Discovery and colonization
Short history of the Azores
It is documented that the Azores were discovered by Portuguese navigators during the second decade of the 14th century. Historians disagree on whether Diogo de Silves in 1427 or Gonçalo Velho Cabral in 1431 was the first navigator to reach the archipelago. However, it is consensual that the first island to be sighted was Santa Maria, followed by São Miguel. These two islands that make up the eastern group were prepared in 1431 and 1432 to be inhabited with the release of animals. The first settlers arrived in 1439, sent by order of Infante D. Henrique.
The island of Terceira, which was initially called the island of Jesus Christ, was the next island. The exact date of discovery is unknown, but it is known that settlement occurred around 1450, attributed to the concession of its captaincy by Infante D. Henrique to the Flemish Jácome de Bruges.
The discovery and settlement of the remaining islands in the central group, as well as the islands in the western group, occurred later, already in the full 16th century.
The settlement of the islands was mostly carried out by Portuguese people from the Northern, Estremadura, Algarve and Alentejo regions, to which Jews, Moors, Flemish, Genoese, English, French and African slaves later joined in the arduous task of transforming the islands into a home.
The strategic positioning of the Azores contributed to the occurrence of relevant historical moments at a planetary level. In 1493, Christopher Columbus, on his return from his first voyage to America, stopped in the Azores and landed on the island of Santa Maria to celebrate a Thanksgiving Mass in the chapel of Nossa Senhora dos Anjos, fulfilling the promise made at sea to do so as soon as he reached the first place of Christian solid ground.
The history of the Azores is rich in episodes that reveal the heroism and adversities of a people in the struggle against natural elements, such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, agricultural plagues, diseases and long periods of isolation, but also in the defense of their space, interests, autonomy and nationality, which includes the fight against pirates, political wars and support for the liberal cause of the civil war (1828-1834). Angra do Heroísmo, currently classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was twice the capital of Portugal.
It is worth noting the important geopolitical role that the Azores have always played for Portugal. Sometimes as a supply port for Portuguese ships during the Discoveries and the India Route, as well as during the era of the North African colonies and the aforementioned Liberal Wars. It was the landing site of the first transatlantic flight. More recently, and on an international level, the establishment of an important communication center that served the allied troops during the course of the world wars is also highlighted. Although it did not participate in World War II, the Azores also gave way to the United States for the construction of an air base on the island of Santa Maria, which was later transferred to Terceira Island, still in operation today, Lajes Air Base.
The richness of the history of the Azores is evident in the character and culture of the Azoreans, who are very proud of their historical heritage. Today, it is possible to observe many remaining traces of history and culture in museum exhibitions, in handicrafts and ethnographic artifacts, in traditional music, in cuisine, and in popular festivals. The Azores continue to be a preferred tourist destination for those who appreciate nature, tranquility, and authenticity, but also for those who are interested in the history and culture of the region, which is a true gem in the middle of the Atlantic.