ARCHIPELAGO OF THE AZORES
[between 36º and 43º N and 25º and 31ºW]
The Archipelago of the Azores is made up of nine islands of volcanic origin and it is located in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, in the Atlantic Ocean, between the American and European continents. It is an autonomous region of the Portuguese Republic, having achieved its administrative autonomy in 1895 and, later, its political autonomy in 1976. With a total area of 2333km2, it registered in 2011 a total population of 246 746 inhabitants.
The Islands of the Archipelago of the Azores are divided into three Groups:
EASTERN GROUP Santa Maria and São Miguel;
CENTRAL GROUP Terceira, São Jorge, Pico, Faial and Graciosa;
WESTERN GROUP Flores and Corvo
The discovery of the Archipelago of the Azores is a polemic topic because there are several theories regarding its exact date, and whether of not there was previous knowledge of the existence of these islands, based on analysis done on genoese maps produced in 1351. Nevertheless, we refer to the year of 1431 as the year of the discovery of the Azores, since it was then that Gonçalo Velho first arrived to the Island of Santa Maria, therefore starting the peopling process from East to West. The Portuguese began to people the islands around 1432, with people coming mostly from Algarve, Alentejo, Estremadura and Minho. Afterwards came the Flemish, the Britons and other Europeans and North Africans.
With nearly six centuries of continuous human presence, the Azores have garnered an important place in the History of Portugal and in the history of the Atlantic: they were an important stopover for the expeditions of the Discoveries and for the ships of the then called Route of the Indies, for the Silver Fleets and for the ships coming to and from Brazil. They contributed to the conquest and maintenance of the Portuguese troops in the north of Africa and by the time of the Crisis of Succession of 1580 and the Liberal Wars (1828-1834), the Azores we strongholds of resistance. During both World Wars, giving strategic support to the Allied Forces, this archipelago has played a relevant role in the past six centuries, up until today where it still is a centre for communications and a support for military and civilian aviation.
The Archipelago of the Azores was created by volcanic activity during the end of the Tertiary Period. The first Island to surface above the line of the ocean was Santa Maria, around 8,1 million years ago (My), during the Miocene. Afterwards, chronologically there were: São Miguel (4,1 My), Terceira (3,52 My), Graciosa (2,5 My), Flores (2,16 My), Faial (0,7 My), São Jorge (0,55 My), Corvo (0,7 My) e, a mais jovem, o Pico (0,27 My).