links Follow this Brief History of the Azores
When Portuguese pilot Diogo de Senill discovered the Azores islands in 1427, he found no signs of prior human inhabitants or visitors. In 1432, settlers from the European mainland arrived on the island of Santa Maria, and by 1500, people were living on every island. Between 1580 and 1640 Spain and Portugal controlled the Azores. In 1766 a central government was established. In 1832 a new constitution was put in place, and the islands were then divided into three separately managed groups. The Azores was used as a military base by the British during World War II and currently serves in this capacity for both the United States and Britain. The islanders began seeking independence from Portugal in the 1970s, but while they now govern themselves, the Archipelago is still essentially a district of Portugal.
To Read a More of the Azores
Portuguese in full ARQUIPÉLAGO DOS AÇORES, archipelago composed of nine major islands, in the North Atlantic Ocean; they lie roughly 1,000 miles (1,600 km) west of Portugal and are a part of that nation. The islands, which have a total land area of 868 square miles (2,247 square km), are divided into three widely separated groups: the eastern group, consisting of São Miguel, Santa Maria, and the Formigas islets; the central, of Faial, Pico, São Jorge, Terceira, and Graciosa; and the northwestern, of Flores and Corvo. The capital is Ponta Delgada on São Miguel.
The nearest continental land is Cape Roca, Portugal, which lies 875 miles (1,408 km) east of Santa Maria. Thus, the Azores are farther from mainland Europe than any other eastern Atlantic islands. In general characteristics, all the islands are similar, rising steeply from shores lined with rock and pebble debris (scree, or talus) to heights reaching 7,713 feet (2,351 m) on Pico. Their unstable geologic nature is indicated by numerous earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. In 1522 the town of Vila Franca do Campo, then capital of São Miguel, was buried during a massive convulsion, and as recently as 1957-58 the Capelinhos eruption enlarged Faial Island.
The Azores have a subtropical climate with high humidity. An abundant flora of European and Mediterranean origins is found, and mixed forests still cover many of the islands' hillsides. Intensive agriculture produces cereals (wheat and corn [maize]), vegetables, and fruit (including pineapples and wine grapes).
The Azores were reputedly discovered about 1427 by Diogo de Senill (or Sevilha), a pilot of the king of Portugal. No traces of previous human habitation or visitation were found on any of them. Settlement began on Santa Maria about 1432 under Gonçalo Velho Cabral, a Portuguese official. São Miguel was settled in 1444 and Terceira some years later. By the end of the 15th century all the islands were inhabited, and trade with Portugal became well established. From 1580 until 1640 the Azores, like the rest of Portugal, were subject to Spain. The islands were the rendezvous for the Spanish treasure fleets on their voyages home from the West Indies; hence, they became a theatre of the maritime warfare between England under Elizabeth I and Spain and Portugal, the peninsular powers.
Except for a time during the Spanish occupation, there was no central government in the Azores until 1766, when the Marquess de Pombal installed a governor and captain general for the whole group. A new constitution was established in 1832, and the islands were given limited autonomous administration in 1895. The present-day Azores are organized as an
autonomous region having the same status as the districts of continental Portugal but with special autonomous powers that are exercised by an elected regional assembly.
The trade of the Azores was long a Portuguese monopoly, but later, before World War II, it was shared by Great Britain, the United States, and Germany. The islands' exports include hand embroideries, pineapples, canned fish, and wine.
The Azores' inhabitants are mostly of Portuguese origin, and the predominant religion is Roman Catholicism. The Azores' principal seaports are Angra do Heroísmo (or Angra), Ponta Delgada, and Horta. Lajes and Santa Maria became important air bases and centres of communication between the United States and Europe during World War II, and since 1951, by agreement with Portugal, the United States has maintained a NATO air base on Lajes. Before the development of weather satellites, meteorological data compiled and transmitted from the Azores were essential to European weather forecasting. Pop. (1992 est.) 236,500.