The Azores are an archipelago, formed by nine islands, discovered and settled by the Portuguese in the beginning of the 15th century. The official date of the discovery of the Azores is 1427 by the Portuguese explorer, Diogo de Silves, who first saw the islands of Santa Maria and São Miguel.
The first settlement of the island of Santa Maria, as well as the Azores, was in 1439, at Praia dos Lobos, on the sides of a stream of water called Ribeira do Capitão.
Later, in order to boost the settlement of the island, João Soares de Albergaria, nephew of Gonçalo Velho (first captain-donee of the island of Santa Maria) brought families from Portugal mainland, which recorded a huge development.
The island of São Miguel was settled in 1444, by Gonçalo Velho Cabral, he started at the town of Povoação (their origin was from Estremadura, Alto Alentejo, Algarve, France). Over time, the settlers started to spread on the coast line in order to have the best access, conditions and facilities.
The Azores good geographic position, in the center of the Atlantic, rapidly contributed to a big expansion of the economy of the island of São Miguel, through the production of wheat that was exported to Portuguese garrisons in North Africa, as well as the sugar cane. Later, the huge production of oranges exported to the English market brought the island wealth.
The third island to be discovered, recognized at first as the island of Jesus Christ, now known as, the island of Terceira, is located in the central group of the archipelago. The settlement was started on the island around 1450.
Terceira represents an important time in the History of Portugal, this because in 1580 the Spanish King Filipe II intended to succeed the Portuguese King and so the island of Terceira took the side of D. António, suitor of the throne. However, after two years of violent battles, Terceira could no longer resist new attacks by the Spanish and it was occupied by them.
During the first half of the 19th century (1820) Terceira played an important role in Portuguese history by supporting the liberal cause. In 1828, the absolutists were dominated in the end of a battle at the bay of Vila da Praia, where the troops of D. Miguel were defeated trying to leave the island. Vila da Praia was renamed to Praia da Vitória (Beach of Victory) and Angra, because of the sacrifice and patriotism that the people of Terceira showed, was given the name of Angra do Heroísmo.
It is believed that the island of Graciosa, close to the island of Terceira, was probably seen for the first time in 1450 and was settled at an unknown date. Since the beginning Graciosa was mainly dedicated to agriculture exporting wheat, barley, wine and aguardente (a high concentration alcoholic drink). Trading often with the island of Terceira, which had a huge port in which many huge ships would stop, was a very important center economical and administrative for the Azores.
The actual date that the island of São Jorge was discovered and settled is unknown. However, the first known reference of the island is in 1439. In 1442, the island was already inhabited and its economy was focused on wine and on the production of wheat.
The Pico Island settlement was started close to 1460. Its inhabitants were dedicated to the production of wheat and exported woad (a type of plant used to dye clothes). Another important source of wealth was the hunting of sperm whales. Nowadays, because of the international laws of protection for that species, this activity is now forbidden and so it’s just a big recall of “Lobos do Mar” that proudly is shown on the Museum of Baleeiros, at Lajes do Pico.
Faial Island was first seen on the first half of 15th century. Its first settlers came from north mainland Portugal, in 1460. Agriculture and the exportation of woad were the main activities of the island. In 1833, Horta was promoted to city.
The last two islands to be discovered were Flores and Corvo, by Diogo Teive and his son João Teive, around 1452. These islands form the Ocidental group. Flores was named as such because of the amount of flowers present all over the island. The Flemish Wilhelm Van der Haegen first settled in the year of 1470 at Vale da Ribeira da Cruz but because of the distance between islands he left it and settled in São Jorge. In the beginning of 16th century, new development was given to the settlement of the Flores, especially with the production of wheat, barley, corn and vegetables, products designated to the use of the island.