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The archipelago comprises nine major islands in the North Atlantic Ocean.  They are located about 1,000 miles (1,600 km) west of Portugal, and are a part of that nation. The islands, with their total land area of 868 square miles (2,247 square km), are divided into three widely separated groups: the eastern group of São Miguel, Santa Maria, and the Formigas islets, the central group of Faial, Pico, São Jorge, Terceira, and Graciosa, and the northwestern group of Flores and Corvo. The capital is Ponta Delgada on São Miguel.

The nearest continental land is Cape Roca, Portugal, which lies 875 miles (1,408 km) east of Santa Maria. Thus, the Azores are farther from mainland Europe than any other eastern Atlantic islands. The islands rise steeply from shores lined with rock and pebble debris (scree, or talus) to heights reaching 7,713 feet (2,351 m) on Pico. Numerous earthquakes and volcanic eruptions indicate their unstable geologic nature. In 1522 the town of Vila Franca do Campo, then capital of São Miguel, was buried during a massive convulsion, and as recently as 1957-58 the Capelinhos eruption enlarged Faial Island.

The Azores have a subtropical climate with high humidity. An abundant flora of European and Mediterranean origins is found, and mixed forests still cover many of the islands' hillsides. Intensive agriculture produces cereals (wheat and corn), vegetables, and fruit (including pineapples and wine grapes).

The Azores were reputedly discovered about 1427 by Diogo de Senill (or Sevilha), a pilot of the king of Portugal. No traces of previous human habitation or visitation were found on any of them. Settlement began on Santa Maria about 1432 under Gonçalo Velho Cabral, a Portuguese official. São Miguel was settled in 1444 and Terceira some years later. By the end of the 15th century all the islands were inhabited, and trade with Portugal became well established. From 1580 until 1640 the Azores, like the rest of Portugal, were subject to Spain. The islands were the rendezvous for the Spanish treasure fleets on their voyages home from the West Indies; hence, they became a theatre of the maritime warfare between England under Elizabeth I and Spain and Portugal, the peninsular powers.

Except for a time during the Spanish occupation, there was no central government in the Azores until 1766, when the Marquess de Pombal installed a governor and captain general for the whole group. A new constitution was established in 1832, and the islands were given limited autonomous administration in 1895. The present-day Azores are organized as an autonomous region having the same status as the districts of continental Portugal but with special autonomous powers that are exercised by an elected regional assembly.

The trade of the Azores was long a Portuguese monopoly, but later, before World War II, it was shared by Great Britain, the United States, and Germany. The islands' exports include hand embroideries, pineapples, canned fish, and wine.

The Azores' inhabitants are mostly of Portuguese origin, and the predominant religion is Roman Catholicism. The Azores' principal seaports are Angra do Heroísmo (or Angra), Ponta Delgada, and Horta. Lajes and Santa Maria became important air bases and centres of communication between the United States and Europe during World War II, and since 1951, by agreement with Portugal, the United States has maintained a NATO air base on Lajes. Before the development of weather satellites, meteorological data compiled and transmitted from the Azores were essential to European weather forecasting. Pop. (1992 est.) 236,500.

Ponta Delgada is the largest city and the capital of the autonomous region of the Azores archipelago of Portuga in the North Atlantic Ocean. The city, on the southern coast of São Miguel Island, became São Miguel's second capital (Vila Franca do Campo was the first) in 1540. It was severely damaged in 1839 by a tidal wave and was subsequently rebuilt.

The Holy Christ of the Miracles Church is a noted place of pilgrimage. A mild climate and lush vegetation have made the city an important winter tourist resort. Its harbour has a breakwater nearly a mile long and serves as a fueling supply station and offers minor repair facilities to transatlantic ships. Ponta Delgada is the Azores' leading commercial centre, exporting pineapples, oranges, tea, wine, cereals, vegetables, and dairy products. Sugar refining and liquor distilling are its primary industries. The University of the Azores was founded in the city in 1976. A local shipping line maintains regular services with continental Portugal, northern Europe, and the United States. Pop. (1981) 22,200; (1991 prelim.) 21,091.

Faial Island  Formerly FAYAL ISLAND, Portuguese ILHA DO FAIAL, Portuguese island forming part of the Azores archipelago, in the North Atlantic Ocean. Its area of 67 square miles (173 square km) was increased by 1 square mile (2.5 square km) because of volcanic activity in 1957-58. The centre of the island consists of a perfectly shaped volcano, Mount Gordo. Faial (meaning "beech wood") was named for the wax myrtle, once abundant, which its discoverers mistook for beech trees. A small valley, Flamengos, recalls the Flemish settlers who colonized the island in the 16th century.

The women of Faial produce fine lace from agave thread, execute carvings in snow-white fig-tree pith, and weave fine baskets.  Grains, fruit, and olives are grown, and cattle raising and dairying are other important economic activities. The town of Horta is Faial's main seaport and has an international airport. Other towns of importance include Cedros and Feteira. Pop. (1991) 14,823.

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