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Flores Island (Portuguese pronunciation: [ˈfloɾɨʃ]) is an island of the Western group (Grupo Ocidental) of the Azores. It has an area of 143 km², a population of approximately 3907 inhabitants, and occupies the North American Plate of the western archipelago with the island of Corvo. It has been referred to as the Ilha Amarelo Torrado (the "Yellow/Auburn Island") by marketing and from the tradition of poet Raul Brandão. But, it is best recognized for its abundance of flowers, and so named in portuguese.


Some early accounts existed of the "(seven) islands of the Azores and two islands of Flores" (referring to the islands of Flores and Corvo), but no "official discovery" occurred until the mid-14th century. The island of Flores was discovered in the late summer of 1452 by the navigator Diogo de Teive and his son João de Teive, and first noted by the pilot Pêro Velasco to Christopher Columbus during his voyages. For his reward, the Teives received the concession of the sugar monopoly on Madeiramarker.

The earlier names of the island were São Tomás (after Thomas Becket of Canterbury, not to be confused with Saint Thomas, which in Portuguese is spelled "Tomé") and Santa Iria ("Saint Iria"). The island's charter passed to Fernão Telles de Meneses when little was accomplished in populating the islands, except for disembarking some sheep. The death of Fernão Telles (1477) was to initiate exploration and settlement on the island, as his widow (Dona Maria de Vilhena) would contract the Flemish nobleman Willem van der Haegen to explore Flores and Corvo.

After meeting with Dona Maria Vilhena (who administered the island in the name of her young son, Rui de Teles), Van der Haegen came to an agreement and moved to the island between 1480 and 1490. Van der Haegen had arrived in the Azores in 1469, and lived for a time on the island of Faial by invitation of the first Captaincy of Faial, Josse Van Huerter. Following disagreements with de Huerter over land holdings, Van de Haegen settled in Quatro Ribeiras, Terceira until journeying to Ribeira da Cruz on Flores. The historians Gaspar Frutuoso e Diogo das Chagas noted that Van der Haegen cultivated lands (primarily for wheat export) and was involved in the indigo/woad industry, as well as exploring for mineral deposits (likely silver). Due to its isolated location (outside shipping lanes), its intemperate climate and infertile lands he left Flores to resettle in Terceira, by way of São Jorgemarker. At the time, the name of the island was Corvo.

By 1504 the island's charter passed to João Fonseca and settlers streamed through the port of Armoeira to the small hamlets. The island became permanently populated during the reign of King Manuel I, in the year 1510, by people from various regions of continental Portugal, but mainly from the northern provinces. The island became arable, and grain and vegetables were cultivated. Over the next centuries, the inhabitants lived in isolated parts of the island, and trading vessels from the islands of Faialmarker and Terceira came infrequently to trade whale oil, butter and honey for other products. Several of the main communities and local sites were named for settlers of this mid-century period, including Santa Cruzmarker, Lajesmarker and Ponta Delgadamarker.

On the 9th of September, 1591 a small English fleet under Lord Thomas Howard anchored off the coast of Santa Cruz in the bay of Ribeira da Cruz, Flores was surprised by 53 ships under Alfonso de Bazán. The English ships were part of a naval patrol designed to intercept Spanish ships from Americas, and were under repairs or re-provisioning when the Spanish ships appeared. Most of the English ships slipped to sea (to the west of Corvo), but the H.M.S. Revenge (under Sir Richard Grenville) waited for her crew (most epidemic of fever), then decided to go straight through the approaching Spanish lines from the east. The Revenge was attacked and defeated, her captain (fatally wounded) eventually ordered her to be scuttled, but the ship was captured and her crew surrendered instead. The "Battle of Flores" as it was known culminated in the death of Grenville two days later and the H.M.S. Revenge became only the English ship to be captured during the the Elizabethan conflict. But the ship never reached Spain; it foundered during a storm near Terceira and went down with 200 Spaniards, alongside several with Spanish ships.

Despite the isolation, the waters of Flores were frequently raided by pirates. Sir Walter Raleigh the English privateer was one of the early profiteers, sacking the Portuguese carrack Madre de Deus laiden with tonnes of spices, precious gems and pearls, equivalent to half the public finances of the English court. Unusual for its time, the Madre de Deus was three times the capacity of a normal English brig, and the pirates towed it to the port of Dartmouth rather than destroying the ship. The pirate Peter Easton, who commanded a fleet of 40 privateers, made Flores a regular port-of-call, provisioning meat, water and kindling for his travels and supposedly getting married to a daughter of the Captaincy of Flores. Doubly inconvenienced with the damages caused by this pirate's ships and with the complicity of local Florentines, Philip II of Portugal (Philip III of Spain) ordered, on July 30, 1611, the necessary means taken to capture Pirate Admiral Peter Easton. He was never captured, although the local Florentine magistrate and Captaincy were arrested.

From the 1760s to the early 20th century, American whalers hunted sperm whales in the waters of the Azores, and many of the islands' inhabitants were recruited as whalers. One of the most beautiful American whaling-ships, named the Wanderer, operated off the coast of Flores between 1878 and 1924.

The Confederate C.S.S. Alabama, captained by Raphael Semmes, was the most prolific privateer in the waters off Flores, responsible for 69 sinkings in the course of two years beginning in the summer of 1862. Between the 5th and 18th of September his brig was responsible for capturing and setting ablaze the schooner Starlight, and several whalers (including the Ocmulgee, Ocean Rover, Alert, Weather Gauge, Altamaha, Benjamin Tucker, Courser, Virginia and Elisha Dunbar) off the coast of Flores.

