Of great importance to weather forecasters, since very stable zones of high pressure frequently build up in the area, particularly to the south and west, from which they move northeast towards Europe, bringing a settled period of good weather.
The vegetation of the Azores, thanks to the high humidity content of the air, is of almost tropical abundance, though it falls short of the luxuriance and variety found on Madeira. The flora is mainly of either European or African origin.
In spite of excessive feling of trees since the colonization of the islands the hillsides are still covered with fine coniferous forests. Plans are now under way for replanting the deforested areas. Laurels, chestnuts and eucalyptuses are frequently found, either in fair-sized stretches of woodland or in smaler groves. The undergrowth includes bamboos and ferns. Palms are rare, and olive-trees are found in large numbers only on Terceira.
Apart from a few native species of birds and bats the animal life is of European origin. Curiously, the sparrow so ubiquitous elsewhere has never established itself in the Azores. Rabbits, mice and rats - common everywhere, and in some places so numerous as to have become pests - were brought in by ships.
The population of the Azores is predominantly of Portuguese origin, with some admixture of Irish, Flemish and Breton blood and small numbers of negroes and mulattoes.
The overwhelming majority of the population is Roman Catholic. In the past an unduly high population density and the unequal distribution of the land, most of which has remained since the colonial period in the hands of a few large landowners, led to a high rate of emigration, particularly to North and South America.
The Azores were known to the Phoenicians in the sixth C. B.C., and many centuries later were visited by Norsemen. Thereafter they were forgotten for centuries, first reappearing on an Italian map of 1351. The islands were rediscovered in 1427 by Portuguese seafarers sent out by Henry the Navigator. In 1432 Gonçalo Velho Cabral landed on Santa Maria, in 1444 a Portuguese vessel put in at Sao Miguel, and by 1452 the other islands were also known. From 1439 the archipelago, until then uninhabited, began to be settled and colonized by the Portuguese. In 1466 Afonso V made the islands of Faial and Pico over to his aunt Duchess Isabella of Burgundy, and thereafter there was a considerable influx of Flemish settlers. As an important port of call on the voyages of exploration in the 15th and 16th C. the islands enjoyed a period of great prosperity. From 1580 to 1640 the Azores, like the rest of Portugal, were under Spanish rule. They played an important part in the constitutional conflicts in Portugal between 1829 and 1832.
During both world wars, in spite of Portugal's neutrality, the United States established important naval and air bases in these strategically situated islands, and these appear set to continue under relatively recent treaties between the two countries.
The political movements for independence from the Portuguese mainland (Frente de Libertaçao dos Açores, FLA, and other groups) lost their importance when the Azores acquired autonomous region status in 1976.
The islands are currently represented by five members of Parliament in Lisbon.
The economy, now as in the past, depends mainly on agriculture. All the islands are well cultivated, producing grain (wheat, maize), fruit (apricots, pomegranates, bananas, figs, citrus fruits; pineapples on Sao Miguel), tea and tobacco for export, chiefly to mainland Portugal. There is also a considerable amount of stock farming (cattle, pigs, sheep, goats). There are productive fisheries off the coasts. Whaling, long based on Faial and Pico, is now very much in decline. A contribution is also made to the economy by the gathering of seaweed, which produces the agar-agar used in the manufacture of gelatine.
There is practically no industry in the Azores apart from a few recently established textile plants on Terceira and Sao Miguel. Linen and woolen goods, lace and pottery are made at home or in small workshops, and make popular souvenirs. Everything else, other than agricultural produce, has to be imported. For some years tourism has also been seen as a source of income but, with about 160,000 visitors a year, mostly from mainland Portugal, the Azores remains for the time being a destination for the individualist and nature lovers.
From Lisbon there are regular flights to Sao Miguel, Faial and Terceira, from where there are domestic flights to the other islands. There is a regular ferry service only between the islands of the middle group (Faial, Pico, Sao Jorge, Terceira and Graciosa). The individual islands have bus services (not Corvo), and taxis or hire cars for reaching the more remote spots.