Azoreans - History and Cultural Relations

Settlement began around 1440 on the eastern islands under the absentee proprietorship of explorer Prince Henry, infante of Portugal, also known as the Navigator. São Miguel and Terceira, in the central island group, soon led in agriculture, producing exportable cash crops (wheat, dyer's woad, oranges, flax, wines and brandies) by the end of the century. Abundant harvests and strategic location made the Azores an important focus of Atlantic maritime trade well into the eighteenth century. During the seventeenth century, Terceira—then the center of Portuguese authority—led in Population and prestige, a historical legacy manifest in its persistent interisland rivalry with the Michaelese. After eighteenth-century penetration by American shipping, tourist, and whaling interests, the port of Horta (Faial) became the archipelago's main distribution center and a vital nexus of Atlantic commerce. Telegraphy brought cable stations to Horta and Ponta Delgada, linking the Azores to an international communications network. In 1939 transatlantic flights by Pan American Airlines' "Yankee Clipper" stopped at Horta en route to Lisbon and Marseilles, enhancing Horta's already cosmopolitan image. Today Horta's marina attracts yachters from Europe and the Americas, and the port has a considerable tourist presence. World War II construction of major airports at Lajes (now an American base) and on Santa Maria and the advent of transoceanic planes ended the clipper-ship era. Despite glistening waterfront buildings, busy harbors, and sailboard resorts, the visitors to the Azores see themselves stepping back in time. A country way of life persists: the people hand-cultivate, creaking windmills grind maize, there are tiny walled gardens everywhere, the pigpen is located just outside the kitchen, and black-shrouded widows abound. Also, the presence of the Catholic church is pervasive and remains inextricably linked to state interests.

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