) are an archipelago
of Portuguese islands
situated in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean
, about 1,500 km from Lisbon
and about 3,900 km from the east coast of North America
The nine Azorean Islands extend for more than 600 km, and are guided in the northwest - Southeastern direction. The vast extension of the islands defines an immense exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 1.1 million square kilometers. The most western point of this area is 2100 miles from the North American continent. Excepting for Santa Maria Island, all of the islands have vulcanic origin. With very high montains, one of which, Pico in Pico Island, having 2,351 metres in altitude is the highest in all of Portugal. The Azores are actually the tops of the tallest mountains on the planet as measured from their base at the bottom of the ocean.
Even though Portugal is a unitary nation, the Azores are an autonomous region. Sometimes visitors believe that the islands are either a Portuguese dependency or an independent country. Both misconceptions can be seen as offensive by the islands' residents.
Old map of Azores Islands
In 1427, one of the captains sailing for Henry the Navigator discovered the Azores, possibly Gonçalo Velho, but this is not certain. The European foothold was insecure until 1583,. when Philip II of Spain as king of Portugal, sent his combined Iberian fleet to clear the French traders from the Azores, decisively hanging his prisoners-of-war from the yardarms and contributing to the "Black Legend". The Azores have followed the career of Portugal ever since.
Beginning in 1868, Portugal issued its stamps overprinted with "AÇORES" for use in the islands. Between 1892 and 1906, it also issued separate stamps for the three administrative districts of the time.
Angra consisted of Terceira, São Jorge, and Graciosa, with the capital at Angra do Heroismo on Terceira.
Horta consisted of Pico, Faial, Flores, and Corvo, with the capital at Horta on Faial.
Ponta Delgada consisted of São Miguel and Santa Maria, with the capital at Ponta Delgada on São Miguel.
From 1938 to 1978, the archipelago was divided into three districts, quite equivalent (except in area) to those in the Portuguese mainland. The division was quite arbitrary, and didn’t follow the natural island groups, rather reflecting the location of each district capital on the three main cities (neither of each on the western group).
In 1978 the Azores became an Autonomous Region and the Azorean districts (Angra, Horta, Ponta Delgada) were suppressed.
The Azores is a Portuguese Autonomous Region since 1976, the executive section of the autonomy is located in Ponta Delgada, the legislative in Horta and the judicial in Angra do Heroísmo. The President of the Azorean Autonomous Region is Carlos Cesar.
The Azores are divided in 19 municipalities (concelhos), each municipality is further divided into parishes (freguesias). The Azores has a total of 156 parishes.
There are also 5 cities: Ponta Delgada and Ribeira Grande in São Miguel Island; Angra do Heroísmo and Praia da Vitória in Terceira, and Horta in Faial.
The archipelago is spread out in the area of the parallel that passes through Lisbon (39º, 43'/39º, 55' North Latitude), giving it a moderate climate, with mild annual oscillation. The Azores lie in the Palearctic ecozone, forming a unique biome among the world's Temperate broadleaf and mixed forests, with many endemic species of plants. The nine islands have a total area of 2,355 km². Their individual areas vary between 759 km² (São Miguel) and 17 km² (Corvo). Three islands (São Miguel, Pico and Terceira) are bigger in size when compared to Malta (compose by three different islands). São Miguel Island alone, being twice as big.
The nine islands are divided into three groups:
The volcanic origin of all the islands is revealed by their volcanic cones and craters. Pico, a volcano that stands 2,351 metres high on the island of the same name, has the highest altitude in the Azores.
The Azores had a population of 238,767 in 31 December 2002 and a population density of 106 persons/km².
- Azores Tourism Board (http://www.drtacores.pt/index2.html)