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Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Islands history - Azores

The existence of this archipelago was not generally known to the inhabitants of Europe before the fifteenth century of our era, although there is evidence that Phoenician, Scandinavian, and Arabian navigators visited it at different periods.

Heinrich the Seafarer Infante Dom Henrique, the second son of the Portuguese king Joao I, wanted to investigate the rumours concerning unknown islands in the Atlantic. Various Italian maps of the 14th century showed islands in the Atlantic. The Italian Pizigano drew a map of the Atlantic in 1367 with an indication at the place where Corvo lies. But there was no concrete evidence. In 1427, commissioned by Heinrich the Seafarer, Captain Diogo de Silves discovered the island of Santa Maria, and by the year 1457 all the islands had been visited by either Portuguese or Flemish explorers, none of whom found any aboriginal inhabitants, wild animals, or reptiles.

In between 1439 to 1444 came the first population to Sao Miguel that disembarked in Povoação. They came mainly from "Estremadura", "Algarve", "Alto Alentejo" and, then later from foreign countries, specially from France (explanation why Bretanha, a village on the North-West coast, is named that way).

Being a fertile island, with good climate and situated in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean helped to produce wheat to export to North Africa; sugar-cane and dyes to Flanders, and helped to strengthen the economic expansion of the island.

In 1466 Afonso V of Portugal granted to the Duchess Isabel of Burgundy, his aunt, some sort of feudal privilege in the Azores, in consequence of which the colonists for some time were mostly Flemings, and the Portuguese themselves in those days called the islands As Ilhas Flamengas (the Flemish Islands).

The first capital of Sao Miguel was "Vila Franca do Campo", but, unfortunately, the development and prosperity didn't last too long, because, in 1522, a violent earthquake destroyed completely the capital, and approximately 5000 people died. After that, "Ponta Delgada", located 25 kilometres west of "Vila Franca" and already the centre of the municipality, became the first city and capital of the island in 1546.

In 1583, 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 were the second-to-last part of the Portuguese empire to resist Philip's reign over Portugal (Macau being the last), Azores was returned to Portuguese control with the end of the Iberian Union, not by the military efforts, as these were already in Restauration war efforts in the mainland, but by the people attacking a well-fortified Castillian guarnition. There is also evidence that a significant number of seafarers from India, working for Portuguese merchant ships also settled in the Azores.

Goshawk (Açor in Portuguese), the islands name.

The commercial prosperity of the islands declined after the recovery of Portuguese independence and the accession of the House of Braganza in 1640. The city of Angra attained some slight historical notoriety in 1662, when Affonso VI, deposed by his brother Dom Pedro, was imprisoned there. Material prosperity began to be restored to the Azores immediately after the period of the French invasion of the Peninsula and the flight of João IV to Brazil (1807), when the former restrictions of commerce were removed.

In the Portuguese revolution of 1828-33, the Azorean populations took a decided stand against the absolutist Dom Miguel, repulsed an attack upon the island of Terceira by a Miguelist fleet, and contributed largely to form the Progressista army which landed at Oporto in 1833, driving Dom Miguel into exile, and establishing on the throne the Queen Donna Maria da Gloria, who for two years preceding had resided at Angra.

In 1829, in Vila da Praia, the liberals won over the absolutists, making Terceira Island the main headquarters of the new Portuguese regime and also where the Council of Regency (Conselho de Regência) of Mary II of Portugal was established.

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.

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).

Angra consisted of Terceira, São Jorge, and Graciosa, with the capital at Angra do Heroísmo 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.

In 1976 the Azores became an Autonomous Region (Região Autónoma dos Açores) and the Azorean districts were suppressed.

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