The island's isolation has been dealt with during the 20th Century, first with the installation of telegraph services, then the establishment of Radio-Flores (1909), and later with point-to-point telephone communication (1925). Service between the island and the rest of the archipelago was handled by small sailing ships until the beginning of the century, with ships such as the 36 ton yacht Santa Cruz or 80 ton yacht Flores, until the latter was lost in the bay of Port Pim, Horta, Faial during a storm.

In July 1962, the French built a missile tracking installation on the island (inaugurated in October 1966). In the following years, a hospital, a power station and an airport were established, which brought a financial upswing to the entire island. After the French left the island in 1994, tourism became the island's dominant industry.



Flores, along with the island of Corvo, is situated on the American Continental Plate of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and belongs to the western group of islands in the Azores archipelago.

The island developed initially from a submarine volcano from the Pleistocene period that constructed small calderas and numerous pyroclastic cones. Following a long period of quiescence beginning about 200,000 years ago, several young phreatomagmatic craters and associated lava flows erupted during the Holocene period, including two about 3000 years ago. The Funda de Lajes tuff ring formed about 3150 years ago, accompanied by a lava flow that traveled toward the southeast reach the area of Lajes. The Caldeira Comprida tuff ring in Caldeira Seca (west-central Flores) later, at about 2900 years ago, producing a lava flow that travelled towards the region of Fajã Grande.

Azevedo et. al. (1986) divides the lavas and deposits into two major volcanic complexes:

  • Basal Volcanic Complex - includes products and deposits of both submarine and sub-aerial volcanism, formed by pyroclastic deposits and inter-bedded flows of alkali basalts.
  • Upper Volcanic Complex - represents the main sub-aerial activity composed of three main stratigraphic units, that include basaltic to trachytic flows with inter-bedded pyroclastic deposits in the first two layers, and a more recent unit of exclusively pyroclastic deposits.

During the summer, the island is covered with thousands of hydrangeas, which have large blue or pink flowers; this is the origin of the island's name (Flores is the Portuguese word for flowers).

The Island has deep valleys and high peaks. Morro Alto is the highest peak of the island, reaching an altitude of 914 meters; Sete Pés, Burrinha and Marcel are other peaks on the island. It has several inactive volcanoes; Caldeira Funda das Lajes last erupted in 1200 BC, and Caldeira Comprida in 950 BC. Some of these volcanoes have calderas (or caldeiras in Portuguese) in which water has collected to form lakes. There are seven of these lakes on the island. The caldera Lagoa Funda is considered the most beautiful. The Águas Quentes are small hot springs of boiling sulphurous water. The Gruta de Enxaréus is an enormous cavern, about 50 meters long and 25 meters wide.

Human Geography

Due to the generally rugged landscape of the island, many of the early settlements developed along the flatter coastal lands. The few settlements that are located in the interior are only dotted by small homes or agricultural buildings. Administratively, the island of Flores is divided into two municipalities (concelhos in Portuguese), which in turn are composed of several civil parishes, with their own civil committees and administrative executives:

Santa Cruz das Floresmarker, located in the north, has a 2493 inhabitants (2001 census) and includes the islands largest community (Santa Cruz das Flores), a community located on the eastern coast, and where the local airport, as well as the principal governmental services, primary and secondary schools, and regional health center are located. It is comprised of the following civil parishes:

Lajes das Floresmarker, the southern municipality includes many of the natural landscapes of the island, and is inhabited by approximately 1502 inhabitants (2001 census). The principal parishes are:


The micro-climate of the forest park of Fazenda de Santa Cruz allows the development of a great number and variety of exotic species from all over the world.

Natural Environments & Protected Zones

In the municipality of Lajes das Floresmarker, by the sea, is Fajãzinhamarker, a typical Azorean village that includes ruins of water mills. There one can also find the waterfalls of Ribeira Grande, of which there are at least 20. They drop from a height of three hundred meters, some directly into the Atlantic Oceanmarker.

On May 27, 2009, Flores was chosen as one of several areas to be included on UNESCO's list of World Network of Biosphere Reserves at the Man and the Biosphere Programme meeting held in Jeju, South Korea, along with the islands of Graciosa and Corvo. The program targets the ecological, social and economic dimensions of biodiversity loss and the reduction of this loss. It uses its World Network of Biosphere Reserves as vehicles for knowledge sharing, research and monitoring, education and training, and participatory decision-making with local communities.


The economy of the island is mainly agricultural, with yams and grain. Due to the early settlers being from northern Portugal, the island's houses and streets resemble those found there. Portugal has a military agreement with Francemarker permitting France to have a base in the region. The island also has an airport.


The island is serviced by the Flores Airportmarker .

Notable Florenses

See also


  1. Gomes, Francisco António Nunes Pimentel. Um Olhar Sobre Santa Cruz das Flores. Inventário Património Imóvel dos Açores, 2008
  2. Gomes, Francisco António Nunes Pimentel. Um Olhar Sobre Santa Cruz das Flores. Inventário Património Imóvel dos Açores, 2008
  3. Environment News Service. Designates 22 New Biosphere Reserves. May 27, 2009.

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