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Azores Geography

Globe Open Map The Azores archipelago is located about approximately 900 miles west of mainland Portugal (1,500 kilometers west of Lisbon) and 2,423 miles from New York (3,900 kilometers from the east coast of North America) (Azores, 2005).  It is comprised of nine islands: Corvo, Faial, Flores, Graciosa, Pico, Santa Maria, São Miguel, São Jorge and Terceira (UK Trade & Investment, 2005).  The total land area is 905 square miles (2,355 sq. kilometers) (UK Trade & Investment, 2005). São Miguel, the largest island, is home to Ponta Delgada, the largest city.  Due to its significant strategic location, in 1943 the United States established the Lajes Air Base (Lajes Field, 2005) on Terceira Island (Vintras, 1974) . São Miguel Island is home to Sete Cidades the largest dormant volcanic crater in the world (Mundt, n.d.).


The Azores has a mild, temperate, humid, maritime climate with a rainy season from November to March.  Temperatures range from 14-25° C (55-76° F) (Açores, 2003b).


The Portuguese discovered the nine islands of the Azores archipelago in the fifteenth century.  The exact date is unknown. They were thought to be uninhabited at the time (Azores.com, 2003). Santa Maria and São Miguel were the first islands to be reached around 1497 by Diogo de Silves. Others attribute their discovery to Gonçalo Velho Cabral. Terceira was the third island to be discovered. The islands of Graciosa, S. Jorge, Faial, Pico, Flores and Corvo were discovered later (Azores Tourist Guide, 2003). Settlement of the Azores began in 1439 from the mainland of Portugal. The Azores became an important source of grain and cattle production for Portugal (Açores, 2005).

Because of their strategic location, the islands became a stopping point between Europe, America, and Africa in the 16th and 17th century.  As a result, the Azores archipelago was the site of Naval battles when it became a stopping point for pirates around this time (Açores, 2005). Through time, Terceira has played an important role in Portuguese history (Azores.com, 2003). For example, it was the last Portuguese territory to surrender to Spanish sovereignty after the succession of King Philip II of Spain to the Portuguese throne in 1580, when Portugal lost its independence. In Terceira, Angra Heroísmo is the first city of the Azores and it holds a large and valuable architectural heritage, which became part of UNESCO list of World Patrimony in 1983 (Azores.com, 2003). In 1943, the United States built the Lajes Air Base (Lajes Field, 2005) on Terceira Island because of its strategic location (Vintras, 1974) .

Political Organization

Flag of the AzoresIn 1976, the Azores became an Autonomous Region of Portugal with a government led by an elected President and a legislative branch known as a Regional Assembly (Açores, 2003).  The President and the members of the Regional Assemblies are elected by popular vote. The President appoints its cabinet and the Portuguese government appoints the Minister of the Flag Republic to represent the central government in the Autonomous Regions (Symington, 2000).


The Azores is an important tourism destination.  The islands also produce dairy products and beef for export (Açores, 2003).

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