We will be visiting the Azores during a transatlantic cruise in November. Our visits to new destinations are more enjoyable when we do a little background research prior to our arrival.
25 Interesting Facts About the Azores
1. The Azores are a group of nine volcanic islands spread over 370 miles in the North Atlantic Ocean.
2. Home to about 250,000 people, the Azores are known for their vibrantly-colored blue green lakes, fertile prairies, volcanic craters, colorful hydrangeas, 15th century churches, and majestic manor houses.
3. Although they are located about 850 miles west of continental Portugal, the Azores are an autonomous region of Portugal, the same status as the Portuguese island of Madeira.
4. The nine islands and their many islets add up to 906 square miles of land mass. Corvo, the smallest island, covers seven square miles, while São Miguel, the largest, is 293 square miles. The seven other islands include Faial, Flores, Graciosa, Pico, São Jorge, Santa Maria and Terceira. Since these remote islands were settled sporadically over two centuries, their culture, dialect, cuisine and traditions vary considerably.
5. Ever since the Azores became an autonomous region of Portugal in 1976, each of three branches of its government is located on a different island. The executive branch is located in Ponta Delgada, on São Miguel Island. The legislative branch is located in Horta on the island of Faial. The judicial branch is located in Angra do Heroísmo on the island of Terceira.
6. Year-round temperatures in the Azores range between 57°F and 71°F.
7. Tourism, government jobs, fishing and agriculture are the major industries in the Azores. The fertile soil yields a variety of crops, vineyards and grazing for dairy cattle and other livestock.
8. Mount Pico, on the island of Pico, at 7,713 feet above sea level, is the highest point in the Azores and all of Portugal.
9. When measured from their base at the bottom of the ocean to their peaks, the Azores are actually some of the tallest mountains on the planet.
10. While they are not native to the Azores, colorful hydrangeas flowers were introduced to the islands and are today are very common. Faial Island is known as the “blue island” due to the vast number of hydrangeas present.
11. The Azores were detailed on a The Catalan Atlas drawn and written in 1375, but the islands were officially “discovered” in in 1431 by Gonçalo Velho Cabral. São Miguel was first settled in 1444, under the command of Cabral – at the site of modern-day Povoação.
12. Although the Azores were settled by immigrants from mainland Portugal, the islands were also populated by Flemish, French and Spaniards, as well as Moorish prisoners and African slaves from Guinea, Cape Verde and São Tomé. As a result, the Azorean population today differs genetically from the mainland Portuguese.
13. As early as the 1600’s, the Azores began getting overpopulated, resulting in Azoreans immigrating to Brazil, Uruguay, the United States and Canada.
14. Azoreans founded Florianópolis and Porto Alegre in the Southern Region of Brazil.
15. Between 1921 and 1977, about 250,000 Azoreans immigrated to U.S. cities of New Bedford, Bristol, Barrington, Pawtucket, Central Falls, West Warwick, Hudson, Marlborough, East Providence, River Point, Taunton and Fall River in Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts.
16. Religious festivals, patron saints and traditional holidays are important to the Azorean people, who are primarily Roman Catholic. Azoreans celebrate Carnival (a festive season that occurs before Lent, usually in February) with parades, pageants lively music, colorful costumes, hand-made masks, floats, bullfights and the running of bulls in the streets.
17. On the fifth Sunday after Easter, the Festival of the Lord Holy Christ of the Miracles religious event takes place in Ponta Delgada on the island of São Miguel. Portuguese pilgrims travel to Ponta Delgada to participate in an afternoon procession behind the image of Christ along the flower-decorated streets of the city.
18. Azorean handicrafts including blue and white ceramics, wicker baskets, fig tree pith miniatures, and flowers made with fish scales are popular purchases by visiting tourists.
19. Azorean cuisine is a rich, hearty and peasant-based style of cooking. Famous local food of the Azores includes Cozido das furnas (a one-pot stew cooked by the hot springs,) octopus stewed in wine, kale soup, fried mackerel, locally-grown pineapples, the sweet/spicy Pimenta da terra (cherry-red peppers,) and fresh rich dairy products such as local yogurt, butter and cheeses. Queijo do Pico is a salty cow’s milk cheese from the island of Pico.
20. In the 1750’s, tea leaf was found growing in the wild in the Azores. Commercial tea production in the Azores began in the 1870’s and continues today. The Azores’ tea-drying process using the fresh ocean air gives its green teas a unique fragrant scent when they are brewed.
21. Winemaking in the Azores dates back to the 15th century, as Catholic religious orders planted vineyards as soon as they arrived. While all nine of Azorean islands originally had vineyards, disease outbreaks during the 1850s devastated most. Today wine grapes are grown on the islands of Pico, Terceira and Graciosa.
22. Azorean wines are traditionally made mainly from three grape varieties — Verdelho, Arinto, and Terrantez. Vines are typically grown in little pens surrounded by stonewalls made of volcanic rocks to protect them from the winds and cool evening temperatures.
23. Author Mark Twain visited Horta in 1867 during his “Great Pleasure Excursion” cruise through Europe and the Holy Land on board the chartered Quaker City ship with a group of Americans. Twain humorously chronicled his journey including his time in the Azores in his Innocents Abroad book published in 1869.
24. The United States maintains a NATO air base on the island of Terceira. The Lajes Air Base provides a strategically-located mid-Atlantic link for US and Allied Forces to Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Lajes Field is a multi-use airfield, home to the Portuguese Air Force Base, a United States Air Force detachment unit and a regional air passenger terminal.
25. Just before the start of the Iraq War in 2003, the Azores was the location for a summit meeting of United States President George W. Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar, and Portuguese Prime Minister José Manuel Durão Barroso.
Learn more about the Azores with these resources:
Top 10 Azores
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