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The Azores

The word "açor" is Portuguese for a species of raptor, erroneously identified as goshawk. It is also derived from the word for blue.

Year:  2017

Area: 2,333 sq. km.

Population: 245,746

Flag: The nine stars represent the nine islands which are: São Miguel, São Jorge, Terceira, Santa Maria, Graciosa, Faial, Pico, Flores, and Corvo. The bird represents the goshawk from which the word Azores is derived. The shield represents the lesser arm of Portugal, of which the Azores is an autonomous region.

In 1432, the Portuguese Gonçalo Velho Cabral discovered Santa Maria, the first island of the archipelago. Colonization of the then unoccupied islands began in 1439 with people mainly from the continental provinces of Algarve and Alentejo. The second island discovered was nearby São Miguel, then the more westerly Terceira, which means “the third”. With Terceira in the central group are the islands of São Jorge, Faial, Pico, and Graciosa, all discoverd and settled by 1470. Flores (meaning “flowers” after the many native yellow flowers there) and Corvo (meaning “crow”) are the two westernmost islands, also settled by 1470.

Besides settlers from continental Portugal, there were many from Flanders, now part of Belgium and The Netherlands. Unhappy with conditions in their homeland, they were granted permission from Portugal’s king to settle on the newly-discovered islands. Their leaders were Wilhelm van der Haagen and Joss van Huerter.

From 1580 to 1640, the Azores, like all Portuguese dominions, had to submit to the rule of Spain. During that period, the neighboring waters were the scene of many hard-fought battles between Spanish and English sea-rovers. The commercial prosperity of the islands declined after the re-establishment of Portuguese independence and the accession of the House of Braganza in 1640. Because of the Azores' strategic geographic location, the archipelago became the center of navigation between Europe, Africa, the East and the Americas during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Material prosperity returned after the period of the French invasion of the Iberian Peninsula and the flight of João IV to Brazil (1807), when the former restrictions of commerce were lifted. The 1820 Civil War in Portugal had repercussions in the Azores. In 1829, in Vila da Praia, the liberals won over the absolutists. Terceira Island became the headquarters of the new Portuguese regime.

From 1836 to 1976, the archipelago was divided into three districts, much like regions on the Portuguese mainland.

In 1976, the Azores became the Autonomous Region of the Azores -- equal in status to the other regions (provinces) of Portugal.

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