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What are the Azores?

By J. Hahn
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Azores are a series of nine islands and eight islets located about 950 miles (1,500 kilometers) off the coast of Portugal. The main islands in the archipelago are Sao Miguel, Terceira, Faial, Pico, Sao Jorge, Santa Maria, Graciosa, Flores and Corvo. The smaller islands are known as formigas, or ants. About 240,000 people live on the islands.

The Azores are an autonomous region of Portugal that, together with the island of Madeira, makes up the Portuguese Republic. The islands are volcanic and are located on top of the Atlantic ridge, a tectonic plate that separates the North American Plate and the Eurasian Plate as well as the South American Plate and African Plate. The Atlantic Ridge has been prone to underwater and above-groung volcanic eruptions as well as multiple earthquakes. The climate is generally mild, though rain and wind can be frequent. The temperatures generally range from the upper 70s-low 80s degrees Fahrenheit (24-30 degrees Celsius) during the summer and the lower 50s-60s degrees Fahrenheit (13-18 degrees Celsius) during the winter.

There is evidence that people knew about the islands as early as the 14th century, but the colonization of the once-uninhabited islands did not begin until 1439. Colonization continued over the course of the next two centuries. Most of the colonists came from the mainland of Portugal, but additional colonists came from Flanders, North Africa and Spain. Although the primary language in the Azores is Portuguese, there are still people who speak dialects descended from Flemish and African languages.

The Azores are picturesque, surrounded by the bright blue Atlantic and dotted with green hills and farms, whitewashed houses and barns, lava rocks and lovely beaches. The main industries are dairy farming and fruit and vegetable farming. The United States has had a naval base, Lajes Field, on the island of Terceira since World War II. It is still active.

The relative isolation of the islands has allowed them to develop a unique culture, including differences from island to island. The Azores are heavily Roman Catholic, and a number of the cultural celebrations on the islands are centered around religious ceremonies, especially those honoring saints. The islands have a variety of food specialties, including locally produced wines and liquor. The Azores also are known for their unique pineapple greenhouses that specialize in the small-crowned fruit that is a favorite on the islands.

Many Azoreans emigrated from the islands in the 19th century, landing in places as diverse as Hawaii, Cape Cod, Mass., the Central Valley of California, and Canada. It is estimated that there are more than 1 million Azorean descendents in the New World, leading to the nickname "the 10th island."

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