Composed of ten major islands in the North Atlantic Ocean.
The islands are divided into three widely separated groups; the eastern group consists od Sâo Miguel, Santa Maria and Formigas; the central, of Faial, Pico, Sâo Jorge, Terceira and Graciosa; and the northwestern, of Flores and Corvo.
The nearest continental land is Cape Roca, Portugal, which lies 740 mi (1,190 km) east of Sâo Miguel. Thus, the Azores are farther from mainland Europe than any other eastern Atlantic islands. In general characteristics, all the islands are similar, rising steeply from shores lined with scree or talus (rock and peble debris) to heights reaching 7,713 ft (2,351 m) in Pico. Their volcanic nature is indicated by the numerous earthquakes and basaltic eruptions that have taken place since their discovery. In 1522 the town of Vila Franca do Campo, then capital of Sâo Miguel, was buried during a massive convulsions, and as recently as 1957-58 the Capelinhos eruption was violent enough to enlarge the Ilha do Faial.
The islands were reputedly discovered in about 1427 by Diogo de Senill (or Sevilha), a pilot of the king of Portugal. No traces of human habitation or visitation were found in any of them. Settlement began in Santa Maria inn about 1432, under Gonçalo Velho Cabral, a Portuguese official. Sâo Miguel was settled in 1444 and Terceira some years later. A few Flemings, under Jobst van Heurter, were allowed to settle in Faial at the request of Isabella, duchess of Burgundy and sister of Henry the Navigator (Infante Don Henrique).
By the end of the 15th century all the islands were inhabited, and trade with Portugal became well established. From 1580 until 1640 the Azores, like the rest of Portugal, were subject to Spain. The islands were the rendezvous for the treasure fleets on their voyages home from the West Indies; hence, they became a theatre of the maritime warfare between the English under Elizabeth i and the peninsular powers.
Except for some time during the Spanish occupation there was no central government in the Azores until 1766, when the marquês de Pombal installed a governor and captain general for the whole group at Angra do Heroismo, Terceira, to repress abuses of the local administrators. A new constitution was established in 1832, and the islands were grouped into three administrative districts, which in 1895 were given limited autonomous administration.