Group of nine islands in the North Atlantic, forming an autonomous region belonging to Portugal; area 2,247 sq km/867 sq mi; population (2003 est) 243,200. The islands are outlying peaks of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and are volcanic in origin. Products include sugar cane, coffee, tobacco, fruit, and wine. There are many hot springs, and the countryside is mountainous and rugged; the coastline is largely volcanic and there are few sandy beaches. The climate is moist but mild, and some of the islands are used as winter resorts. The administrative capital and largest city is Ponta Delgada on the main island, São Miguel; the other islands are Santa Maria, Terceira, Graciosa, São Jorge, Pico, Faial, Flores, and Corvo.
The Azores were uninhabited when explored by the Portuguese in 1427 or 1431 (although they were evidently known to the Carthaginians, as Punic coins have been found on the island of Corvo). Colonization of the islands began in 1445, and they were formally assigned to Portugal in 1480. Used as a place of exile, they were also the site of naval battles between the English and the Spanish. In the 19th century they were used by supporters of Maria II against Dom Miguel. They were used as Allied naval and air force bases during World War II, and the former US air bases there continued to be maintained by the USA as NATO bases. Granted partial autonomy in 1976, the Azores remain a Portuguese overseas territory. There has been a large migration of Azoreans, from the early 19th century, to the USA and Canada.
Transportation between the islands is largely by plane, although there are some car ferries. The islands had been economically dependent on the whaling industry since 1868, and when the practice was banned in the 1970s a whaling station on Pico became a whaling museum.
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