Azores is an archipelago that is situated in the Atlantic Ocean. It covers an area of nine hundred and eleven square miles and has an estimated population of approximately two hundred and fifty thousand resident. This archipelago is located about twenty-four hundred miles from the eastern tip of Africa and about nine hundred and thirty miles from Lisbon. It forms an autonomous region of Portugal known as the Autonomous Region of Azores and is made up of nine islands. These islands include Santa Maria, Formiga Islet, Sao Miguel, Graciosa, Terceira, Sao Jorge, Faial, Pico, Corvo and Flores. Because of its location, this archipelago has an oceanic subtropical climate that contains small annual temperature oscillations. Temperatures average between sixteen degrees Celsius and twenty-five degrees Celsius.
Average annual rainfall is about twenty-seven inches in the eastern portion and sixty three inches in the western portion. Most of the inhabitants of Azores are of Portuguese descent. Azore can trace its history back to the fourteenth century when it was discovered by Captain Gaoncalo Velho Cabral. After the island of Santa Maria was discovered, sheep was released on the island and became the official first residents. The sheep were released to provide a food source for future settlers because there wasn’t any indigenous animals located there. Though there wasn’t much interest for settlers to occupy such a remote area, eventually a colony was established. The first people to settle on the island were African slaves who were used as a labor force to clear rocks and plant crops. During this period, a variety of foodstuffs were planted on the islands which included sugar cane, grain and grape vines. More animals were also brought to the archipelago which included cattle, goats and hogs. Sao Miguel was settled in the mid fifteenth century with settles from Estremadura.
A popular attraction in Azores is an artificial lake and dam called Durnas. Furnas is situated in the state of Minas Gerais and was constructed in 1957. It was the first large dam in Brazil and was built by Wimpey Construction. It was constructed on the Grande River’s canyon. The reservoir was started in 1963 and covers an area of nine hundred and fifteen square miles. The maximum water level of the reservois is twenty-two hundred feet and it has a volume of water that is sixty-seven thousand by three hundred square feet. The main purpose of the lake and dam is the generation of electricity. Pico Island is one of the nine islands of Azores and is also one of its prominent attractions.
Each year, thousands of visitors flock to the island to get an up close and personal look at the Ponta do Pico Volcano. Ponta do Pico (also known as Mount Pico in English) is a stratovolcano and is also the highest point on the island. It has an altitude of seven thousand feet above sea level, which makes it the highest point in Portugal as well. On top of the volcano is a crater that is sixteen hundred feet in diameter and ninety feet deeps. There are numerous trails which lead to the top and visitors can expect to reach the summit in about four hours. On the western slopes of Mount Pico is a cave system known as the Gruta das Torres. These caves were formed by lava flow that started at the Cabeco Bravo cone about a thousand years ago. These “lava tubes” are the longest cave in Azores and has a height of forty-five feet and a length of fifteen hundred feet. In 2004, the government of Azores declared the cave system a Regional Natural Monument. In 2005, it was opened to the public. Today, visitors can visit the cave complex if they are accompanied by a guide.
Located on Faial Island is Capelinhos, another attraction that draws visitors from around the world. This volcano is located on the western coast of the island. It is situated along the Capelo Volcanic Complex, an area that is primarily made up of basaltic rock. A volcanic vent releases gases and steam that are up to two hundred degrees Celsius. The volcano is considered to be a landmark of the island and contains a visitors center and a a lighthouse.
Although the volcano can be dangerous due to its gas venting, there are a number of trails that lead up to the summit. The volcano’s last eruption took place during a thirteen month period during the late 1950s. This eruption destroyed three hundred homes, made almost three hundred seismic events and slung ash over a half mile area. Over two thousand residents had to be evacuated because of this eruption. The volcano has been in a dormant state since 1958, but it is still considered to be partially active.
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