AZORESINTRODUCTION TO AZORES

The first of the Azores group of islands were said to be discovered in 1427 but his fact is somewhat disputed by other records. There is a belief that the Island of Corvo was already known to exist to the Carthaginians in 3.000 before Christ.

Lying some 900 miles from the coast of Portugal in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean the Islands cover an area of some six hundred kilometres in length and a land area of 2.333 square kilometres. Plato in his reference to the "Empire of Atlantis" must have been based on some knowledge of the existence of these Islands, and equally Plutarch refers to the "Atlantic Islands". It is almost certain that they were previously known about and there is reference to their existence in the Catalan Atlas of 1375 by Jafunda Cresquez.

Some 100 years later in 1427 a ship commanded by Diogo da Silva is recorded to have visited the Azores. Based on all this information Henry the Navigator organized two voyages in 1431 and 1432 under the command of Frei Gonçalo Velho a Knight of the Order of Christ, and who was later instructed under royal edict to find the islands and take possession in the name of Portugal.

The first of the Islands, Santa Maria, was given the name "Azores" from the Portuguese word for "goshawks" which was mistakenly thought to be seen flying overhead. Both the Island of Flores and Corvo were recorded as being discovered by Diogo do Teive. This name was later applied to the collection of nine Islands which are normally considered in three individual groups. The eastern group of Ilha de Santa Maria and Ilha de São Miguel, the central group of Ilha do Faial, Ilha Graciosa, Ilha do Pico, Ilha São Jorge and Ilha Terceira, and the western group of Ilha do Corvo and Ilha das Flores.

As each island was occupied by the Portuguese an appointee was given total and hereditary powers. Initially the colonization of the Islands proceeded in an organized and progressive manner due to the the Act know as "Seismarias". This law was introduced in Portugal in 1375 by King Fernando and stated that landlords could forfeit their land and possessions if not properly cultivated. In 1494, King Dom João II revoked the Act and in doing so created an economic decline in the Azores and abuse of power by local dignitaries. In was in this period that the recently arrived Flemish settlers took advantage of the situation and encouraged their countrymen to join them.

During the 15th and 16th Century settlers from both Portugal and Flanders began to cultivate and rear cattle in the balmy climate. During the reign over Portugal of Phillip II of Spain (1580-1640), the Islands prospered greatly from its logistical position with the wealthy trading with the "new world". The ports of Angra do Heroísmo on the Island of Terceira and Ponta Delgado on the Island of São Miguel developed into important centres of trade.

In the early 19th Century the Islands also became a necessary staging post for the Whaling industry. There was an unsettled period in the 16th Century when Dom António and Prior of Crato and locally supported declared himself King of Portugal much to the annoyance of Felipe II, the real King and also being at the same time the King of Spain. In 1583 a Spanish force put an end to this idea and Dom António fled to France. In 1831 the followers of Dom Pedro IV sailed from Ilha de São Miguel to the mainland Portugal near Porto. After three years of conflict in Portugal his forces defeated his brother Dom Miguel and contender to the throne of Portugal.

Due to its volcanic composition there has been throughout its existence fairly constant eruptions and upheavals either within the landmass or from the bed of the sea. In 1811 an English ship witnessed one of such happenings as they saw the creation of an islet about 90 meters high west of the coast of Ilha de São Miguel. As soon as it appeared safe, the Captain of the ship landed on the islet and hoisted the Union Jack in the name of Great Britain and named the islet "Sabrina" after that of his ship. Imagine his great disappointment when shortly afterwards the islet and flag sank back under the ocean! In this past century the Islands have played a strategic role as a military air base between the USA and the rest of the world in the Second World War and also in other later conflicts.

The Archipelago of the Azores is on the same latitude as that of Lisbon and is about two hours flight from Portugal. Due to the purity of air the light is of such a quality that it emphasizes the colours of vegetation, flowers, and the difference between light and shade. Regardless of their remoteness the Islands are a segment of the EU being an integral part of Portugal.

From the tourists point-of-view they should note that there are flights between all the islands and ferryboat services. This latter should be checked by the visitor as the local services vary depending on the destination and naturally the condition of the local weather.

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