%. Together with R1b, haplogroups J (13%) and E1b1b (9%) comprise about 80% of the Y-chromosomal gene pool in the Azores. Haplogroups J and E1b1b consist of lineages with differential distribution within Middle East, North Africa and Europe. The typical berber haplogroup E1b1b (M81) was found like in continental Portugal at a frequency of 5-6%.

See also


  1. "Azorean Migration". 1997-01-17.
  2. "Azorean Immigration into the United States".
  3. Imigrantes: Açorianos
  4. Mitochondrial portraits of the Azores and Açores archipelagos witness different genetic pools of its settlers, Brehm et al. 2003
  5. Y-chromosome lineages from Portugal, Madeira and Açores record elements of Sephardim and Berber ancestry, Goncalves et al. 2005

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